Undoubtedly, it’s best to do all you can to prevent rust on your gun in the first place. However, eventually it is likely to happen to any firearm if you keep it long enough. Or, if you find a great deal on a gun that needs some work, here is a step-by-step guide on rust removal.
A small amount of surface rust isn’t catastrophic, but if you see significant rust, pitting, or rust covering large areas of your weapon, the inside of the firearm may also have corrosion. Before you use the gun, it’s best to take it to an armorer to do a full inspection and replace any corroded mechanisms.
Gather Your Tools and Materials
Before you start, be sure you have everything you need to complete the job. You’ll need a clean cloth as a work surface, gun cleaning solvent and lubricant, a soft bristle brush, and an abrasive pad or brush.
These items come in many gun cleaning kits, but if you’re removing considerable rust or working on a firearm you love, you should strive to get the best possible tools. From my experience, here are the tools and materials that work the best.
Many people forget that a soft, absorbent mat not only protects the surface that you’re working on, but it protects the gun as well. My favorite mat is this one found on Amazon. There are multiple sizes available for both handguns and long guns.
The mat is soft, well-made, and durable, protecting the work surface and the gun from scratches. It’s highly absorbent, too, so any cleaner or lubricant stays right on the mat rather than dribbling onto other surfaces. As an added bonus, it’s machine-washable.
Cleaner and Lubricant
Before you get started, you need to have gun cleaner and lubricant on hand. Some gun owners are staunch advocates for a CLP (cleaner, lubricant, and preservative). Others firmly believe they are three different tasks and require three different products.
Regardless of which camp you fall into, be sure you have something that’ll help clean the weapon’s surface as you remove the rust and lubricate and protect the metal once you have removed the corrosion.
Lastly, be sure you have brushes on hand. You will need a soft bristle brush and a stiff brush or abrasive pad at a minimum.
For a soft bristle brush, I pick up soft manual toothbrushes at the dollar store specifically for my gun cleaning kit. Alternatively, if you use manual toothbrushes in your home, you can use them for gun cleaning once they have reached the end of their useful life of oral hygiene.
The abrasive brush is a bit trickier. Many gun cleaning kits come with a copper wire brush. These are great for cleaning working mechanisms inside your firearm, but many find the abrasion to be a bit too harsh for external rust removal as it leaves a lot of scratches.
One of the best alternatives I have found is fine bronze wool. Some swear by a ball of fine steel wool, but it’s far more abrasive than its softer relative, bronze wool. A bit too much pressure will find steel wool biting into the protective coating of your weapon, but bronze wool will give you a bit more grace as you clean the gun.
A little bronze wool will go a long way. My favorite is this type. It comes in a small enough package to last a while yet doesn’t take up valuable real estate in your gun cleaning kit.
What Removes Rust From Guns?
When this question is asked, a person is often looking for an “easy button” answer. But the answer to this question is simply applying a cleaning solution, delicately and methodically cleaning the rusted area on the gun until it’s gone.
A gun cleaning solvent removes rust from guns effectively. It’s essential to give some time to the solution to work and then use fine-grade bronze wool to remove the rust. Trying to do one of the steps without the other won’t fully remove the rust and may damage the gun.
I will outline each step of cleaning your gun below. Make sure to complete everything because you may end up with a scratched-up gun instead of a clean one.
How To Clean Rust off the Gun
Now that you have everything you need, get your cleaning mat rolled out in your workspace, your cleaning materials assembled, and your weapon disassembled.
1. Prepare the Work Area
Prepare the gun and rusted areas on the weapon’s surface using the soft bristle brush to remove any loose surface rust. Gently brush any loose debris from the area you will clean. It isn’t necessary to brush hard or apply a lot of pressure.
2. Spray the Cleaner
Now you’re ready to begin cleaning. Start by spraying the rusted areas on the weapon with your cleaner or CLP. Be sure to overspray the site to address all corrosion, including any adjacent to the area but not visible to the eye.
3. Let the Cleaner Do Its Work
Allow the cleaner or CLP to sit for approximately 10–15 minutes. I don’t recommend longer than 15 minutes, though. 15 minutes seems like the perfect amount of time for the cleaner to penetrate the corrosion but not begin to dry out or cause degradation to other parts of the gun.
4. Lightly Scrub the Rusted Area
Once the wait is over, use your fine bronze wool to gently rub the rust in small, light circles. Don’t push the bronze wool into the gun too hard.
Hint: The pressure needed to remove rust is much lighter than when scrubbing a dirty dish.
5. Wipe the Area Clean
This action will produce a burnt orange-colored soapy discharge. That’s the result of the cleaner pulling the rust from the surface of the metal. Once you can’t see if the brushing is doing any further work on the rust, clean the area with a clean cotton cloth.
6. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Repeat this process as often as you need to remove the rust from the gun. In my experience, one treatment only partially does the trick. Resist the urge to scrub harder, as this action could damage the bluing.
