Iron and steel are among the most common materials found in a home. Appliances, fixtures and tools are made primarily of these substances. Things used to construct a home, like nails and air ducts, are also made of these materials. But iron and steel have one big weakness: they can rust. In simple terms, rust is the oxidation of metals. A layer of rust doesn’t provide iron or steel with protection against further oxidation, as it does with other metals. The rusting continues until all the metal is transformed. When iron and steel turn into rust, they lose their cohesion and fall apart.
Establishing a defense perimeter
In order for rusting to take place, two ingredients are needed: water and oxygen have to be present to trigger the reaction. The water acts on iron by drawing electrons from it. Free oxygen is then attracted to the iron and forms a chemical bond with it. The addition of substances like salt or acids, such as vinegar, can accelerate the oxidation. The result is iron oxide. If either the moisture or oxygen are removed, the reaction doesn’t take place. Rust can be prevented by sealing the iron or steel object, or the moisture can be removed from the surrounding environment. In most cases, some type of protective barrier is the more practical avenue to take.
No permanent solution
Manufacturers of various steel products will take measures to protect their products from rusting. Galvanizing steel is the process of applying a very thin coating of zinc over a steel object. The zinc oxidizes more easily than the steel, but the protective layer that’s formed can block the elements from reaching the steel for only so long. Paint, varnish or oil can be used to stop water and air from contacting the steel in both galvanized and non-coated objects. Fixtures like ventilation registers benefit the most from paint or varnish.
Washing rust away
For many household items, washing is a good way to prevent rust. Things like bicycles and lawn mowers can get splashed with substances like road salts that hasten oxidation. Cookware is also exposed to salt, vinegar, fruit juices and other things that promote rust. A thorough washing and drying as soon as possible after contact with these substances can reduce the chances of rusting.
Oil and water don’t mix
The common practice for things like hand tools, mechanical components and even kitchen items is to apply mineral oil or grease. The downside to this method is that the oil has to be reapplied after every use. Tools coated with mineral oil will need to be stored where dust can’t settle on them. The dust will stick to the layer of oil and provide a means for moisture and air to make direct contact with the metal. Mechanical parts on bicycles can be coated with silicone-based grease. Skillets and other iron cookware should be covered with an edible grease or oil.
Cutting off the source of rust
Along with stopping water and air from getting to iron, it’s possible to remove one or the other from a particular environment. The simplest thing to do is make sure iron and steel objects are dry by wiping them with a towel. This isn’t practical if there’s constant high humidity. It doesn’t take much moisture to get the rusting process started. Using a dehumidifier can help eliminate this source of water. For small items, placing them in storage with silica gel packs can create a moisture-free local environment.