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topic 17478

How to rust steel on purpose

^- Olivier de Géa pencil sketch on rusted steel
(see Jan. 12, 2010 entry)

^--John Dupree's table
(see Aug. 29, 2008

Q. My company provides high quality doors and windows for custom homes. Being in the mountain / mining region, rusted steel is the preferred finish of choice for many surfaces in the home. My question relates to making new steel look old. What is the best, safest, time efficient way to rust raw steel? Then of course, what is the best way to stop or slow down the process and seal the finish as to not present a problem with peoples clothing, etc., coming in contact with the steel. Then what might the process be for rusting galvanized? Thank you for your help.

Richard C [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Telluride, Colorado


A. You're providing high quality doors and windows that rust on purpose? A lot of us are in the business of trying to prevent what you are asking :-)
What kind of warranty can you offer!?
You could paint something to make it look like rust.
You could paint over galvanneal as well.
You could use 588 steel that would weather and seal itself, but it would streak.

If you want something to rust evenly, you may have to sandblast it to remove any scale. Your trick is to keep it rusty but also protect it from rusting away.

Mike Stroia
- Canton, Ohio

Over 100 Ideas ..
from Abe Books



Q. After searching extensively on this site as well as general search engines and finding no TRULY USEFUL advice which provides IN LAYMAN'S TERMS an answer to a question MANY PEOPLE ARE ASKING I can only assume that

1. you genuinely don't know how to cause rust, or
2. you don't "get" the question, or
3. you would prefer to "sell something to simulate rust", or
4. I am far too stupid to understand your answer.

Assuming that #4 is correct, could you please dumb it down a few notches and tell us how to make steel rust? Is it acid? Is it alkali? What is the cheapest and most commonly available chemical to accelerate the rusting process? Table salt? Vinegar? Pool acid (muriatic?)? Some SAFE combination? What do you recommend on large projects (300' of "wrought iron fence)? Architectural elements? Again, assuming that I am just ignorant, metal which I DON'T want to rust does so for free, why should it be expensive to help the process along? I understand that time is money but it shouldn't take twice the national debt of Bolivia to make steel rust. Or is the answer #1 you really don't know?

Thanks in advance,

Mason D [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Phoenix, Arizona


A. I don't accept the characterization that we have "no truly useful advice" here, Mason; please see letters 11295, 24187, 25532, and 46400, which are great threads on the subject of rust finishes.

People's needs are often very different even when they use similar phases like "rust finish"; thus you criticize Mike for poorly answering the questions you had in mind but hadn't asked, when actually he answered Richard's questions very well. Richard has to guarantee that his high quality doors stop rusting; you don't have to guarantee your old wrought iron fence. Richard is very concerned about rust rubbing off on clothes, which it does -- so Mike suggested he consider rust-look paint to solve both problems ... and you say he prefers to sell something to simulate rust. Richard needs a streak-free look for his high quality doors, whereas a bit of streakiness on a wrought iron fence probably won't be noticed.

Salt plus vinegar is safe for people but quite corrosive to iron. It should work for your situation. Good luck!

Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Metal Clean and Etcher


A. I have "rusted" steel Bimex hinges (3" x 1") to make them look old as follows: Soaked them in metal edge^etch for 2 hours followed by rinsing and vinegar soak overnight. Then rinsed and placed in hot salt water solution overnight. Removed and left to dry. Rust had started to form. Then occasionally sprayed them with water to increase the rusting process. Satisfied with rusty look results at end of 2 day total process. Can't see any reason why larger objects would not work with modified process.

Ed N [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Sun City West, Arizona


Q. Question to Ed N you mentioned to soak pieces in metal edge^etch ? could you please tell me what that product is and where I could get some? thank you so much ...I want to rush hinges as well.

Dotty F [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
hobbyist - Bingham, Maine


A. Metal edge^etch is a metal etching solution I found at a hardware store. I have since "rusted steel on purpose" without this step. A vinegar soak overnight, Hot concentrated salt solution, and removal of the steel from the salt solution and allowed to dry in the air overnight. An occasional spray with water will speed the process. There is enough salt left on the steel from the hot soak. Finally wash in water, dry (blow dry) and a clear finish if desired. Results have been good and consistent.

Ed N [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Sun City West, Arizona


Q. I'm replicating furniture handle for rustic living room cabinet. The original pieces are made of steel or iron wire and are fashionably rusted. I've managed to recreate the shape and size, but how do I rust it quick! In few days instead of weeks?

