Printer Friendly

Removing rust with electrolysis: here's a simple method for removing rust from a blued-steel firearm without damaging the bluing.

It's always a challenge to remove rust, especially from hard-to-reach places, and the challenge becomes even greater if the job requires that rust must be removed without affecting the bluing on the rest of the firearm. But there is a relatively simple way to do it using a process known as electrolysis.

A while ago, I purchased an M1911 automatic that on the outside looked to be in great condition. When I took it apart, however, I found the inside of the frame was covered with a patina of surface rust. This gun was obviously stored somewhere in a humid environment for a very long time. Normally, the easiest way to remove surface rust is with fine steel wool and gun oil. But this method wouldn't allow me to get into all the crevices of the frame. Then I remembered reading an article about removing rust with electrolysis, and I decided to give it a try.


The items you'll need for a rust-removal project include a plastic container that will hold the part and the electrolyte solution. A five-gallon bucket will work great for small parts. For the electrode, you'll need a steel rod. Use plain old mild steel, not galvanized (zinc-plated) steel, and don't use stainless steel (which will produce harmful by-products).

You'll also need some clean water, and a box of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda--not baking soda. Arm & Hammer Washing Soda is a product of Church & Dwight Co. Inc. (469 N. Harrison St., Princeton, NJ 08543). You can find it in your local grocery store on the shelves with the laundry detergents. If you can't find washing soda, you can pour some baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) into a pan and heat it over low-to-medium heat. Water vapor and carbon dioxide will cook off, leaving washing soda (sodium carbonate).

In addition, you'll need an automotive-type battery charger or other high-amperage power supply, as well as an assortment of O-rings or heat-shrink tubing.


Always wear safety glasses and rubber gloves when working with this solution, as it is very alkaline and can cause skin and eye irritation. And again, don't use stainless steel for the electrode or you will be producing some dangerous gases. The electrolysis process breaks water down into its component parts, hydrogen and oxygen, which together can be explosive, so work outside or in a very well ventilated area. As a final caution, be sure your battery charger or power supply is unplugged before attaching or touching the leads.



In the container, dissolve a tablespoon of washing soda in each gallon of water to make up the electrolyte solution. Be sure the washing soda is thoroughly dissolved. Place the mild-steel rod through the part to be cleaned. Use O-rings or heat-shrink tubing to prevent the part from touching the rod. For large parts, place numerous rods around the inside of your container and connect these rods with wire; these will become the "anode." You must be sure that the part you're cleaning is not touching the rod(s).

Suspend the part in the solution with a steel cable or wire so that it makes a good electrical contact with the part. The part will become the "cathode." Connect the black negative lead to the part being cleaned--either to the part itself or to the suspending cable or wire--and connect the red positive lead to the rod(s). Then plug in the charger.

You will immediately begin to see bubbles. These bubbles are hydrogen and oxygen as the water breaks down. Allow the part to "cook" for three to four hours. The time really depends on the size of the part and the current of the power supply, rather than the amount of rust. After a short time, a foamy sludge will form on the top of the water. This is a normal byproduct of the electrolysis process and does not have to be removed.

After you remove the part from the solution, immediately clean it and dry it off. You'll find the rust is gone and any bluing is intact. Then coat it with good-quality gun oil or rust-preventive oil.

In my test of this process, I placed the 1911 frame up side down on woo den blocks in the electrolyte solution, and I placed a rod with o-rings through the magazine well. I connected a 1.5-amp trickle charger and left it on for about four hours. When removed from the solution, the frame was completely free of rust and the bluing was intact.


The advantage to removing rust with electrolysis is that it will remove the rust--even from hard-to-reach places--without affecting the bluing. Remember to follow the cautions, and never use stainless steel for the anode.

Although this method does a great job of removing rust, even from deep pits, it won't, of course, repair any pits or marks left by the rust. For that, you might opt for one of the cold-bluing solutions, but that's a whole different article.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Belvoir Media Group, LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Back to Basics
Author:Seifert, Roy
Publication:American Gunsmith
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2009
Previous Article:Disassembly and reassembly of the Ruger SR9 pistol: from a company long known for simplicity in handgun design, this pistol can be considered the...
Next Article:Resolving 1911 problems: failures to go into battery: usually, a failure to go into battery is a simple matter to cure, but sometimes the search for...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |