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Effective Ways to Prevent Rust On Metal

Preventing rust on metal can be easy with the right knowledge. Here are ways to prevent rust on metal.

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
January 13, 2023
 5 min read
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A variety of industrial and domestic tools and machines are made of metal, which means they are vulnerable to rusting. Prevention is the best way to keep your machinery and tools free from rust and its damaging effects as rust can easily spread and cause expensive repairs. 

While different strategies can prevent rust on metal it is equally important to understand why metals are prone to rust in the first place. This article explores 12 best practices for keeping machines and tooling free from rust.

Why Metals Are Prone to Rust

Metals can be made from a variety of materials including steel, iron, and aluminum. Rust is an iron oxide corrosion that causes damage to these materials. It forms when the metal comes in contact with oxygen and water or moisture. Metal is especially susceptible to rust in environments with increased amounts of acidity or saltiness, as these can corrode metal faster. For most metals that incorporate iron, as the iron within the metal is exposed to the elements, it will start to oxidize and form rust. This oxidation process weakens the metal, creating holes and depleted areas that can easily break apart.

Tips on How To Prevent Rust on Metal

Here are some tips for preventing rust:

  1. Use Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is a type of metal that is not prone to rust, so it’s an excellent preventative measure if you want to prevent rust on metal. Stainless steel is an alloy of iron and chromium. The high percentage of chromium creates a barrier that prevents oxygen and moisture from corroding the metal. This makes stainless steel an excellent preventative choice for metal that is exposed to the elements. 
  2. Apply Coating: Applying a sealant or coating to prevent the metal from coming into contact with the elements is another preventative measure. Coatings can prevent rusting by providing a physical barrier between the iron and oxygen, thus stopping oxidation from occurring. A wide variety of coatings are available, ranging from oil-based to synthetic resin coatings. It’s important to select the right coating for your metal to prevent corrosion and rusting. 
  3. Avoid Moisture: Rust is caused by oxygen and moisture, so avoiding these elements will prevent rust from forming. This includes keeping the metal away from humid environments and covering the metal to prevent it from coming into contact with moisture. It’s also important to prevent condensation on the metal by keeping the metal dry. 
  4. Cathodic Protection: Cathodic protection is a preventative technique that uses an electric current to prevent corrosion. It works by using a sacrificial anode, which essentially acts as a current sink, and creates an electrochemical reaction that prevents rust from forming. This is often used on machinery or tools that are exposed to water or other elements such as: fuel pipelines, storage tanks, water heaters, and boat hulls.
  5. Regular Maintenance: It’s important to inspect the metal for rust and put measures in place that will immediately address any rust that is found. Doing so will prevent the rust from spreading and causing further damage. It’s also a good idea to clean the metal regularly, as any dirt or debris can prevent coatings from properly protecting the metal. 
  6. Use Preventative Paints: Rust-preventative paints are specially formulated to prevent corrosion on metal. These paints come in a variety of colors and textures and contain additives that prevent the metal from corroding. They can be applied to many different types of metals and will help keep your machine or tool rust-free for longer. 
  7. Use Bluing Technique: Bluing is a preventative technique that uses a chemical solution to prevent rust from forming. The technique works by creating a protective layer of magnetite on the metal, which prevents oxygen from coming into contact with the iron and prevents oxidation. It is a passivation process often used on firearms, tools, and other machines to prevent rust.
  8. Use Galvanized Metal: Galvanized metal is a type of metal that has been treated with zinc oxide to prevent rust. The zinc oxide forms a protective layer over the iron, which prevents rust from forming. It is an excellent preventative option for machines and tools that are likely to come into contact with moisture or other elements. Galvanized steel can last for many decades—as long as 50 years.
  9. Use Weathering Steel: Weathering steel is a type of alloy that contains a variety of metals, such as copper, chromium, nickel, and zinc. This type of metal is extremely resistant to corrosion and can prevent rust from forming on machines or tools that are exposed to the elements. Compared to normal steel, which is made up of tiny pores, weathering steel is minimally porous—a property that significantly improves its corrosion resistance. 
  10. Proper Storage: Proper storage can prevent rust from forming. Metal should be stored in a cool, dry place and away from any sources of moisture or other elements that could cause corrosion. Additionally, any metal that is stored outdoors should be covered to prevent it from coming into contact with the elements. Before shipping metals for storage, it is important to make sure that the metal is thoroughly cleaned and free from any dirt or debris as well as any moisture.
  11. VCI Packaging: VCI packaging is a preventative technique that uses vapor corrosion inhibitors to prevent rust from forming. VCI packaging works by releasing molecules into the air, which prevents rust from forming. This technique can be used on small metal tools or tools that are being shipped, as the molecules prevent the formation of rust during the duration of the shipment.
  12. Proper Pre-Design: When designing metal machines or tools, it’s important to consider preventative measures. The design of the metal should prevent moisture as much as possible from coming into contact with the metal. This can include making sure that any exposed parts are sealed away from moisture or other elements, and using rust-resistant materials.

Your metal tools and equipment’s useful life can be extended when you take extra precautions against rust. By following these preventative tips, you’ll be able to keep your machines and tooling in great condition and prevent any costly repairs.

Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.