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Rust Converter or Rust Remover? Which is right for you

Considering how to remove rust?

So you have a rusty object and you’re wondering if you should use a rust remover or a rust converter. 

There's a big difference and in the end it comes down to the rusty object or surface… both what it is and the intended appearance or function you're after. 

With so many products on the market, it can be difficult to assess which rust solution is best for your needs. Here are a few points to consider when deciding which is right for your project. 

Rust Removers will... 

  • strip rust from metal using a concentrated acid formulation. Most are extremely corrosive and hazardous. The rust removal can be pretty time consuming as the acid takes a while to be eaten away. There are a few on the market that claim to be non-toxic so be sure to look for those. 
  • require soaking of rusty items in the solution. For larger or stationary objects, you'll need to coat the surface with the rust remover then cover with plastic to prevent evaporation. Often times, multiple treatments are required and care must be taken to avoid unnecessarily overexposing the surface to the rust remover as the harsh chemicals will cause pitting in the metal. Once rust is removed the item is rinsed. Some removers include a feature to prevent flash rusting which can occur to exposed bare metal.
  • BEST USE:  If you're looking to resurface metal and require that the end result be exposed rust-free bare metal, then a rust remover is better suited for the task. Think rusty screw driver or the inside of a gasoline tank... items that you would NOT want to coat with paint but rather restore to a pure metal state.   
Rust Converters will...
  • literally convert rust into non-rust using naturally occurring plant-based acids. Rust converters chemically react with rust transforming it to an inert and paintable black substance. Most are water based and non-toxic. Rust is essentially removed as a surface problem and you'll be able to coat with water-based or acrylic-based paint.  
  • apply easily like paint and the reaction is fast and long lasting saving time and money. Many rust converters also act as a metal primer and a few claim they are vapor barriers that prevent further corrosion. Most topcoats are compatible including high performance coatings required for a wide range of industrial, construction, OEM, automotive restoration and marine application.
  • BEST USE:  If you will eventually paint the object, like a storage tank, automotive body part or fence railing, you’ll want to use a rust converter. Even better is to use a rust converter and primer in one - that way you only have to apply one coat. 
There are also non-chemical options for rust removal that include sandblasting or grinding. Sometimes people have a need for combining sandblasting AND use of chemicals (i.e. using rust removers or rust converters). 

Examples:  Fine finish ornate objects, such as belt buckles, tools and architectural hardware, and surface areas such as the inside of holding tanks tend to be sandblasted or treated with a rust remover. 

Whereas large (boats, storage tanks) and stationary (bridges, fences) objects are either coated with a rust converter or sandblasted then painted. Auto body parts, including frames and chassis, are also coated with a rust converter before painting. 

Keep in mind, these types of sandblasting processes are costly, labor intensive, not environmentally friendly and require equipment. That said, the result is a smooth exposed metal surface so if that's what you're after, these options might be for you. 

In summary, rust removers and rust converters both serve a valuable purpose. It all comes down to the type of rusted object or surface you want to restore and your ultimate goals for restoring it.