It’s a sad fact, but guns can and do rust. In fact, rust is the enemy of virtually all metal objects, and there are few things that can degrade the appearance (and value) of metal as much as rust.
What’s more, is that literally any type of gun is vulnerable to rusting. It is true that some finishes are significantly more rust-resistant than others (stainless steel will resist rust much longer than bluing will, for instance), but in the end, all guns can rust if they are not taken care of.
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Even guns with an extremely tough finish, such as the Tenifer finish on the Glock and Walther pistols, can rust eventually if they are exposed to the elements for too long.
In this article, we will cover how to remove rust on your firearms and how you can prevent it from forming, to begin with. But first, we need to dive into what rust is and why it will form on your firearms.
How Do Guns Rust?
What is rust? You probably know what rust looks like, and you know that it’s not preferable, but what is rust scientifically speaking?
Rust is officially defined as a coat of iron oxide that is yellow-brown-orange-red in color and forms on steel via oxidation (AKA, the presence of moisture).
Basically, rust will form on metal in response to moisture, whether it be humidity in the air or water brought into direct contact with it. What’s more, when rust forms, it causes the metal to become even more vulnerable to moisture, meaning that once rusting begins, it can accelerate very quickly.
So, when do guns rust exactly? Basically, guns can be vulnerable to rusting whenever and wherever they are exposed to moisture. The environment is the biggest factor of all: salty air, high levels of humidity, or even the chemicals in smog can cause rust.
Another time guns will be vulnerable to rusting is when they are brought into direct contact with any kind of a rust-causing agent. For example, water being brought into direct contact with a firearm and not being dried away in time will cause rusting.
This is why carrying a firearm out in the woods while it’s pouring down rain, especially if that firearm has a blued or any other rust-vulnerable finish, is risky.
How To Prevent Rust From Happening
The single best way to prevent rust from ever happening is to maintain your guns properly by wiping them down with an oiled rag and keeping the guns stored in a dry location. This is why storing your guns in the garage, in the attic, in the basement, or in an outdoor shed is a bad idea.
Instead, store your firearms in a room at normal room temperature and with a dehumidifier. If you keep your guns in a safe, which is wise as protection against fires and unauthorized entry, you should keep desiccant packs in the safe as well.
In addition, if you ever take your firearm out hunting in the woods while it’s raining, wipe the gun down with an oiled rag when you get back to your tent or car, and do so before you put the gun away in its case.
How To Get Rid of Rust Once It Happens
Sometimes rust will happen even if you do take the above kind of preventative measures. Maybe the whole reason you’re reading this article is because you have a gun that’s rusted and you want to know how to get rid of it. The first thing to know is that you can remove rust, and it’s not anything that you need to panic over.
First and foremost, you need to determine what the extent of the rusting is. If it’s only surface-level rust, you should be able to handle it on your own.
Otherwise, if there is a deep pitting result from the rust, or if the rust is covering most of the gun, you may want to take it to a professional gunsmith to fix the issue for you. Rust does corrode metal, and if the gun is badly rusted through, you will want a professional to handle it for you to avoid inflicting further damage.
But if the rust is only surface level or is recent, you can easily take action on your own to correct the issue.
Remember that it is important to act quickly when you spot rust on your firearm because once rust begins, it can accelerate and get worse. That’s also not to mention that rust will weaken the structural integrity of your firearm, so purely for safety reasons, it’s important to take care of the issue before corrosion gets even worse.
You’ll need to start by gathering all of the necessary supplies, much of which you should already have in your gun cleaning kit: rust remover oil or gun oil, a gun cleaning rag, and cleaning patches.
Protective eyewear and gloves would be wise to have as well, but aren’t totally necessary (assuming you can keep your eyes out of the way and are fine with getting gun oil on your fingers). You may also need copper brushes and steel wool, depending on how severe the rust has gotten.
Start by soaking your rag in the gun oil. Then proceed to rub the oiled rag directly over the rusty spots on the firearm. Start by simply applying a very light amount of pressure and see if any of the rust comes off. If the brownish-reddish color of the rust gets on your cloth, then you know the rust is coming off.
Hopefully, you can get all of the rust off this way. If it’s only surface-level rust and was fairly recent, it should all come off. Otherwise, you will need to attack the rusty spots with increasing levels of pressure. The intent is to save the finish while removing as much of the rust as possible.
If the rag fails to get the rust off, you can turn to alternative choices such as a copper brush. Take note that if you use a brush, you must move it in the direction of the grain of the gunmetal or else you risk scratching the gun and devaluing it.
If the copper brush fails, you can switch to steel wool. Again, start with a light amount of pressure and only increase the pressure if you fail to get the rust out, and move the wool in the direction of the grain of the gun’s metal, or else you risk damaging it.
For most surface-level rust cases, the above steps should work to remove the rust. However, if those measures fail or if the pitting is deeper (signaling that the gun is indeed damaged), you will need to seek the aid of a competent and professional gunsmith.
There are a few things to take note of when removing rust as well. The first is to never use anything with sugar when removing rust. There’s a myth that using soda or another fizzy and sugary drink can remove rust.
This is partially true—soda contains phosphoric acid, which can remove rust if you allow it to soak in overnight. But there may also be components of the gun that degrade from phosphoric acid, so it is simply not worth the risk.
In addition, never use a brush that is more abrasive than your firearm. Doing so will cause you to create etches and scratch the gun. Sticking with bronze, copper, and brass should be safe because they are less abrasive on steel than other steel would be.
It can be very disheartening to see rust develop on your firearm, but fortunately, it’s not something that can’t be removed. Just keep your guns cleaned and oiled and you’ll reduce the risk of rust ever developing.
If the damage gets to be too severe from the rust, you should seek the services of a professional gunsmith to handle this issue for you.
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