So you're looking to remove rust from gym equipment! Grab yourself a wire brush, bowl or bucket, rag, a pair of gloves to protect your hands, and an acid based cleaning agent. Brush, soak, scrap, rinse, and repeat as needed.
Keep in mind that equipment is made of different types of metals, so your cleaning agents will vary, and the causes of rust accumulation also change. Removing rust is just one step to enjoying your gym equipment long-term. Read on to find out how to prevent rust for longevity.
Removing Rust From Gym Equipment
Step 1- Brush off the Existing Rust
Seems simple enough, right? Maybe not, depending on what type of metal you need to get clean. The brush may need to have a specific kind of bristle to avoid causing more damage to your equipment than the rust has already created.
Iron- This is a softer metal than steel. So, it will rust differently and faster than steel and stainless steel (yes, this will eventually rust, too) gym equipment. So grab yourself a brass brush or one with nylon bristles. SKIP the steel wool! It does more damage than anything.
Bare Steel- tougher than other metals but “ages” differently. It will eventually start to break down (oxidize) regardless, but maintenance slows the process. Get a rag or a toothbrush to wipe away stuck particles before moving on to step 2.
Stainless Steel- Nothing to brush off here since it has a chromium coating, so this equipment can move right to the soaking stage.
Chrome-Zinc-Black Oxide Plated- What you see first is the coating wearing away. Underneath lies the rusty problem. Brush off any flaking with a nylon brush to expose the rust hiding below. If possible, remove or tape off unaffected areas before moving to the next step.
Step 2- Soak your Equipment in Something
Depending on the material, you have a few different options to dip your gear in. Typically you want to look for the most effective, but this isn’t one of those go-big or go-home moments. Take care to monitor how long you soak and what kind of metal you are cleaning.
Most metals can take a beating, so in terms of breaking down the rust for removal, the bar can handle it. You can use a premixed chemical solution to spray, soak the bar, or grab a can of WD-40 for bare steel material.
You can also try a few natural concoctions that work just as well and won’t leave you with a headache from fumes.
Water and Vinegar Mix- Do a 50/50 split and put a nice thick coat wherever rust removal is desired. Vinegar is highly acidic and will eat away the rust, making it easier to scrub off later. Let soak overnight for up to 3 days if you have the time.
Salt and Citrus Juice- Cut a lime or a lemon in half, cover the equipment in salt and scrub the rust-covered area with the citrus fruit. This works great on small areas or plates where you can easily get into the sides. Be aware though, citrus knows no bounds and may eat through the paint coating.
Coca-Cola- Yes, some people drink it, but it is HIGHLY acidic and will remove rust. Want to test it out before buying a case for a big project? Grab a glass and drop in a rusty nail/bolt/washer or even your barbell clamps and leave them to soak for a few hours. Those bubbles you see fizzing is the acidity going to work.
*Life Hack- If you want to clean a large surface area and don’t have a tub or tote to submerge it in, soak the cleaning agent in paper towels and wrap the bar/plate in the paper towels. Wrap with plastic wrap to keep it contained until you are ready for step 3, which is…
Step 3- Time to Scrub a Dub
Using the same applicator you did in step 1, scrub the infected areas to remove what should be loosened debris. The rust should be coming off quickly now, but if now, repeat step 2.
Most barbells and some dumbbells have ridged surfaces with a technique called knurling. These ridged areas are meant to help the user grip the bar without the risk of it rolling or slipping out of their hands. If you use too coarse a brush on these areas, you risk smoothing these ridges off, effectively ruining the purpose of them in the first place.
Grab a soft-bristled brush, like a toothbrush, to get in the grooves now that everything is loose. Next, rinse off the cleaning solution and inspect for residue rust. Repeat steps 1 and 2 if necessary until clean.
Step 4- Preventative Maintenance
Your gym equipment is now clean (and smells citrusy sweet if you went that route) and rust-free. Let’s keep it that way a little longer than last time by performing a little preventative maintenance.
There are 3 in 1 oils you can get to help keep everything lubricated AND rust-free longer. If you are a fan of the WD-40 method, they also make a corrosion inhibitor spray for after cleaning.
In addition to keeping your gym equipment oiled up and protected, be sure to take preventative measures every time you finish a workout session.
- Wipe down each piece of equipment you touch- the oils in your hands are full of salt and sweat. That combination is light a beacon to a moth where rust is concerned.
- Keep your equipment from prolonged exposure to the outside elements- If you use your gear outside, cover it as much as possible. Then put it in a shed or garage when you are done if it can’t come into the house. If it is already in the house, be mindful of sun exposure. Sitting in front of the window all day exposes the top layer to heat, breaking down and coating faster than average.
- Resurface if needed- If the paint or coating is coming off, fix it now before it becomes a serious problem.