How can I Remove Rust from a Car?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

If rust is showing up on the body of your vehicle, you may want to engage in some simple rust removal and color blending in order to maintain the vehicle's appearance. There are ways to do the job yourself, although it will take several steps and a couple of days to accomplish. If you have a free weekend coming up, you can remove rust from a car by taping off the rusty area, gently sanding off the rust, cleaning the area thoroughly, and then repainting it.

Sandpaper can be used to remove rust from cars.
Sandpaper can be used to remove rust from cars.

Rusting normally occurs because the car's finish has been damaged in some manner. The rust spot increases as oxidation on the exposed bare metal in a hairline scratch or a small dent causes the rust to spread.

Rust on a car.
Rust on a car.

The first step to remove rust from a car is to gather your tools together. You will need rubber gloves, safety glasses and a dust mask for protection. To protect the surrounding areas of the vehicle, a cheap paint tarp and some painters tape will also be necessary. A sanding wheel along with a few sheets of sandpaper will also come in handy. You'll need to have a small amount of rust acid compound on hand as well.

A paste of baking soda and water can remove rust from metal.
A paste of baking soda and water can remove rust from metal.

Begin by covering and taping off the area surrounding the scratch or dent. The idea is to protect the immediate surface that is still in good shape. The painter’s tape is not likely to hurt the finish of your car, and will stay in place for the duration of the process. Roll up the windows on the vehicle too, because when you begin to sand the rusted area, tiny particles will fly in every direction. Make sure none of the fine rust particles have a chance to settle and begin to imbed themselves in other areas of the car body or you will find yourself having to repeat the removal process.

Rubber gloves should be worn when removing rust from a car.
Rubber gloves should be worn when removing rust from a car.

Your first task is to address the thicker outer layer of oxidized rust using the sanding wheel. Do not rush with this step, as moving too quickly makes it easier to damage the metal. Once the tougher outer layer of rust is removed, switch to the sandpaper sheets to get into the fine nooks and crannies. This will help ensure you get all the rust off of the car during this procedure, including any small amount or residue that may have resettled when you used the sander.

When the sanded surface feels smooth, gently wipe it clean and apply a thin coat of the acid to the area. This step will take handle even the tiniest of particles and leave the exposed metal perfectly clean. Make sure to not leave the compound on the exposed metal longer than recommended in the instructions. Failure to remove the acid could lead to pitting and even more work. After removing the compound, gently wipe the area with mineral spirits and a clean cloth, and allow the section to dry.

Keep in mind that removing rust from a car should only be done when you can reprime and repaint the sanded area within the next 24-hour period. If you choose to leave the bare metal exposed for even a short time, rust can start to develop again and the damage will be worse than the initial problem.

A dust mask should be worn during rust removal.
A dust mask should be worn during rust removal.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Great article on how to remove rust from a car, but I have a better solution.

Blackstar Rust Converter. Spray it on and it turns rust black in 20 minutes. You can leave it black or paint over it. No more rust on that treated area ever!


I have some rust around the wheel wells. Can I just sand it down by hand and apply a rust control spay paint? The local auto home paint store gave me a long list of products to buy which would cost me about $200.


most rust converters say to paint over them. you have suggested removing the acid before painting. should they all be cleaned off?


my car has multiple rust spots and I'm not just doing a paint touch up, I'm painting the whole car. do i still need to tape off the area before i start sanding?


If I have a 79 1/2 Chevrolet truck with rust all the way across the bottom, just not in the front or back. The rust rises about a foot but its not anything major except for the very bottom. My question is, Would it be cheaper for me to have a professional do it or to sand prime and paint myself?


@calabama71: Yes, you need to prime it. Once you have completely finished sanding it and made sure that it is smooth, it is ready for primer. Start by taping the area off. I use the blue painter’s tape because it doesn’t leave a sticky film behind. Use a high quality primer. It costs a little more but you really need the good stuff to do a good job.

You need to apply several thin coats instead of one thick coat. Paint builds strength when applied in layers. I would put at least three coats of primer. Let about 10-15 minutes go by between layers. When you put the last layer on, let it sit all night so that it can fully cure.


I had some pretty bad rust stains on the back of my car. I have already sanded it and got it smooth. I'm going to try to paint it myself until I can get it done professionally. Do I prime it first?


@chrisinbama: I would recommend 150 grit sandpaper. Remove as much of the rust as you can with a metal grinding wheel then move on to hand sandpaper. Be careful when using the grinding wheel because it can move a lot of rust quickly. It can get away from you sometimes. Sanding by hand should be done slowly and carefully.

If you have any dents, you can use some Bondo or some other body filler to fill in your gaps or dents. You can get that at most auto parts places. It will have instructions on how to use it.


What type of sandpaper should I use when sanding?

Post your comments
Forgot password?