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How to clean metal and remove rust

Whether you’re buffing up the family silver, sprucing up pans, or tackling rust on your bike, our hacks should make things easier.


By Cleanipedia Team

Cleaning a metal door knob.
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It’s handy to know how to clean metal. After all, a veritable periodic table of metals can be found throughout a home, from antique mirrors to good old stainless steel sinks.

There are plenty of commercial metal cleaning products out there. But if you’re looking for a chemical-free solution (or just want to avoid the shops) there are lots of DIY fixes you can try as well.

The most effective cleaning method really depends on the type of metal you’re dealing with. An expensive ornate ring is going to need rather more care than your kettle, for example.

Metal cleaning tips: safety first

Whether you go for a homemade cleaner or a shop bought one, we do advise caution. Not all metals are quite as hard as you might expect, so it’s important to choose a cleaning method that does the job without scratching or corroding the finish.

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Always check the manufacturer’s instructions before you start cleaning and make sure to test all new products and homemade cleaning solutions on a small, inconspicuous area first.

If you’re dealing with something really precious (whether that’s in pounds or sentimental value), it really is best to leave the cleaning to the experts.

Now that we’ve got the lecture out of the way, let’s move on to our top metal cleaning hacks...

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How to clean stainless steel and chrome

You can put most stainless steel pans and utensils through the dishwasher, but do check the manufacturer’s instructions first.

The easiest way to remove water marks, grease and general grime from larger items, is to use a specialist cleaning product like Cif Stainless Steel.

Alternatively, a general multipurpose cleaner will usually do a half-decent job, though do check a small area first, particularly when it comes to chrome.

  • Using a wet cloth, wipe down the surface.

  • Apply your stainless steel or multipurpose cleaning product, following instructions on the label. (Always apply cleaner to stainless steel by rubbing it in along the grain to avoid scratching.)

  • Rinse off with water, and gently buff dry with a fresh cloth. Once again, go with the grain if you’re cleaning steel.

Stainless steel still looking a bit dull? You can get the shine back with bicarb, white vinegar or even sparkling water. Find out how in our full guide to cleaning stainless steel here.

How to clean aluminium

Aluminium discolours pretty easily, so it’s best to keep it out of the dishwasher. On the plus side, it’s usually easy to clean with good old soap and water. Distilled white vinegar can also work wonders on stains. Read our full guide to cleaning and polishing aluminum here.

How to clean copper, brass and pewter

Copper has made a huge comeback in recent years. Along with brass and pewter, it can look fantastic when shiny, but dulls down over time. There are commercial copper cleaners around, but other options can yield results.

Try halving a lemon and sprinkling it with coarse ground salt. Gently scrub the copper with the lemon to restore its natural sheen. Rinse, and then rub gently with a soft cotton cloth.

You can also clean copper and brass with ketchup! Read all our hacks for cleaning copper, brass and pewter here.

How to clean silver and silver plated

Silver oxidises over time, so it looks discoloured and dull. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to get it looking good again. Before you start, give the item a good wash with hot soapy water.

  • Place some aluminium foil in a pan of water with a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda.

  • Bring it to the boil and then take it off the heat.

  • Gently lower the silver into the pan and leave it for a couple of minutes.

  • Use a spatula to move the silver items around.

  • You should start to see black flakes in the water. This is a sign that it’s working!

  • When the silver looks clean, lift it out and polish it with a soft cloth while it’s still damp.

Read our guide to cleaning silver jewellery here.

How to clean gold

Again, it’s easiest to clean gold with a specialist cleaner. If you don’t have one, you can try cleaning it with toothpaste, or a paste made from salt, vinegar and flour. Scrub it with a toothbrush if you need to, and buff it with a soft cloth after rinsing.

You need to be extra careful with gold that has jewels, such as an engagement ring, as you could easily damage the stone, so do check our full guide to cleaning gold jewellery before you start.

How to clean metal cutlery

Generally, washing up liquid is all that’s needed to clean cutlery. Scrub it with a sponge (soak first to help dislodge food if needs be). Then just buff with a soft cloth.

Cutlery that gets used everyday can lose its shine pretty quickly. And those expensive silver knives and forks that are kept for best can tarnish over time. Find out how to get your cutlery sparkling.

How to get rust off metal

Rust is a real pain and can’t always be removed successfully, as there’s often damage to the metal itself. There are a couple of clever hacks to clean rust off metal, however, which are well worth trying.

How to clean rust off metal with white vinegar

We’re big fans of white vinegar here at Cleanipedia. It’s one of the most versatile natural cleaning ingredients around and can be used for everything from cleaning windows to ridding your utensils from rust. Here’s how to use it:

  • Soak a paper towel in white vinegar.

  • Place the paper towel over the rusted area. Use several paper towels if necessary.

  • Leave it to soak for around 24 hours.

  • Remove the paper towels and rinse the area carefully with clean water.

  • Dry the area fully to prevent the water causing more damage.

How to get rust off metal with lemon juice

Lemon isn’t just essential for creating the perfect G&T. It’s also your number one ingredient if you want a naturally clean home. Here’s how to use lemon and salt to tackle rust:

  • Rub salt onto the area that has become rusty.

  • Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top of the salt.

  • Leave for 2-3 hours.

  • Use steel wool to scrub away the salt and lemon juice. The rust should clean away too. Don’t use steel wool on soft metals like aluminium though, as you’ll scratch it. Instead just use the lemon rind to scrub at the rust.

How do you clean old metal things?

We all love picking up a bargain from a charity shop. Whether it’s a silver picture frame or just an old spoon, you’re going to need to clean it. The key thing to remember with metal cleaning is to fit the technique to the type of metal. The wrong technique could easily do more harm than good.

Most types of metal are pretty easy to tell apart, but silver, stainless steel and aluminium can be trickier.

As a rough guide, silver is a lot heavier than either stainless steel or aluminium and usually has a stamp on it to show its purity. Aluminium is much softer than stainless steel, so it scratches easily. It also tends to be less shiny than steel.

Does vinegar clean metal?

White vinegar can help to clean stainless steel, aluminium and some other metals. Take a look at our advice above to find out more.

Originally published