Jay T [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
electronics engineer - Toronto, Ontario, Canada


A. I make large quantities of rust for thermite using two different methods (depending on the quality of the steel that I'm working with):

Method 1. --------- You'll need a source of DC electricity, a tub of water and some salt (maybe a tablespoon). Connect a piece of steel to the positive output from your DC source, stick that in the water, and then stick the negative output into the water (but don't let the two touch). Switch on your power supply and let it sit, I usually do this overnight. Make sure you unplug your power supply before attempting to get at the sweet rust meats inside (I think this goes without saying). BE CAREFUL NOT TO ZAP YOURSELF!

Alternatively, you could file the metal down to a nice fine powder, and as suggested above, place in vinegar water, and then warm salt water. As I mentioned before, I use the resulting rust powder to make thermite, which I then use to cast into "permanent" moulds for casting aluminium and various other metals, though I reckon if you were to mix this powder up with some varnish, you'd have a nice "rust paint" to work with. My biggest concern, as you expressed, would be the rust contaminating "healthy" metal. Unfortunately, I don't know how to solve that, but hopefully mine and the others' information has brought you halfway there! Cheers and good luck!

Andrew W [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
Hobbyist - Grandville, Michigan


A. I am not the expert you guys seem to be. I have found that by soaking a piece of plain steel 10xx series in hot pure orange or lemon juice you can put a very nice dark tarnish on a knife blade. This makes it not only look old and antiqued but it prevents any future rusting from occurring. Maybe this method will give you some other ideas. It does a great job of anti-reflectiveness on field knives.

Bill S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
military - Brunswick, Georgia


A. I recently had a project that required that the sculptured steel have 100 year rusted appearance.

After a lot of research and trial & error & error & error I finally found the right combinations to create 100 years of rust in two day process. I'll start with the chemicals, the amounts will very depending on your surface area. I'm basing on 4' x 4' x 1/4" steel both sides.

1 gallon Distilled Water
1 pint MEK / methyl ethyl ketone
2 pints Muriatic Acid [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]
1 half gallon hydrogen peroxide (Semiconductor Grade)
1 Cup Sea Salt, Course [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] (Table salt has Talc and will affect the final look)
1 Cup Iron Filings [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] or Ferric Oxide

1 Pair PVC chemical rubber gloves [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] "Acid resistant"
1 Box latex gloves [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]
2@ 2" to 4" PVC paint brush
1@ 2 gallon plastic bucket
1@ Plastic Spray Bottle
1@ Pizza Cheese Shaker
1@ Water Hose

1. Have your target steel sandblasted to raw metal with an even texture.
2. Find a well ventilated area with access to a water source and drain attach the hose to the water source.
3. Mix equal parts Sea Salt and Iron Filings into the Pizza Cheese Shaker.
4. Fill the plastic spray bottle with Hydrogen Peroxide set the spray pattern to mist and store in a cool dark place until needed. Use Latex gloves; this will burn your skin fast.
5. Lay the intended rusting surface face up and flat. Using rags use the MEK / methyl ethyl ketone and clean any oil, dirt off the surface of the bare metal.
6. Mix the Muriatic Acid and Distilled Water in the plastic bucket and let rest "Cool" be sure to use the PVC Gloves.

1. Using the mixed Acid and paint brushes heavily coat the surface of the steel and let stand for 15 minutes.
2. Using the water hose rinse the Acid mixture off the surface of the steel.
3. While the surface is still damp sprinkle the Sea Salt & Iron evenly over the surface of the steel.
4. Spray the salted surface with the Hydrogen Peroxide and watch the rust form allow it dry and repeat steps 3 & 4 until you achieve the desired finish.
5. Allow surface to dry thoroughly and continue to the next desired surface.

John A [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- San Jose, California


Q. I need to have a rusty finish on my small old truck models without using commercial compounds

Mostafa H [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
hobbyist - Cairo, Egypt

April 20, 2009

Q. Hey I saw someone post a question about rusting old model cars. Well, I am trying to do the same it seems the vinegar and clorox bleach isn't working just yet but I'll keep trying; my cars are diecast so it may take more than two days. Hmmmmm anyone have any ideas?

michael beebe
- honolulu hawaii

May 14, 2012

A. Hi, Michael.

I don't know about Mostafa's truck models, but your diecast cars are made of zinc, not steel. Although zinc will corrode with white pits and pockmarks, it can't ever turn to rust. You would need to use an iron patinating solution if you want rust.


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey


A. I am an architect/builder researching aging and/or getting a patina of rust on steel and was amused by the dialogue to/from the fellow from Telluride, CO. I, too, am doing a high end house in the mountains, and will be using rusted steel in several applications, including the front door.

