As old-house owners, we may deal with corrosion on a number of different metals, but it’s likely that the battle against the forces of rust will focus on one metal in particular: iron. Iron is arguably the most useful metal on the planet. It is plentiful and very strong; it can be cast into molds or rolled into sheets. Sure, there are stronger, lighter, more rust-resistant and conductive metals, but pound for pound, iron is the least expensive. The main downside to iron is its tendency to combine readily with oxygen to form rust. But rusted iron can be restored through a simple four-step procedure: cleaning, repairing, priming, and finishing.
Corrosion can be cleaned from metals using abrasive, chemical, or even thermal techniques. Hard metals like iron and steel respond well to abrasive and chemical cleaning. Sandblasting is the most aggresive form of abrasion, but for most of us, some form of wire brushing and manual sanding is usually all that’s needed. Wire brushes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and many can be attached to a number of common power tools. If you’re using power, remember to use a light touch (it’s easy to grind away intact metal beneath rust). Clean crevices out with a hacksaw blade. Finally, remove any remaining rust with either a piece of emery cloth or an abrasive pad like synthetic steel wool. These flexible sanding materials can be folded into the shapes needed to clean tight areas. When you’re finished, clean the abraded surface with a rag dampened in mineral spirits.