How to Keep Tools From Rusting in the Garage

We like to think that storing our expensive tools in the garage will keep them safe. However, that doesn’t always keep them free from rust.

No matter what type of metal your tools are made of, they can rust, although it’s more accurate to say they oxidize or corrode. 

You can prevent your metal tools from rusting (even in your garage) by choosing the correct tools, storage options, and cleaning methods. 

In this article, you’ll learn about the following: 

  • Which metals rust and which don’t
  • Tips to prevent your tools from corroding
  • How to clean rust off your tools
Extremely rusty wrench
A rusty wrench my wife left outside

Which Metals Rust and Which Don’t?

Before we talk about how to stop your tools from rusting in your garage, we’ll need to discuss which metals rust and which don’t. 

This section will get a little geeky but stay with me. 

Most metal tools will develop what’s commonly known as ‘rust.’ 

However, rust specifically means iron oxidation, meaning only iron ores (including steel) can rust. Every metal will corrode over time. 

Once corrosion starts, it eats away at your tools, weakening them.

Even brand-new tools can start to dull and break down in a matter of months.

Here’s what corrosion looks like on different types of common metals:

  • Iron:  Any tool, at least partly made of iron, can show rust within 3 to 5 days when it becomes damaged. Minor nicks or porous surfaces can introduce oxygen and moisture – the two primary causes of rust.
  • Steel: Steel is a combination of iron and carbon, so it makes sense that steel will also rust over time. Fortunately, most stainless steel tools are treated to be resistant to rust. That said, you should still take precautions to help prevent it.
  • Copper:  Copper doesn’t rust, but it does oxidize, which is another form of corrosion. Thankfully, copper is tough to break down, which is why it’s commonly used in electrical wiring. Unfortunately, it’s less durable than steel and only found in a few select specialty tools.
  • Aluminum: Aluminum won’t rust but can develop an oxidized corrosive layer. Most aluminum tools are made to resist oxidizing for quite some time, assuming you store the tools properly and don’t mistreat them.

The bottom line is any tool exposed to moisture will develop corrosion.

No matter what your tools are made of, it’s important to care for them to prevent rust – even if you store them in the garage.

How to Stop Your Tools From Rusting in Your Garage

The best way to get rid of rust is to prevent it. If you keep rust from forming on your tools, it doesn’t matter if you store them in your garage or the closet.

Here are a few simple suggestions to prevent rust. These should help increase the life of your tools.

  • Use an anti-corrosive spray cleaner: Everyone’s favorite, WD-40, was actually designed to help remove rust. Although the basic, red-cap WD-40 will work fine, the WD40 Specialist Corrosion Inhibitor Spray is explicitly designed to prevent corrosion. Just spray a thin coat on your tools and let them dry. It’ll help prevent corrosion for several months.
  • Prevent damage: We like to think of our tools as indestructible, but they’re not as tough as you think. Minor dents and chips from throwing them into your toolbox will eventually invite rust. A little toolbox organization will go a long way in helping keep them safe from damage.
  • Dehumidify your garage: One of the best ways to stop your tools from rusting is to remove the moisture from your garage. If you live in a humid environment, as I do, then you a dehumidifier in your garage is a must-have. 
  • Circulate the air in your garage. Another way to reduce moisture in the air is to move that air around. If you can place a couple of fans around the room, you’ll be able to keep your tools dry. Combining a dehumidifier and a garage fan is enough to prevent rust for a long time.
  • Keep your tools in an enclosed container. To most people, this means a toolbox, but anything that keeps them away from the open air will help. Not properly storing your tools in the garage is asking for rust and corrode to take hold.

Cleaning Rust Off of Metal Tools

If your tools already show signs of rust in your garage, the best thing to do is to correct it early. If you remove the rust before it starts to crack the metal, you can still restore your tools.

Check out this easy 4-step process to remove rust from the tools in your garage:

  1. Make a dense, compact ball out of aluminum foil. It should be tight enough to not break apart when scrubbing it against your tools.
  2. Mix a few drops of dish soap in a bowl with warm water. It can’t be cold because it won’t loosen the rust that’s built up on the metal.
  3. Dip the aluminum foil ball in the soapy water and scrub it against the rust. Use circular motions to prevent linear scratches. It’ll loosen the rust enough that it’ll come right off.
  4. Repeat step three until you’ve removed all the rust, then dry your tools off with towels before you store them in the garage. Any bit of moisture left will allow the rust to come back again.

Another option is to use a product like WD40 Specialist Rust Remover Soak. Simply soak your tools and let the solution break down the rust, leaving behind fresh, clean tools.

Wrapping It Up

Although rust technically only affects iron and steel, we use the term loosely to cover any metal oxidation and corrosion.

No matter what you call it, that corrosion is terrible for your metal tools. The best thing you can do is prevent rust before it happens. 

Rust prevention involves storing your tools properly and controlling the environment in your garage. Here in Florida, I use a combination of a dehumidifier and my Air King garage fan to reduce any moisture in my garage.

If you find rust on your hand tools, remove it quickly to prevent permanent damage.

One of the best ways to keep your tools safe from rust and corrosion is to keep them organized and protected. I have some cool ideas to do that in this article, so you should definitely check it out!

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Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.