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topic 0395

Alkaline Rust Remover Formulas and Q&A's

A discussion started in 1996 and continuing through 2020.
Add your Q. or A. to restore it to the "Current Topics" discussions.


Q. I need a formulation for a superior alkaline rust remover to remove rust from carbon steel.

Steve Milan


A. We once used to use an alkaline product called Oakite. I'm sorry I don't remember the source.

Sandro Pisani
- Malta


thumbs up sign Thanks, Sandro. Oakite is the name of a division of Chemetall. Thanks.
But it sounded to me like Mr. Milan is looking for a generic formula.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha


from The Chemical Formulary, c. 1940,
alkaline-acid pickling of Inconel, (I don't know if it was ever meant for steel) this Kickapoo juice is hotter than a pistol, and just as dangerous. I don't recommend anyone using it, for reference only.

steel tank, 180 °F
NaOH - 18 ounces
sodium carbonate (washing soda) [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] - 18 ounces
KMnO4 - 7 - 11 ounces
Water 1 gallon

acid pickling solution
wooden tank (I'm not kidding, this is OLD) 180 degrees F
66 degree baumé H2SO4 16 ounces
Sodium Nitrate 8 ounces
copper sulphate or copper nitrate [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] 1.5 ounces water 1 gallon.

It's these kinds of solutions which make me glad that there are now proprietary solutions around.

tom pullizzi monitor
tom pullizi signature
Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township, Pennsylvania 


There are two ways you can go. One is to buy a proprietary compound from a specialty chemical supplier. You will pay more but you will get technical support and laboratory backup.

If you want to make your own product, you can mix sodium hydroxide (or potassium for better rinsing or a combination) along with a couple percent of EDTA chelant (or Sodium Gluconate). You want to use the product hot 160+ at anywhere between 8- 16 oz gallon.

Dan Zinman


Considering the complexity of a really good rust remover, why not go with a commercially prepared product. The main components are going to be lye and sodium glutamate. Numerous other materials tailor it to your need and water.

Generic formulas can be found in the AMS book on cleaning.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida


My advice to you is not to try a generic formula, it is the small additives that suppliers add which makes all the difference. Go to a supplier!

sara michaeli
Sara Michaeli sara michaeli signature
chemical process supplier
Tel-Aviv, Israel


You have to really careful with chelants because they prevent your water treatment system from removing some metal ions.

Dave Fairbourn
- Sandy, Utah

A. For a summary of all the former answers you can use an exact formula from the military specification Mil-C-14460 [affil. link to spec at Techstreet] is the mil you need and you will have all the answers you need . (Use the non cyanide version)

yehuda blau
Yehuda Blau
YB Plating Engineering and Quality - Haifa Israel


A. Try a solution of about 10% by wt. sodium hydroxide and 2 to 5% triethanolamine. Soak article in heated solution a few minutes for light rust. Rinse with passivating solution to prevent flash rust.

James Chunn
- Theodore, Alabama




affil. link
Naval Jelly

affil. link
Rust Converter


Q. I used a product that turned the iron oxide into a ferrous coating on the surface (the surface turned black). I need a formula or a product.

Ed Gaines

A. Hi, Ed. That's not the alkaline rust remover that others are talking about on this thread. I believe you probably used Naval Jelly [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] or another similar Rust Converter [affil. link to info/product on Amazon]; they are not alkaline, but based on phosphoric acid.


Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha


Q. I need a rust/scale remover for sheet metal fuel tanks that can be used cold or hot and bought locally. I found a product called kreem tank liner that has a good rust remover but I can't get it locally and don't know the name of the acid that they use.. any ideas? thanks jim king

jim king
- orange park, Florida


A. The most easily used material is called Naval Jelly [affil. link to info/product on Amazon]. BE SURE TO READ THE DIRECTIONS!

The most important thing is to clean the part being worked on as thoroughly as you can. Use a steel (stainless if you have one) brush and clean as well as you can.

Apply the naval jelly and be patient. You may have to reapply it several times because it doesn't remove a thick coating of rust, but it will surely remove the iron oxide (rust).

Be careful,


Doug Smith
metallurgical engineer - Las Vegas, Nevada


Q. We are trying to develop an oil based rust remover and protective coating for metals. Kindly help us in doing formulation for the above mentioned product.

Thanking You,

Yours faithfully,

-Tamil Nadu, India

A. Hi Sreenivasan. Please search expired patents at uspto.gov or patents.google.com for oil-based rust remover and protective coatings, and post any questions about what you find. Good luck.

