Plastics are a ubiquitous product scattered in our daily life.
When you think about a rust stain on plastic, one thing that should be clear is that it is not the plastic that’s rusting.
But in fact, it’s probably a stain left on the plastic surface from a rusting metal that may have come in contact with the plastic.
And once it stains the plastic, it may erode and damage it more.
I think many of us would have experienced a rust stain on a plastic surface.
For instance, maybe someone forgot a bottle opener in the cooler box, or maybe someone left a rusted tool on the porch table.
It leaves quite a tough stain that may take some cleaning solutions and a lot of scrubbing and elbow grease to be removed.
How to Remove Rust Stains from Plastic?
Light and fresh rust stains can be easily wiped away with warm soapy water and a rough rag. For somewhat heavier stains, use a mild acid like vinegar or lemon juice, let it sit on the stain for a few minutes to dissolve it, and scrub away. While larger and stubborn stains may require commercial chemicals that may be applied onto the stain for longer durations and then removed with vigorous scrubbing. Rust stains can be stubborn enough to require more than one method of cleaning and more than one attempt at removing.
What Is Rust?
When iron is exposed to air, particularly oxygen, it develops a chemical reaction and converts to iron oxide, which gives us the peculiar smell and color of rust.
It weakens the metal, mostly iron, and through the process of erosion, gradually destroys it.
The Solution: Soap, Lemon Juice, Vinegar
Iron oxide, or rust, is dissolved by an acid, or an acidic solution.
It can be as weak as a solution or lemon juice and vinegar or soft drinks or be a stronger agent like phosphoric acid.
Not all metals are prone to rusting, for instance, stainless steel is resistant to rust.
Once rusting starts on a metal surface, it only erodes more and more, damaging the structure of the metal and ending in an unusable item.
The best way to protect a metal from rusting is by protecting it from exposure to air whenever possible.
Practical methods for protecting from rust include applying oil/wax on the metal surface, keeping the metal clean, painting the metal, selecting coated or galvanized metal tools, and storing the metal items in air protective casings.
The simplest method to wash the rust stain off is with warm water and soap by scrubbing.
If it’s a fresh stain or a weak one, you may not even need to scrub it much.
If a cloth rag is insufficient to do the task, you could use a ball of fine steel wool or a kitchen scrubber as an alternative.
If the stain is difficult to remove, you could use a mild acid solution in place of soap.
Spray a full-strength vinegar or lemon juice onto the stain and scrub it off after 10 minutes.
This method is especially good for PVC plastics and vinyl.
Vinegar gives the best results in removing rust stains from any plastic surface.
You could squeeze a fresh half of lemon over the stain and use the leftover peel to scrub the stain with lemon.
This method will leave you with the refreshing scent of lemon.
In case of the stains in difficult-to-reach-and-scrub spots or being much stubborn, you could use a paste of vinegar (or lemon juice) and borax (substitute with baking soda if you don’t have borax) to leave on the rust stain for longer durations and wipe away the stain.
You could also sprinkle the stained area with baking soda and spray the vinegar over it to make a fizzy reaction, dissolving away the rust.
Also depending on the stubbornness and density of the rust stain, many stains are quite tenacious and may require more than one attempt at cleaning.
Moreover, if there is the chance that the paste/solution will get washed away or dry up, it is a better idea to cover the affected area and applied cleaner with plastic wrap.
Coming to more DIY methods, we have two more unconventional household items that may be used for removing the rust stains.
Sodas may be a little effective than vinegar and lemon, nevertheless, soda is capable of producing similar results in removing rust stains.
It may not be the preferred method since it leaves behind a sugary and sticky residue over the surface and it may take larger quantities to get the job done.
The other household product to remove rust stains is ketchup.
It is a great condiment and its slightly acidic content makes it a great alternative agent to dissolve rust stains.
Quite a few products are available in the market that claims to dissolve and clean off rust stains.
One such product is the Magica; it is formulated to be gentle on the surfaces so causing the least damage to it while simultaneously cleans off the rust stain without the need for vigorous scrubbing.
Another product is the magic eraser, a micro-abrasive foam that buffs away the stain instead of cleaning/wiping it off the surface.
For better results, use it after cleaning the stain once with soap and water.
It is doable with smaller stains but with larger stains, make sure you have enough arm and elbow power to do the scrubbing as it may become wearisome.
The positive point here is that it saves your hands from exposure to chemicals.
Simply spray the lubricating oil on the surface of the stain and wipe away the stain with the least amount of scrubbing.
Multi-use CLR is another great product for removing rust marks.
It is a solution of moderate strength acids and ether, made to remove stains left from calcium, lime, and rust (hence the acronym CLR).
It is quick and needs the least amount of contact time with the rust-stained surface.
But be sure whenever you use chemicals for the task, clean the plastic surface really well afterward with water.
Also, use the chemicals in a well-ventilated area to save yourself from the fumes that may arise from the chemical reactions.
Frequently Asked Questions about Rust Stains
Can I use salt to remove the stain?
Depending on the surface yes. Salt in combination with vinegar is an effective method to remove the stain, however, the salt might scratch the surfaces.
My clothes have a rust stain, what can I do?
In this case, salt and lemon juice are very helpful. But always test the method on a hidden spot in the fabric. Sometimes the lemon juice might bleach the fabric.