How to Clean the Rust from a Gun

How to Clean the Rust from a Gun
There's nothing worse than pulling a gun out of storage and seeing one of your prized possessions covered in rust. Sometimes it feels like no matter how hard I try, how well I try to store these, the rust is inevitable, and it's a threat you need to be constantly watching out for in your survival planning. Because rust can take your guns out of commission. Left to its own devices, a small bit of surface rust will slowly grow, spread, and do a massive amount of damage to your firearms. A scary threat, especially if you're planning to rely on your cache of guns and ammunition when the SHTF.

Why are my guns rusting?

It's actually quite simple. When there's moisture in the air, or in a damp location like a buried survival cache of gear, the water on the metal of your guns causes a chemical reaction. Converting the iron in the metal to iron oxide, or what we know as rust. You'll notice this as a reddish-brown discoloration on your guns, often accompanied by a fine powder. Surface rust can be easily wiped away with a gun cleaning kit, and is usually a result from moisture in the air. While deeper rust deposits typically occur when your guns have gotten wet and have been stored incorrectly. There's a couple of factors that play a big role here. Primarily it's the environment. If you're in an area that's particularly humid, or near to the sea with a higher percentage of salt in the air, you need to factor this into your gun storage. But it's not just that. Dried salts from the sweat in your hands last time on the shooting range can start your guns rusting, especially if you don't clean your guns afterwards. You'll notice this happening as the rust will appear in a fingerprint-like design from where you've been holding it. The good news is that these kinds of surface rust are easily reparable.

A natural barrier against rust

Of course, a particular guns first barrier of defense against rust is the particular finish the manufacturer has applied to the metal of the gun. Depending on what's been applied, this should be quite good, so long as the finish isn't damaged in any way. Like a scratch that penetrates to the bare metal beneath. Modern guns use a variety of different finishes, from the nitrocarburizing that's common on handguns to the non-metallic options like Cerakote. Stainless steel guns will rust, despite the name if you've any experience with the metal you know it's more like, stain-less often, and there are also chrome finishes and nickel plating used too. But no matter what protective shield is in place, if you want to stop rust forming on your guns, you need to follow a regular maintenance routine, caring for your weapons, oiling them and lubing them before putting them into storage.

Basics of rust prevention

The simplest strategy to prevent rust is to make it a habit of wiping your guns down. I use a clean but oiled rag, and store them in a cool, dry place. You may even want to throw in some silica moisture control packs to help drop any water in the air, and of course, if you've been using your gun and it happens to get wet, dry it completely before you put it away. If by chance, you've managed to drop your gun in water, you will need to go a little extreme. Stripping the parts down and using high-pressured air to clean and dry it completely. If it was salt water it went in, clean it very thoroughly. It will rust if you don’t. Oh, and never store your guns in their holsters. They can trap moisture from the air, and the chemicals in the leather and materials will discolor your gun over time. Don't do it.

When it all goes wrong

But sometimes, no matter what you've done and how hard you tried to keep it at bay, you're rewarded with a rusty gun. It sucks, but you're not dead in the water yet. First, you need to check the severity. Surface rust can be wiped off, but if there's deeper pits and grooves my advice is to "bite the bullet" and take it to a professional gunsmith for an evaluation, repair and finish. If it's not quite that bad, the follow along these steps.
  1. Clear a space and lay out your gun cleaning mat.
  2. Soak a rag in rust remover, wipe your gun so it's wet and let it sit.
  3. The instructions on the bottle should specify, but usually it's 5 minutes.
  4. Rub with the rag, and the rust should wipe off as you're doing it.
  5. If not, try a copper brush, remembering to be gentle and preserve the finish.
  6. If still not, switch to 0000 steel wool and try again.
  7. Anything more aggressive is going to damage your finish.
  8. Once you're done, carefully inspect the pitting for any tine rust deposits.
  9. If you miss any, the rust will return quite aggressively, so be sure.
  10. Once you're done, wipe your gun down with a clean rag and cleaner.
  11. Wipe it dry, then finish with your preferred gun lube of choice.
And that's all there is to it. Just remember, if the damage is quite severe, your best bet is to have it professionally evaluated by a quality gun smith, they may even recommend refinishing the gun to protect against further damage in future. Because the real reason to even have a gun in the first place is self-defense, and a rusty firearm is very likely to fail, misfire or simply not work when you need it most. Take care of your weapons, cleaning and lubing them regularly, and they'll last many lifetimes.

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