The Detroit Post
Friday, 15 October, 2021

How Does Rust Happen

Bob Roberts
• Wednesday, 18 November, 2020
• 11 min read

Rust is a naturally occurring phenomenon when certain metals are exposed to oxygen and water for a length of time. It is an actual chemical change which takes place when metal starts to rust.

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Left in a totally dry environment, iron or steel will not rust. It is when moisture is added that the oxidation process starts to occur.

Because the air we breathe has moisture in it, oxidation will occur even if there is no water added to the metal. There are things you can do to prevent rust from forming on your metal surfaces.

This machine also decreases the moisture in the air, reducing your chances of rust forming. Things which are normally stored outside, like bicycles and lawn mowers, can be covered or moved indoors.

Silica gel packs help to dry out the air in small places like drawers or tool boxes. Also, when items which are made of iron or steel become wet, dry them off as soon as possible.

The different colors reflect various chemical compositions of rust. Rust is the common name of the chemical called iron oxide.

rust giving another shot

Rust forms when iron or its alloys are exposed to moist air. The oxygen and water in air react with the metal to form the hydrated oxide.

Cathodic reduction of oxygen that is dissolved into water also occurs: The iron oxide reacts with oxygen to yield red rust, Fe 2 O 3. H 2 O.

Rust occurs more quickly in saltwater than in pure water, for example. Carbonic acid is a better electrolyte than pure water.

As the acid attacks the iron, water breaks into hydrogen and oxygen. Once rusting starts, it continues to corrode the metal.

Rust is brittle, fragile, progressive, and weakens iron and steel. To protect iron and its alloys from rust, the surface needs to be separated from air and water.

rust unsplash

The difference is the chromium oxide does not flake away, so it forms a protective layer on the steel. When a piece of metal corrodes, the electrolyte helps provide oxygen to the anode.

When a drop of water hits an iron object, two things begin to happen almost immediately. As the acid is formed and the iron dissolved, some water will begin to break down into its component pieces -- hydrogen and oxygen.

The chemical compounds found in liquids like acid rain, seawater and the salt-loaded spray from snow-belt roads make them better electrolytes than pure water, allowing their presence to speed the process of rusting on iron and other forms of corrosion on other metals. It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon that happens every time iron is exposed to oxygen and water.

While oxygen and water are really all it takes for your favorite tool, bike, or car to rust, there are some things that can make the situation worse. If the iron or steel comes into contact with salt water, they’ll rust much faster than usual.

Also, constant temperature changes, different chemicals and minerals, as well as acids can speed up corrosion. In some cases, your iron or steel components could’ve started corroding even before they left the manufacturing plant.

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First up, water tries to bond with oxygen dioxide to create a weak carbonic acid in the air. Also, some water particles will start breaking down again into their component pieces, i.e., hydrogen and oxygen.

Those newly freed electrons go from the anode to the cathode and attach themselves to the iron or steel. After a while, if left untreated, rust will completely eat away at the metal and make it fragile.

With that said, the ultimate way to stop rust from destroying your tools, cookware, bikes, or cars is to keep them out of humid weather and rain. But if coating the metal isn’t an option, you should try to look for tools that are made from stainless steel.

The longer the metal stays exposed, the faster the water and air will get to it and turn it to rust. If you act fast, clean the wound, and protect it, you won’t have to worry about bacteria.

Let’s say the worst has happened and now you have rust ; well, don’t worry, there are a couple of quick and easy DIY recipes you can try to get it off. If you don’t have lemons or limes lying around, you can use baking soda to get rid of the brownish spots.


Again, you’ll want to leave it to rest for a couple of hours and then, using a brush or cloth, scrub the solution away. But if you’re removing rust from a smaller tool, like a knife, you can use vinegar instead of lemons or baking soda.

Just fill a container with white vinegar, put your tool inside, and let it soak overnight. In the morning, using steel wool or a wire brush, scrub everything, and wash it with clean water.

On the other hand, you also have the Iron Out Rust Stain Remover, which works great on tools, appliances, and even laundry. As you can see, all it takes for rust to occur and start destroying your prized possessions is iron or steel, water, and air.

Once those things come together to make the perfect storm, iron oxide will completely weaken and ruin the metal. Fortunately, there’s a way for you to easily prevent oxidation, and it all starts with keeping an eye out and doing maintenance.

By treating every bump and scratch immediately, your things can live a long, rust -free life. Given sufficient time, any iron mass, in the presence of water and oxygen, could eventually convert entirely to rust.


Surface rust is commonly flaky and friable, and provides no passivation protection to the underlying iron, unlike the formation of patina on copper surfaces. Rusting is the common term for corrosion of elemental iron and its alloys such as steel.

Many other metals undergo similar corrosion, but the resulting oxides are not commonly called rust “. Other forms of rust include the result of reactions between iron and chloride in an environment deprived of oxygen.

Rebar used in underwater concrete pillars, which generates green rust, is an example. Rapid oxidation occurs when heated steel is exposed to air Rust is a general name for a complex of oxides and hydroxides of iron, which occur when iron or some alloys that contain iron are exposed to oxygen and moisture for a long period of time.