Those of you in the business of preventing rust, corrosion, and the apparent aging of materials used in construction have to indulge us on this issue. Telluride, like many areas of Colorado and the west has a rich history of mining, logging, and other industrial activities that are preserved (?) in the old buildings that have survived the years but are ravaged by the elements . . . rusty tin roofs and hinges, wood weathered to a light grey, paint faded where sun and rain have worked on it over time, etc.

For new construction many architects, builders and owners want to recapture the look of these materials without actually using old materials.

In my case, I want to install some rusted steel column covers and a large panel over a fireplace in a house that we are building in the mountains for a client. I have a sample of a piece of steel that has been artificially rusted that is beautiful! (sorry, guys!) the fabricator used a thin sheet of hot rolled steel and misted it with vinegar and then sprinkled salt onto it and let is sit for several days, lightly misting it to keep it moist. The color is a rich, mottled rust orange, but the surface is powdery and very fragile, so we still have the problem of "fixing" the color to the base metal so that it doesn't rub off.

So I will try the methods suggested on this site and report the success, or lack thereof, of my efforts.

I wonder if the one writer meant to say METAL ETCHANT rather than "METAL EDGE" . Etchant is also available from Radio Shack, although it is a nasty chemical and the directions need to be followed.


Tyson D [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Winter Park, Colorado

Ed. note: Thank you for catching that, Tyson -- you are surely right about metal etch/etchant rather than metal "edge" :-)

May 7, 2009

Q. Tyson G, the architect, describes using white, weathered wood. How do you seal it without the wood darkening and destroying its soft greyness? I've tried all the usual varnishes and all of them darkened the light areas of wood and, worse, really darkened the darker areas to the point the wretched thing looked piebald.
Also, which sealer are you all using on rusted metal without it darkening and losing its original 'dry' appearance?

Liz Doidge
- Mannum, South Australia, Australia


Q. I am trying to get some metal(iron) strips to rust quickly for an application that I am using in my home. I know that there is a type of chemical that will do this, can you let me know what this is, also what type of sealer do you recommend to seal up the metal after this process has taken place. Also, do you know how long the process takes?

Teresa S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
developer - Commerce Township, Michigan

^-- John Dupree's table
(see Aug. 29, 2008

Olivier de Géa pencil sketch on rusted steel
(see Jan. 12, 2010 entry)


Q. I, too, have been researching this question since we are attempting to build a shade structure on our house and want this finish on the roof. We are seeing shopping centers using this look and are assuming that it can't be too difficult to do since builders are using it in quantity. Has anyone tried rusting those 2' x 8' corrugated metal strips? Vinegar and salt sound like the best and cheapest method if it works.

Dorothy D [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Queen Creek, Arizona


A. I am an artist that has been using rusted steel canvasses for a few years. What I have found to rust evenly and the most time efficiently is Muriatic Acid [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]. I use very diluted acid/water mix and apply it to cold rolled steel and within 24 hours the 5x3 foot canvass is pretty covered. For three to four more days I spray the metal down with warm water only (add a little salt to speed things up). The water baths remove most of the acid compound. The metal will continue to rust and pit so you must stop the process at desired aesthetic. I use hydrogen peroxide [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] to stop the chemical process (this is a tip I picked up in an old chemistry book). After I have finished painting, sanding, etching etc. etc. I apply two coats of water based polyurethane. I have sold paintings to people who display them outside on their patios and I have yet to find unwanted rust anywhere on the metal. I would also advise recoating with clear coat every few years.

Jeff F [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Portland, Oregon


A. Hi - I use vinegar to get that Old West look we love out here. Yes, it will eventually rust thru - 50 years or so from now - but in the meantime, we'll enjoy the weathered funky western look.

Nancy F [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Tucson, Arizona


thumbs up signI thank you for having this page. I see there are a lot of folks pro or not interested in rusting or antiquing metal.

This old look is just the thing for expensive Santa Fe style art. What we are doing is as valid as figuring out how come 300 series stainless is rusting near a pool.

There are many high grade products for gun bluing or browning out there. As I find their names I will provide them. Thanks once again, Bob

Bob H [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
Blacksmith - Chandler, Arizona


Q. I am a student at the University of Minnesota and I am currently doing a steel sculpture that I would like to have a consistent and smooth (maybe a little gritty) rusty finish. This page has been a huge help so far, and I'm going to try a bunch of the cheaper and easier options you have suggested. Does anyone know if one of these methods is most what I'm looking for? Thanks for your help,

Henry B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Minneapolis, Minnesota


Q. Looking for process to etch and rust metal.

Paul R [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
cabinet maker - Phoenix, Arizona


A. SO YOU want RUST! Cheap Rust, FAST Rust on steel/iron products. I'm about to divulge a family secret. but here goes.....

