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Unlocking Rusty Pliers: Insights from the Experts

All hand tools are prone to rust, especially when you tend to work in moist conditions – like when fishing. Pliers are particularly at risk because of their movable joints. When rust gets the best of them, they become hard to use because the joint stops moving altogether. But do you know how to free up rusted pliers?

Luckily for you, there are multiple ways to clean rusted pliers. As long as you have the right tools, patience, and skills, it’ll be a breezy task.

If you want to know how to free up rusted pliers, here are all the methods you can go for.

How to Free up Rusted Pliers: 4 Different Methods

rusty pliers

There are four different ways to remove rust from a pair of pliers. You can choose according to the pliers’ state and the availability of items in your house. That said, make sure you have the safety gear ready if you’re dealing with chemicals.

Method 1: Scraping and Sanding

If the pliers still have mild rust, you can scrape it off physically. In this case, using harsh chemicals may cause the edges to go blunt, especially if there isn’t much rust to start with.

Author Note: For this method on how to free up rusted pliers, you’ll need coarse sandpaper or steel wool, and any dish detergent.

  1. Grab a large bowl and fill it with water. Then, drop some dish soap inside and wash the pliers thoroughly.
  2. After you rinse the pliers and dry them well, start scrubbing. You can use steel wool or sandpaper if the rust is mild.
  3. Start with the coarse sandpaper to remove all the built-up rust on the surface. Then, opt for a smoother abrasive and start smoothing out the grooves and bumps. You can use fine-grain sandpaper for this step.

Method 2: Oxalic Acid

When your pliers have too much rust on them, you’ll inevitably need to use some chemicals. Otherwise, you’ll spend the next week trying to scrub the rust off. Oxalic acid is ideal for removing rust because it causes it to dissolve right off the surface.

Plus, the acid can get into the tiniest crevices, thanks to its liquid state. This way, you make sure it removes all the rust possible from the pliers.

Author Note: For this procedure, you’ll need dish detergent, a pair of rubber gloves, a towel, and goggles.

  1. If the pliers aren’t clean, wash them thoroughly using the dish detergent to remove all the grease.
  2. Wear your rubber gloves, then wear the goggles before dealing with the acid. It’d also be better if you worked in a well-ventilated area.
  3. Grab a large plastic bucket and fill it with one gallon of water. Then, add three tablespoons of oxalic acid. Make sure the bucket can fit the pliers so that they’re fully submerged in the liquid.
  4. Drop the pliers into the bucket, making sure to submerge them. Then, wait for 20 minutes and check them. If the rust is gone, take them out, rinse them with water, and dry them using a towel. If they need more time, you can leave them in the diluted acid for half an hour or more.

Method 3: Vinegar and Salt

If you don’t want to deal with oxalic acid, you can use vinegar and salt instead. They won’t remove the rust fully, but they’ll soften it so that you can scrub it off smoothly afterward.

Author Note: All you need is a large bucket, a metal brush, and a towel for cleaning and drying.

  1. Clean the pliers thoroughly using water and any detergent you have lying around. When the pliers are totally clean with no sign of dirt or grease, you can start removing the rust. Otherwise, the grease can compromise the whole process.
  2. Grab the plastic bucket and put your pliers inside. Then, pour vinegar on it until it’s fully submerged. Afterward, add the salt. For each liter of vinegar, add a quarter cup of salt.
  3. Leave the pliers submerged for two to three days until you see the rust starting to break down. The vinegar isn’t as abrasive as oxalic acid, so it’ll typically take some time to show results.
  4. After three days, check the pliers to see if the rust is ready to be scoured. At this point, it should be soft and broken down on the surface.
  5. When the rust is soft enough, start scrubbing the pliers using your metal brush. If you don’t have a brush, you can use steel wool instead.
  6. After you scrub all the rust off, wash the pliers and rinse them thoroughly to remove all the remnants. Then, use a clean towel to dry them well.

Method 4: Baking Soda

If your pliers aren’t fully rusted, you can use baking soda. It has a mild effect, so it’ll only work if there are small areas of rust on the pliers rather than the whole thing.

To clean off the rust using baking soda, you’ll need a towel, some water, and a metal brush.

  1. Degrease the pliers before starting and make sure there isn’t a sign of dirt on them.
  2. Grab a small bowl and fill it with water. Then, add some baking soda and stir the mixture until it forms a paste.
  3. Apply the paste to the affected areas. Then, leave it on the pliers for a couple of hours or more if the rust is particularly tough.
  4. After two or three hours, scrub the paste off with a brush. You’ll find the rust coming off with it, but do it gently to prevent scratching the pliers. If you don’t have a metal brush for scrubbing, you can use a scouring pad instead.
  5. When you’re done removing the rust, wash the pliers thoroughly, rinse them with water, and dry them off using a clean towel.

How to Store Your Pliers to Keep Them From Rusting

saltwater pliers

Yes, there are four methods to remove rust from your pliers. But that doesn’t mean you should leave them to rust. Prevention is always better than treatment. If you want to keep your pliers rust-free for the longest time possible, follow these simple tips.

  • Keep your pliers dry after you use them to prevent rust buildup. You can also apply a rust preventer if you tend to work in moist conditions.
  • Store the pliers in a dry place, and make sure it’s clean. You shouldn’t expose it to dust or moisture; both can affect its durability in the long term. We like to store our pliers in a water-proof tackle box or our boat’s center console.
  • If you store your pliers in a toolbox, use silica gel packs to keep them dry. These tiny packs that you often see in shoe boxes absorb all the moisture and humidity around. Alternatively, you can use a wooden toolbox because the wood naturally absorbs the humidity.
  • If you store your pliers in a place with high humidity, buy a dehumidifier to keep the moisture to a limit. The device won’t only protect your pliers, but it’ll keep all your tools safe as well.
  • Keep your pliers hung or on a shelf. Try not to leave them on the ground or leave the toolbox as a whole because it’s more prone to moisture.

How to Maintain Your Pliers to Keep Them From Rusting

using fishing pliers

Aside from the storing conditions, there are some maintenance tips that’ll keep your pliers in service for a longer time. If you manage to follow them, you won’t see rust on your pliers anytime soon.

Clean Them

The simplest way to protect your pliers and keep them from rusting is by cleaning them. You may think dust and grease don’t have to do anything with rusting, but they both attract moisture.

All you have to do is wipe them down using an old towel after you’re done using them.

Check Them Constantly

After you use your pliers and clean them thoroughly, examine them closely for any cracks or splinters. If these get too much, they can ruin your pliers eventually. Besides, they’ll cause the rust to spread faster.

Author Note: So, make sure to check the pliers for any signs of rust or cracks before you store them. If you see rust, it’s better to set the pliers aside until you can scrub the rust off and use them again.

Lubricate the Joints

Hand tools that have movable joints are more prone to rust than others. So, this means your pliers are in danger if you don’t keep them lubricated. You can use any all-purpose oil you have lying around for that.

Once you notice the joints are becoming harder to move or making a creaking sound, lubricate them. You can also spray the oil lightly on your tools to prevent rust from forming.

To Wrap Up

Rusted pliers are a hassle to deal with, especially if they’ve been rusted for a while. Sometimes, the pliers will be too far gone that you’ll have to use oxalic acid, although it’s not the safest chemical to deal with.

Remember to wear your safety gear and use a metal brush to get the stubborn bits out. That said, it’s better to prevent rust from growing in the first place by maintaining the pliers and storing them well.

We hope this guide on how to free up rusted pliers was useful.

Happy Hunting!


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