Over time, the oxygen combines with the metal forming new compounds collectively called rust. Although rust may generally be termed as “oxidation”, that term is much more general and describes a vast number of processes involving the loss of electrons or increased oxidation state, as part of a reaction.

Many other oxidation reactions exist which do not involve iron or produce rust. Iron or steel structures might appear to be solid, but water molecules can penetrate the microscopic pits and cracks in any exposed metal.


The hydrogen atoms present in water molecules can combine with other elements to form acids, which will eventually cause more metal to be exposed. If chloride ions are present, as is the case with saltwater, the corrosion is likely to occur more quickly.

As the atoms combine, they weaken the metal, making the structure brittle and crumbly. Iron metal is relatively unaffected by pure water or by dry oxygen.

The conversion of the passivating ferrous oxide layer to rust results from the combined action of two agents, usually oxygen and water. Under these corrosive conditions, iron hydroxide species are formed.

Unlike ferrous oxides, the hydroxides do not adhere to the bulk metal. As they form and flake off from the surface, fresh iron is exposed, and the corrosion process continues until either all the iron is consumed or all of the oxygen, water, carbon dioxide, or sulfur dioxide in the system are removed or consumed.

When iron rusts, the oxides take up more volume than the original metal; this expansion can generate enormous forces, damaging structures made with iron. O 2 + 4 e + 2 H2O 4 OH Because it forms hydroxide ions, this process is strongly affected by the presence of acid.

rust annoying funny

With limited dissolved oxygen, iron(II)-containing materials are favored, including Few and black lodestone or magnetite (Fe 3 O 4). High oxygen concentrations favor ferric materials with the nominal formulae Fe(OH) 3 x O x 2.

The nature of rust changes with time, reflecting the slow rates of the reactions of solids. Furthermore, these complex processes are affected by the presence of other ions, such as Ca 2+, which serve as electrolytes which accelerate rust formation, or combine with the hydroxides and oxides of iron to precipitate a variety of Ca, Fe, O, OH species.

The onset of rusting can also be detected in the laboratory with the use of ferry indicator solution. Cor-Ten is a special iron alloy that rusts, but still retains its structural integrityBecause of the widespread use and importance of iron and steel products, the prevention or slowing of rust is the basis of major economic activities in a number of specialized technologies.

A brief overview of methods is presented here; for detailed coverage, see the cross-referenced articles. Interior rusts in old galvanized iron water pipes can result in brown and black waterGalvanization consists of an application on the object to be protected of a layer of metallic zinc by either hot-dip galvanizing or electroplating.

Zinc is traditionally used because it is cheap, adheres well to steel, and provides cathodic protection to the steel surface in case of damage to the zinc layer. In more corrosive environments (such as salt water), cadmium plating is preferred.

happening much rust

Galvanization often fails at seams, holes, and joints where there are gaps in the coating. In some cases, such as very aggressive environments or long design life, both zinc and a coating are applied to provide enhanced corrosion protection.

Typical galvanization of steel products which are to be subjected to normal day-to-day weathering in an outside environment consists of a hot-dipped 85 µm zinc coating. Cathodic protection is a technique used to inhibit corrosion on buried or immersed structures by supplying an electrical charge that suppresses the electrochemical reaction.

The sacrificial anode must be made from something with a more negative electrode potential than the iron or steel, commonly zinc, aluminum, or magnesium. The sacrificial anode will eventually corrode away, ceasing its protective action unless it is replaced in a timely manner.

Flaking paint, exposing a patch of surface rust on sheet metal Rust formation can be controlled with coatings, such as paint, lacquer, varnish, or wax tapes that isolate the iron from the environment. As a closely related example, iron bars were used to reinforce stonework of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, but caused extensive damage by rusting, swelling, and shattering the marble components of the building.

When only temporary protection is needed for storage or transport, a thin layer of oil, grease, or a special mixture such as Coastline can be applied to an iron surface. Such treatments are extensively used when mothballing a steel ship, automobile, or other equipment for long-term storage.

rust reaction

Special antiseize lubricant mixtures are available, and are applied to metallic threads and other precision machined surfaces to protect them from rust. These compounds usually contain grease mixed with copper, zinc, or aluminum powder, and other proprietary ingredients.

They are not effective when air circulation disperses them, and brings in fresh oxygen and moisture. An example of this is the use of silica gel packets to control humidity in equipment shipped by sea.

It was the cause of the collapse of the Minus river bridge in 1983, when the bearings rusted internally and pushed one corner of the road slab off its support. The Kinda Bridge in Pennsylvania was blown down by a tornado in 2003, largely because the central base bolts holding the structure to the ground had rusted away, leaving the bridge anchored by gravity alone.

It is one of the most common failure modes of reinforced concrete bridges and buildings. In music, literature, and art, rust is associated with images of faded glory, neglect, decay, and ruin.

Rust Never Sleeps: Recognizing Metals and Their Corrosion Products” (PDF). ^ Ramsay, Hosahalli S.; Marlette, Michele; Pastry, Sudhir; Abderrahim, Khalid (2014-02-14).

rust explanation

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