The Detroit Post
Saturday, 16 October, 2021

How Can Rust Be Harmful

Elaine Sutton
• Saturday, 26 December, 2020
• 7 min read

Exposure to oxygen causes iron and its alloys to oxidize, or rust. Read on to discover the damages of rust, how they affect ordinary metal objects, and what you can do about it.

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Water in the air helps hasten the formation of rust by liberating electrons in the metal. Cooking pans, bridge supports, vehicle brake calipers, and your decorative iron lawn chairs are susceptible to further damage once rust gains a foothold and continues to spread unchecked.

As red powdery rust replaces strong iron, weakened metal corrodes into flakes and holes form. Rusty hand tools are difficult to operate when important metal moving parts can no longer slide against each other properly.

Iron and its alloys have unique magnetic properties that make them useful in certain applications. Metal with a thin coat of rust probably still retains its valuable magnetism.

Electronic devices may be perfectly sound, but cannot work when rust is present on battery coils. Plus, a sudden encounter with a rusty nail or other piece of sharp metal can allow the bacteria to enter your bloodstream.

Keep in mind though that all iron objects are prone to rust and no single method is completely successful. You can eliminate rust from objects and help maintain integrity and usefulness with several methods.

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Light rust is easily scrubbed or scraped away with a stiff brush or a sander. If you're reluctant to use harsh chemicals, try a vinegar or citric acid soak or scrub with baking soda.

This process involves removal of a rusty component or piece, and then replacing it with a brand-new one. Iron and its related alloys react to oxygen and water in a specific way.

We know this coat as rust, but its full chemical formula is iron(III) oxide, or Felon. Typically, a piece of iron can take days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years to get that first coat of rust.

It’s an extremely common reaction, since iron tends to react easily when it comes into contact with oxygen. The intensity of rusting will be affected by the amount of exposure the piece of metal gets to water and oxygen.

Jewelers and people who work with optical components often use a compound called rouge,” also known as “jeweler’s rouge” or “red rouge.” The compound contains a fine ferric oxide powder capable of giving different surfaces a shiny finish after a good polishing session. Though not as potent and fast as other polishing products, rouge is still widely used by many jewelers and opticians; you can even use a specific type of rouge called a “stropping compound” on leather strops to help sharpen knives and razor blades better.


Average rouge is sold as either paste, powder, polished or laced cloths, or a single solid bar. Producing steel and iron alloys requires a lot of feedstocks, i.e. raw unfiltered material.

For instance, 0.5% of iron(III) oxide makes up calamine lotion, which we use for itches and irritation. In addition, the lotion gets its famous pinkish hue as a result of the reddish rust mixed with zinc oxide.

Since our bodies already produce iron naturally, there are no real dangers to us adding a bit extra. In other words, if your body accumulates iron too quickly, then it’s probably a good idea not to drink water that’s literally full of it.

Tetanus is caused by the bacteria called Clostridium retain, found in animal feces, soil, and dust. If you were to actually swallow a rusty nail or a large piece of metal with lots of rust on it, you might get a lower form of tetanus.

People who weld, solder, or mine tend to inhale lots of rust dust, which in turn can lead to sclerosis. However, the disease takes years to fully develop, and we can prevent contracting it by using proper protection like masks.

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After all, if we use rust in cosmetic and medical products regularly, there’s no real reason to fear if we swallow a bit of it. Well, from what I’ve learned, there are quite a few households that have pots, pans, silverware, and cups that have some minor rust on them.

Moreover, there are often images floating around online of what typical water pipes look like, and they are almost always rusty on the inside. Therefore, enjoy your meals and don’t worry about ingesting some iron(III) oxide; it might even be good for you.

Another huge problem with rust is that it is known to encourage the growth of a specific type of bacteria that causes tetanus. If your rusty cookware happens to be made of cast iron, most culinary authorities say it’s completely salvageable.

Rust is the result of a complex chemical reaction involving iron, water and oxygen from the air. Used also as a pigment for earthy paint colors, rust dust appears as tones in muted shades of yellow, orange, red, brown and black.

When rust dust forms, sometimes parts of the iron begin to peel and flake as well. Government regulatory bodies set exposure limits for chemicals in the workplace, including for ferric oxide.

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The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has set a limit of 5 mg of iron oxide dust or fumes per cubic meter of air or m^3. This limit is the maximum average concentration of ferric oxide in air that a worker can inhale without requiring protective equipment over the course of a workday.

If a worker is exposed to ferric oxide in air at levels of up to 50 mg ÷ m^3, Nosh recommends using a respirator equipped with a particulate filter. A concentration of more than 2500 mg ÷ m^3 is considered immediately dangerous to life and health and requires a positive-pressure air respirator.

If rust gets into a vehicle’s frame or body structure, it can become a safety issue for drivers. In fact, if a vehicle’s structure gets rusty enough, there could be a catastrophic failure even in routine daily driving.

First, moisture and carbon dioxide in the air mix to create a weak acid that starts to dissolve the iron. Think about how easy it is to crumble a flake of rust between your fingers, and then imagine that stuff trying to protect you and your loved ones during a car crash.

A stray piece of gravel or a minor fender bender is all it takes to chip a car’s paint, and any iron in the body panels will start to rust as soon as air and water reach the metal beneath it. That means rust spots can be fairly common on used vehicles, particularly if they’ve been driven in a northern U.S. state that uses chemicals and salt to device winter roads.


But if the rusting process goes on too long, it can eat right through the metal, causing holes and allowing body panels to fall to pieces. This is where problems go from cosmetic to dangerous, because modern cars and SUVs rely on these body panels for their structural integrity.

The most serious problems occur when rust gets beneath the car’s surface and within its underlying components. Rust -free body panels boost a vehicle’s structural integrity, but the parts doing the heavy lifting lie under the car’s skin.

Unfortunately, this area of a vehicle is often susceptible to rust -causing chemicals and water, which can accumulate there when a car drives down wet or icy roads. Most customers should avoid used vehicles that show strong signs of structural rust.

CARFAX also recommends getting an expert inspection that includes putting the vehicle up on a lift, to give your mechanic a better view of under body components. You can apply touch-up paint to stone chips, small scratches, and other minor nicks and dings, but truly repairing rust can take several steps, a variety of tools and materials, and quite a bit of skill.

Depending on the size and severity of the rust, blending the repaired area with the surrounding paint may require wet sanding or buffing the surface. Dirt can retain and trap moisture, and road salt, bird droppings, and other corrosive materials will eat away at paint if they’re left unattended on metal surfaces for long periods.

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Waxing it on a regular basis (twice or more each year) will add a protective surface to the paint and clear coat. Wash and wax more frequently if you live near an ocean or in an area where highway crews spread salt on the roads to melt snow and ice during the winter.

Also, frequently check the fender liners and other areas under the hood, along the sides of the engine bay, for any standing water. Check the trunk or cargo area to make sure water isn’t seeping past the seals.

Stone chips and other nicks and dings that are left unrepaired can develop into rust spots over time, so it pays to buy some matching touch-paint to cover those imperfections.

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