How to Clean & Care for Antiques: Rusty Metal

Hi everyone! Sometimes I assume that everyone knows what I know about vintage and antiques. I have to stop and remember that it’s  has taken me a long time to get where I am (and believe me, I’ve got plenty more to learn).

I thought it might be helpful for some, especially those just starting out, to learn a how to care for the [less than perfect] items you might buy, whether for sale or for use in your home.

So, every now and again I’ll be writing a post about the various techniques I use to clean vintage and antiques, and otherwise prepare them for sale. Today I’ll pass on my easy steps for restoring and protecting rusty metal–going from sad and flaky to revitalized and protected. Let’s take a look at how to clean and care for antiques: rusty metal specifically. 

How to Clean & Care for Rusty Antiques adirondackgirlatheart.comLast July I bought a large box of rusty junk valuables. I think it cost me seven dollars. What was I thinking?

box of rusty vintage junkI’ve been slowly cleaning the contents one by one, and have more than tripled my money by selling just three of the items in the box.

Vintage Box of Rusty StuffThe other day I removed this small cigar box from the larger box and decided to tackle its contents.

Supplies Needed to Clean & Care for Rusty Metal

This post contains affiliate links for research materials related to this blog post. This is both for your convenience as well as to support my blog, as I receive a small compensation whenever you click on such a link and make any sort of a purchase, for which I thank you.

Tools for Removing Rust wire brushes, steel wool, mineral oilI gathered my supplies:

  1. Wire brush(es)
  2. Steel wool
  3. Rags
  4. Mineral oil

Removing Rust From a Metal Awl

Rusty Ice PickI decided to start with this piece, an old ice pick. Because it was extremely rusty and had crusty hunks of the stuff on it, I gave it a good scrubbing with my small wire brush.

This technique is obviously not for a delicate, highly valuable antique. You would use other methods on those. No, this is for super cruddy items, like this one, that will have no other purpose or value until you get the rust off.

Wire BrushesYou can pick up wire brushes like these very cheaply at hardware stores or a Harbor Freight. Sometimes they come in packs of three. As you can tell, I’ve had my smaller one for a long time. The larger wire brush handles larger pieces well. 

Rust scrubbed from wire plant holderJust look at the rust dust that the brushing left behind after I scrubbed this hanging basket. [Be careful not to inhale this stuff; I’m sure it’s not good for you. You might consider wearing a mask of some sort.]

Ice Pick Scrubbed With Wire BrushAfter being scrubbed, the awl looks quite a bit better already, doesn’t it? But while you can still see some bits of rust, the next step will take care of that.

Ice pick rubbed with steel wool and mineral oil
Scrub your piece with some steel wool and bit of mineral oil and the last of the rust will pretty much disappear. If the item you’re working on doesn’t have too much rust to begin with, you can jump right to the steel wool/mineral oil.

The oil improves the look of the piece and protects it from further rust at the same time. For the last step, rub the piece vigorously with a lint-free rag. When you hold your piece in your hand, you don’t want it to feel greasy, just clean and smooth.

Vintage Ice Pick in Various StagesHere’s the progression of the piece. Your steps: (1) wire brush scrub (2) steel wool and mineral oil scrub (3) lint-free cloth rub down.

Caring for and Cleaning a Rusty Doorknob Plate

Rusty Door Plate
This door plate came from the rusty crusty box. As you can see, it’s in pretty bad shape.

Cleaned DoorplateAfter experiencing its rusty metal spa treatment, the rust is gone (it looks better in person than in the photograph!).

Close up of cleaned and oiled ice pick and door plate
Things are looking pretty good.

Removing Rust from Metal Orbs

Rusty Orbs
These rusty orbs were also in the box.

Clened and Oiled formerly rusty stuff
They’re all relaxing after their spa treatments. I guess we could all benefit from a hard scrub and an oil rub-down now and again, couldn’t we?

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Bye for now,


I’d love it if you’d pin for later πŸ™‚

Learn How to Clean & Care for Rusty Metal Antiques

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  1. Thanks for the helpful tips. I am now following you on several social media sites so that I don’t miss a trick!

    Big Texas Hugs,
    Susan and Bentley

  2. Such great rusty stuff! You certainly got your money’s worth! Thanks for showing us how you beautify it all. xo Kathleen

  3. Thank you for this post. I have an old rusty horse door knocker that I’ve been keeping around for years knowing there is beauty underneath but didn’t know how to get at it. Now going to get mineral oil and a wire brush.

  4. Amazing! Perfect timing for this post for me as I had just purchased a box of rusty treasures and wasn’t sure how to make them pretty again! Thanks a boxload!

  5. gosh I can think of dozens of things I use mineral oil on: butcher block, cutting boards, all kinds of hardware, even drawer edges run smoother with a rub down of mineral oil on the guider, my brass as a seal coat. Great tutorial, I hope everyone uses your techniques. Mineral oil is nature’s protector. Thanks, Sandi

  6. This is a great post Diana! It’s amazing how good those old pieces look after you cleaned them all up!


  7. Years ago an antique dealer friend told me that after he did the method you described he then dried them in the oven to bake the oil in. I did do that a few times and the pieces had gorgeous patina. Thanks for reminding me.

  8. Great tips. I love rusty but every now and then I need to clean up my rust a bit. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Love your ideas for giving these rusty treasures the spa treatment. Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks at Talk of the Town.

  10. Great tips, Diana! Thanks for linking up at Talk of the Town and for sharing the party – I’m sharing your link on Facebook, and pinning it to the Knickof of Time party board!

  11. Thanks Diana …. very useful information. I have not used mineral oil, but will certainly try it.

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  13. What a great read today….I love rusty old stuff and now I know what to do w them! Thanks for the info. Karan

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  16. When I studied archeaology, we learned that the rust is still there. Do you have any pieces that you’ve cleaned this way a few years ago? If you do, how are they looking? Do they need repeated cleanings to keep them looking as nice as they look when you have just cleaned them? I’d love to buy some old pieces to add to the collection for when i finally do get set up with e-bay, but don’t want to receive complaints later….thanks for your help…..i enjoy your antique/vintage hunting posts enormously…….

  17. HI Diana! I came across an old copper tea kettle that has beautiful patina but it is dirty. How can i clean this without taking away the age of it?

    1. Hi Cheryl! In my experience, the only way to clean a copper kettle without removing the patina would be with a damp rag, to remove dust on the surface. Depending upon how old it is, cleaning may increase its value, for example, if it’s a vintage rather than antique piece. Good luck!

  18. I just purchased a 1956 Ford tonka truck. It’s really just dirty and rusty in spots, no big chunks. Wish I could show you a pic. Would you just suggest the steel wool and mineral oil to clean it? I want to keep the rustic look.

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