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Rust is the natural enemy of all iron and steel. Every firearm enthusiast should be familiar with the effects of rust. Untreated rust can eat into the metal, resulting in pitting, discoloration, malfunction, and in the most extreme cases, a potentially lethal safety risk.
One of the core elements of gun care is knowing how to remove rust from a firearm and prevent its formation in the future. Learn how to get rid of rust from your guns for good and preserve your guns from damage.
How Does Rust Form?
Rust is the result of oxidation: a process in which certain metals (in particular, ferrous metals, such as iron and steel) are exposed to moisture (specifically, oxygen and water) for a certain length of time.
Although many people think of rust as a layer that deposits over the iron or steel, rust is actual bits of metal that have undergone a chemical change. In other words, it is evidence of deterioration of the metal.
Once a metal has rusted, you cannot restore it to its original form; you can only remove it and apply prevention methods to prevent the formation of more rust.
Light rusting on the external surface of your firearms usually causes discoloration or pitting; however, this is generally a minor issue that you can fix with rust removal methods.
However, if the rusting is significant and has started attacking critical parts (e.g., barrel, springs, firing pin, chamber, etc.), your firearm may be unusable or unsafe, and you may need to replace these parts.
How to Remove Rust from Guns
Although most home rust removal methods are suitable for light rust only, if you want to learn how to remove heavy rust from a gun without calling a gunsmith or a gun care professional, there are options available.
Removing light rust
Light rusting or surface rusting is generally inconsequential, as long as it is treated early. It is possible to get rid of light rust without hurting your gun’s finish and going through a potentially time-consuming refinishing process.
There is no need for expensive anti-rust wonder products either. All you need is some superfine steel wool (#0000), regular gun oil, and plenty of elbow grease.
To remove light rust from your firearm, follow this process:
- Field strip your gun. If your firearm has a wood stock, grips, or other furniture, you should set these parts aside.
- Inspect each part and single out the ones with rust.
- Coat every rusted part with a generous layer of gun oil, then rub the superfine steel wool over each rust patch.
- Use consistent scrubbing strokes, and don’t hesitate to apply pressure. Superfine steel wool is too soft to damage the finish, let alone the underlying steel.
- Occasionally during the rust removal process, wipe your gun using a rag. Not only will this wipe the oil off, but you’ll also remove a little bit of rust and see your progress. If you’re not yet finished, reapply gun oil and resume scrubbing.
- Apply a layer of protective oil on all of your metal parts, then reassemble your firearm.
If your gun parts have developed pitting, it means the rust has eaten through the finish and started attacking the underlying metal. There’s nothing you can do about the lost steel, but you can at least refinish your gun with the finish of your choice.
Removing heavy rust
Whether you’ve purchased a used gun from a pawn shop or suffered an accident with one of your own, you may end up facing a heavily rusted gun.
You should send a heavily rusted gun to a gunsmith, but if you want to learn how to remove heavy rust from a gun by yourself, you may need to invest in extra equipment.
Don’t forget that virtually all heavily rusted firearms will need refinishing after you’re removed the rust. You may still need a trip to the gunsmith, but it is significantly less expensive to ask for a simple refinish job than a complete rust removal treatment.
If you want to know how to remove heavy rust from a gun, you will need some rust remover. You can purchase a range of dedicated products, or you can make your own using cheap and readily available ingredients.
Suitable rust remover solutions:
- Dedicated rust removal products: Includes products such as WD-40 Rust Soak or Evapo-Rust. They are purpose-designed for rust removal, non-toxic, reasonably fast-acting (takes about 8-10 hours), and won’t damage your parts.
- Citric acid: This mild acid is available at supermarkets or cleaning stores. Although it is slow-acting (14-16 hours), it is non-toxic and safe for your parts.
- CLR-type products: Includes products such as CLR and ZEP. Although designed to remove calcium and lime deposits and rust stains, they also work well as rust soak agents. Wait at least 12 hours when soaking parts in these products.
Follow these steps:
- Field strip your gun as much as possible and set aside any wood parts.
- Single out your rusted parts and place them in a glass or acid-resistant plastic container.
- Fill the container with the rust remover solution of your choice, and let it sit for several hours, depending on the product employed.
- Extract the rusted parts from the container.
- If there is still surface rust remaining, follow light rust removal guidelines.
- Get your cleaned parts refinished as soon as possible.
How to Prevent Rust from Forming (Again)
Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned, protected, and, if necessary, refinished your guns, there are measures you can take to ensure the rust does not come back.
- Keep your guns stored in a cool and dry environment. Although your gun safe sounds like the best spot, it may only slow the development of rust instead of preventing it.
- Place your gun safe against an interior wall, limiting the safe’s exposure to changes in outside temperature and humidity as much as possible.
- Use dehumidifying agents inside your gun safe or gun cases, such as silica gel packs, desiccant packs, or a dehumidifier.
- Clean and lubricate your guns as regularly as possible, using appropriate protective oils.
Regular Maintenance is Essential
With rust, the best remedy is prevention, and the best prevention measure is regular cleaning and maintenance of your firearms.
Although 100% protection against rust may be impossible, good storage conditions will significantly slow down the development of rust, whereas regular cleaning can catch and remove what does appear.