7. Use Clean Bronze Wool for Each Treatment
On subsequent treatments, use a different section of the bronze wool to abrade the rust from the gun. The clean, unused bronze wool will do a much more effective job at rust removal than the used areas. It also prevents the rust you picked up from scratching the metal.
8. Give the Gun One More Wipe-Down
Once you have removed the rust from the gun to your satisfaction, give the weapon one final wipe-down with a clean cotton cloth. This will remove any remaining bits of rust and cleaner. It gives you a neutral surface for the next step.
9. Apply a Final Layer of Protectant
Next, apply a final coat of CLP or stand-alone protectant spray. Apply more than you need on the spot that previously bore rust. Allow the protectant spray to sit for 15–30 minutes.
10. Wipe the Gun Down a Final Time
Give the gun one final gentle wipe-down with a cotton cloth. Apply one last coat of protectant spray before you store the weapon, taking extra care to wipe up any excess protectant. Store your gun as you usually do.
11. Inspect Your Gun Storage Area
This is a critical step that needs to be considered. Inspect the inside of the gun storage case to be sure rust hasn’t transferred to that location. You don’t want to return your clean gun to a dirty or rusty place.
12. Clean Your Storage Area as Needed
If your storage case is rusty, remove as much of it as possible with a slightly damp cloth and warm soapy water. Alternate scrubbing and blotting to remove as much of the rust transfer as you can without soaking the surface. The same general rules apply as before.
13. Allow the Surface to Dry Completely
Once it’s cleaned to your satisfaction, allow the surface to dry thoroughly. Wipe it dry using a cloth and leave it out in the sun if possible. The last thing you want to do is introduce more moisture into the environment, which will only further promote the development of additional rust.
14. Spray the Storage Surface With Protectant if Needed
If the surface gives you even the slightest pause that rust is still present, you can apply a light layer of protectant spray to the area before placing the gun inside. Again, ensure that the surface has dried thoroughly before placing the weapon and shutting it tight.
15. Place the Weapon in the Clean, Dry Area on a Soft Rag
For additional protection, you can place the gun in a thin, non-scratch rag inside the case. Again, be sure the gun has a coating of protectant on it, and the case is thoroughly dried before you close the gun inside the case.
There are other ways to remove rust from guns, but I have found that this slow, methodical approach is the best way to avoid inadvertently damaging the blueing on my weapons. Some situations may merit a slightly more aggressive approach.
What if the Rust Covers a Significant Area?
There can be times when you find a weapon with significant rust across a far larger area of the gun. Hopefully, you have caught the damage before it begins to pit the weapon, but more substantial rust often means a more aggressive approach is in order.
Thankfully, you can still follow the same process as above. The only difference is after you have cleaned the area with a soft brush and let the cleaner sit for 10–15 minutes, gently use a copper wire brush to scrub the rust in circular motions.
Again, don’t press down too hard; you want to avoid damaging any unblemished surface on the gun. After cleaning the rusted area once or twice with the copper wire brush, you can switch to fine bronze wool to finish the finer cleaning, just as described above. All of the subsequent steps remain unchanged.
Here is an excellent video showing the process:
Maintenance for Rust Prevention
All of this time and effort to remove rust has likely left you pondering what you can do to prevent rust formation in the future. Fortunately, there are several things you can do, even if you are in a particularly damp or humid environment.
First, get in the habit of thoroughly cleaning, lubricating, and spraying protectant on your gun after every use. This is essential to rust prevention if you use the weapon in humid, damp, rainy conditions or anywhere near a saltwater environment. Even if the gun isn’t directly exposed to these conditions, it’s essential to regularly clean and protect the weapon.
When applying the protectant, you can get a spray or gun oil, using a rag to spread it evenly across the entire surface. Some dislike spray because any propellant in the spray could be problematic. I personally prefer to just use simple gun oil. It’s a versatile product, and I can use it frequently in place of a CLP.
Lastly, don’t store your gun in a gun case if you have a safe alternative. Unless it’s a rust-proof gun case, it often traps moisture and promotes rust formation. Instead, keep your weapon in a larger gun safe where the air circulates, and the environment is a bit drier.
Even if you don’t shoot the gun regularly, make regular cleaning a part of your routine. The timing between cleanings will depend on your environment. If you live in the dry West, you can likely go between cleanings for a long time. If you live in the humid South or along the coast, you’ll probably have to clean your weapon more regularly to keep your guns rust-free.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you spend a little time on preventative rust maintenance, it will spare you the challenge of corrective maintenance to remove it.
When you find rust on your gun, follow the steps in order, take your time, and do all you can every chance you get to work preventative measures into your routine.
For more, check out Cleaning Bullets | How To Do It Correctly.
Hey, I’m Jim, and I’m the author of this website. I have been teaching people a wide variety of survivalism topics for over five years and have a lifetime of experience fishing, camping, general survivalism, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up, I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!