Rust or oxidation is caused by moisture settling on the surface of metals containing iron. Oxygen, moisture, and iron react with each other to form rust. Guns are, of course, made from iron alloys which, despite being coated with various protective layers that we commonly know as blueing, can still rust.
Light surface rust that has formed on the surface of your gun can easily be removed by rubbing the rust off the weapon with an oily rag, all-purpose brush, or in some instances, using oily steel wool. Heavy rust removal can be done chemically or by grinding the rust off by hand or mechanically.
Rust forming on the surface of a firearm often appears when you least expect it. The rust may be very slight but can permanently damage the surface finish if untreated for an extended time. Various ways of removing the rust exist. Let’s have a look at how to remove rust from a gun.
How To Remove Rust From A Gun
Rust on guns usually appears in two forms: light surface rust that looks like dust on the gun’s surface to hard scaly rust. The two forms of rust require different removal treatments, which we’ll explore below.
Light surface rust usually occurs on weapons that have been blued. Light rust usually results from the handling of the weapon. The rust spots are often evident after a couple of days and show up as patches where fingerprints have triggered the oxidation reaction.
When out hunting, shooting on the range, or even just showing off your prized possession to an excited friend, moisture from sweaty hands is transferred to the weapon when touching the metal parts. Usually, the weapon is packed away without wiping it down or missing a spot with an oily rag.
Fortunately, surface rust is not severe if caught in time and will not cause permanent damage to the finish of your weapon.
How To Remove Surface Rust From Your Weapon
The process to remove surface rust is a simple one. Simply wipe the gun down with good-quality gun oil.
What you need
- A couple of bore cleaning patches or a cotton rag.
- Good quality gun oil
- Number four steel wool (smallest diameter available)
- All-purpose brush or even an old toothbrush.
Step one, make sure your weapon is safe and unloaded. Although this sounds like common sense, most accidental discharges occur at home while cleaning a gun. Pistols, semi-auto, and pump-action shotguns are prime candidates for AD’s, so don’t let your guard down when unloading. Make sure!
Next, dismantle the weapon into its significant parts. For pistols and shotguns, remove the barrel to reach the interlocking channels in the metalwork. With bolt action rifles, remove the bolt and magazine or, if possible or drop open the magazine floor plate.
Step three is to give the weapon a good wipe down using a rag before applying oil. Use the all-purpose brush (nylon or brass bristles, not wire or steel bristles) to get into all the hard-to-reach corners and crevices on the weapon. The purpose is to remove any loose rust particles and dirt.
The next step is to apply oil to the metal parts and give the weapon a good rub with some patches or a cotton rag. When the rag becomes dirty, grab a clean rag and repeat the process. The aim is to rub off the remaining rust particles with the aid of the oil.
When applying the oil, spread the oil on the rag and then, using the rag, rub the oil onto the weapon’s surface. The reason for applying the oil onto the rag is to avoid oil getting onto unwanted areas like your guns stock, scope lens, laser optics, leather sling, etc. It is just more controllable when rubbing the oil on manually.
Rust has a rough texture, so the initial few rubs will feel rough or have noticeable resistance when rubbing the surface. Once the rust comes off the surface will smoothen up significantly. When this happens, you are making good progress.
Once the entire surface of the weapon has an oil coating, allow the gun to rest for about 10 minutes. This gives the gun oil time to penetrate the weapon’s surface and lift any remaining loose rust particles.
Now take a clean rag, apply a little oil and give the weapon one more wipe down. Do this thoroughly, as any missed spots will likely develop new rust spots. Repeat this step if the rag shows any signs of rust residue. Don’t forget to give the hard-to-reach spaces like the magazine well the same treatment.
Should you encounter a patch that still shows rust at this stage, grab the steel wool, apply some oil directly to the rusted spot and give the area a few light rubs with the steel wool. Take it easy when using the steel wool, as you do not want to end up with a silver patch on a beautifully blued weapon by rubbing off its finish.
When done rubbing the steel wool, revert to the rag and oil process and give the area a rub down with the oily rag until the area is smooth and rust-free.
When you’re satisfied that all the surface rust has been removed, re-assemble the weapon. Give the gun down a final rub down with a lightly oiled rag.
I like to give the weapon an additional rub down with a lightly oiled rag a day or two after removing the rust just to make sure that all is good.
When storing your gun, it is advisable not to keep the weapon in its gun bag, or case as these often trap moisture and don’t allow airflow over the metal surfaces. This will eventually lead to rust formation.