Simple - Pool CHLORINE. Cheap @ $2.50 a Gallon.

Pour Chlorine in a "clean" spray bottle and use away from concrete or anything you don't want to destroy! I shouldn't have to tell you but please don't mix anything with this and BE CAREFUL wear chemical rubber gloves [linked by editor to product info at Amazon] do not breathe in fumes while spraying on product. Read the handling instructions. this stuff is a nasty product. be sure to remove any oils or greased.
Depending on the vintage-ness or amount of rust you desire. this will produce quick rust with in hour. reply let dry & repeat.

I then seal with a simple Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane [linked by editor to product info at Amazon]spray can or something like that depending if this is indoor or outdoor to seal it and sustain the rusty finish you created. this way you can handle your product and the rust will not come off on your customers hands when handling your finished product.
Have fun & be safe.

PHIL K [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Phoenix, Arizona


thumbs up signI am building 3 automatic mild steel gates for a state park and they are required to have an actual rust finish. I am grateful for all the postings on this subject. I am under a deadline to perform so can't wait too long for results. The sea salt and vinegar sounds too long. I would like to try the electrolysis method but the gates are 24 feet long and they won't fit in my bathtub! Therefore I will opt out for the pool chlorine method and hope it works as fast as reported. I am having the gates and gate posts sand blasted tomorrow after which I will try and rust them fast. It is true by the way that passing electricity from electrodes through a brine solution (called cracking) produces chloride gas which is lethal to humans; don't try it in your bath tub!

Peter L [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Washington, Utah


Q. Hey Guys,
I'm making a three side fireplace wrap from cor-ten steel and have the rust level where I want it. I'm looking for ideas for protecting the rust finish while installing it and that is safe to use around a fireplace. I've heard to use wax but it seems to me it would break down over time. Any ideas?
Thanks in advance.

Adam B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin


A. This is a recipe us crafters use to make safety pins, and bells rust for our dolls and things

This concoction will nicely rust all those safety pins, jingle bells, or anything else you want to 'age' for your primitive creations. Do this outside in a safe place (away from children or pets, of course).
In an old mayo jar, combine:
1/2 cup of cider vinegar
1/2 cup of Clorox bleach
1 teasp. of salt

Add your pins or bells and cover loosely. Place in a safe spot and let it sit for about 2 days. Some ladies get desired results in about 2 hours, but I like them super rusty, so I've always left them for about 2 days.

When they are ready, take an old plate (one that you only use for this project from now on) and line it with a couple layers of paper towel. Remove pins or bells with an old fork - again, one you will never use at the dinner table again, and place them on the paper-lined plate. Put the plate in a safe & sunny place. The rusting will occur as they dry. You can swirl the plate periodically to reposition bells so they dry underneath also. It will take a few hours.

So there you have it... beautiful rusty stuff!

~Nanny's Cottage


*When ANY acid (such as vinegar in this recipe) is mixed with household Bleach (of any brand name) there is a rapid production of Chlorine Gas, an EXTREMELY TOXIC, even DEADLY gas. If using this recipe, please do so outside on a breezy day and do NOT breathe the air downwind of the mix. Wear safety glasses, as this can be an explosively fast reaction that creates some splashing. Repeated exposure to Chlorine Gas will do serious damage to your lung tissue.

*DO NOT throw this solution down the sink when you are done. I dispose of mine out in the woods away from pets or children.

Here's another way to do it

1 pint hydrogen peroxide
1/4 C. vinegar
2 Tbs table salt

Mix together in a large plastic bowl, and then add your metal items to rust. They should start turning the solution brown in an hour or so, but you can leave it overnight if you wish. Take your items out of the mixture, and then lay them on a newspaper or stack of paper towels to dry out in the sun. They will continue rusting as they dry. Feel free to cut the recipe in half or double it according to your needs.

Hope this helps someone it came from the great gals over at

Kim C [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Harrison Michigan

Eastwood Diamond Clear


A. I've been rusting many things for a clients house and I've found that Eastwood has a spray clear =>
for restoring cars that works great. There are gloss and satin clears for painted and bare metals. One they have is supposed to stop rust, but be careful I think this one can get milky if put on uneven.

Bruce R [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Rochester, Michigan

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