Luck & Regards,

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha


Q. We have a customer that removes heavy rust from carbon steel using the following formulation in spray type application:

61.7700 Water
20.0000 Caustic Soda, 50%
18.0000 Sod Gluconate
0.1000 Triton BG-106
0.0300 Dowfax 3B2
0.1000 SAG-10

The product is foaming too much and the batch needs to be spiked at least twice a day using Sodium Gluconate. I am trying to reformulate the product to reduce the Caustic:Gluconate ratio close to 4:1 and incorporate low foaming surfactant package of Triton DF-16/DF-12. The sales person working with this customer objects to it vehemently. What your advise would be on the subject matter?


Nina Geller
R&D Chemist - Memphis, Tennessee, US

sidebar 2003

It is unusual for a supplier to be this open about what they are including in their formulations, Nina, because it is easy for a competitor to read the formulation and offer to sell it cheaper. I can't help, and I hope someone offers the tip you are looking for.

Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha


A. Hi Nina,

Without knowing your customer's requirements, the parameters under which this rust removal is being performed, the amount of rust that needs to be removed, and the customer's limitations in terms of equipment, it is difficult to formulate from a distance.

A first glance at your formulation, however, leads me to believe that you have too little caustic present. The choice of surfactants in the product is somewhat curious to me, but low foamers from the Triton DF series are a good place to start. Obviously, an alkaline de-rusting product doesn't need much surfactant to begin with; I'm not sure that I would put any in it at all.

Good luck!

To Ted: I wouldn't be too concerned about any proprietary information being revealed in Nina's formulation. Most alkaline de-rusting products are pretty much created equal.

George Gorecki
- Naperville, Illinois


A. Although I am not familiar with the Triton detergent you listed, I think it may be similar to BG-10 which may be more stable in very strong alkaline solutions over time and elevated temps. I am guessing that the Dowfax is helping mostly to keep the nonionic surfactant in solution. I have worked with DF-16 and it is a good wetter and has low foam below its cloud point of about 100 deg F. but if you add solubilizers I think you would still get foam. Perhaps you could leave out the nonionic surfactants and just keep the Dowfax since it does have some wetting ability.

James Chunn
- Theodore, Alabama

September 4, 2020 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Ed. note:
abstract questions

Q. Hi All,

Can someone explain the mechanism behind rust removal by alkali solution.
The solution contains 10-25% NaOH and is claimed to remove rust/corrosion products from steel.
I do not understand the chemical reaction behind this process ... can someone assist?

Riccardo Rizzo
- Vicenza Italy

September 2020

A. Hi Riccardo. We added your question to a thread which explains that the NaOH is not the heart of what removes the rust. Chelators and proprietaries are important that job. Please take the time to introduce your situation, which both increases the interest level and will help steer the responses towards being most directly useful to you. Thanks.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

September 5, 2020

Thanks. I will try to be more precise.
I have some steel components which I left outside in the atmosphere for a long time. I am not sure what the name of the steel part is in English, but they can be used for gardening and others for boat (anchors). They are old and rusty as they have been exposed to atmosphere for long.
I am in touch with some chemical suppliers I know and they proposed me an aqueous solution containing 10-25% NaOH plus small percentages of an Alcohol ethoxylate and Hexyl D-glucoside. They claim it removes rust at high temperature (not sure how high). I must say it works according to what they showed me.
I do not understand the mechanism, though. What is removing the rust from the steel? I thought that at high pH (13-14) the pourbaix diagram shows a region of corrosion ... can it just be that?
Thanks for the help

Riccardo Rizzo
- Vicenza Italy

September 2020

A. Hi again. I am not a chemist but "alcohol ethoxylate" appears to be a surfactant which helps remove oil, possibly among other jobs; hexyl D-glucoside appears to be a detergent/surfactant.

I am not seeing anything to specifically 'dissolve' rust since I'm not seeing chelates, but high pH will discourage further rusting. Heavy rust is often 'dusty', 'fluffy', hygroscopic, and poorly adherent. So it seems that the proper surfactants/detergents, plus heat (maybe boiling), plus perhaps some mechanical abrasion, might well remove most of the rust.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading

September 6, 2020

thumbs up sign Hi Ted,

thanks. It is probably as you suggest. Probably temperature and agitation are doing most of the job.

Riccardo Rizzo [returning]
- Vicenza Italy

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