Some firearm owners use dehumidifiers to dry the air out in the gun room. A more cost-effective method is to use desiccant packs strategically placed in your gun storage area to absorb additional moisture.
When living in a damp climate near the ocean, humidity can be a real problem and causes a real headache for gun owners. The only practical solution is regularly checking and oiling your weapons to ensure the protective oils remain in place.
Most rust spots are caused by moisture transferred onto the gun by human hands. Preventing moisture from reaching the iron in the weapon will ensure you never have to worry about your gun rusting. A good practice is to wipe your weapon with oil after handling the gun.
Dealing With Heavy Rust Deposits On A Gun
In instances where a valuable weapon has rusted badly, professional help in the form of a good gunsmith will be required to ensure the gun is returned to its original condition. We call this process a restoration.
For a non-valuable weapon that has developed heavy rust, you may want to try the following DIY processes to remove the rust. Given that the rust has penetrated the protective blueing and will have already damaged the weapons surface to some extent, the risk of causing further damage is minimal.
Heavily rusted weapons can be saved provided that the significant working parts such as the bolt mechanism, chamber, and bore are still in good condition. The external surfaces can deteriorate significantly if left unattended for a long time as the main ingredient in the metal is iron, which rusts.
Heavy rust can be removed from a weapon’s surface but requires invasive treatment. Rust removal can include scouring, filing, sandblasting, sanding, or chemical de-rusting treatments. Unfortunately, damage to the original surface finish of the weapon will occur. The gun will need to be reblued or recoated to be restored to its original condition.
Chemical de-rusting is an effective solution to removing rust from the surface of your weapon. Specially formulated acids have been developed for this purpose. One such product is Muriatic Acid, but we’ll use household vinegar for this exercise, which, although edible, is also a mild acid.
Scratches made while cleaning will be easily visible and further mar the surface. Despite gun steel being strong, it is prone to scratching if you use the wrong tools to remove the rust. Never use items such as a screwdriver or blade to scratch the rust off the weapon.
The below steps explain how to perform a basic chemical rust removal.
You’ll need the following items
- Paper towels
- Nr four steel wool or a very finely grained scouring pad
- Gun oil
- All-purpose nylon or copper bristled brush
- Cotton rag
Lay a sheet or two of the paper towel on your work surface to soak up any mess created.
The first step is to give the rusted area a thorough rub down using the all-purpose brush to remove the loose rust particles. Follow this with a light rub down using the steel wool to ensure the rusted surface is bare.
Follow the above with the application of vinegar to the metal surface. Apply some vinegar onto the cotton cloth and rub the vinegar onto the rusted area. Soak the rust well but don’t apply too much vinegar as this can run onto areas that you don’t want to have treated.
Allow the vinegar an hour or two to do its magic. Once the vinegar has had time to loosen the rust, use the brush to scrub the affected area, followed by the steel wool. The vinegar can be reapplied from time to time to ensure that the problem area remains well coated.
Should rust traces still be evident, reapply vinegar and allow to soak, then repeat the brush and steel wool process.
Once the rust is removed, the remaining traces of vinegar need to be removed to stop the chemical rust removal. Apply some gun oil onto the rag and give the affected area a thorough rub down. Should the area feel rough, apply some oil to the steel wool and give the affected area a smoother finish.
Allow the oil some time to soak into the affected area, and then give the gun another rub down with the oiled rag.
When the rust is removed, the original blueing will have been rubbed off or degraded when the rust occurred. The choice is then yours at this stage as to what finish you wish to apply to your gun. The cheapest option is to apply cold blue to the affected area or have the whole gun reblued or coated with one of the modern options.
If you decide not to reblue the gun after rust removal, ensure the firearm stays well oiled to prevent the rust from recurring.
How To Prevent Your Gun Rusting
The theory is quite simple: regularly apply an oil coating to prevent moisture from reaching your gun’s iron, and you won’t need to worry about rust. In practice, this is not so easy. Even in dry climates, rust can be a problem.
The conditions in which the weapon is kept and used will determine the frequency of the oiling required. Guns carried as concealed carry weapons will require far more care given their proximity to human skin.
A hunting rifle would, by contrast, spend most of its time in safekeeping away from sweaty bodies and moist conditions, meaning far less exposure to potential rust.
Rust can be removed relatively easily from your weapon. Surface rust comes off the gun’s metal surface without difficulty, provided it is caught in the early stages of formation.
Once heavy rust has set in, chemical or manual treatment will be required to remove it.