How To Remove Rust From a Barbell

How To Clean Rust Off a Barbell (Barbell Care 101)

If you workout in a garage gym long enough, eventually you’re going to end up with rust on your barbell. Between sweat, heat and humidity it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

Don’t worry though, because cleaning rust, chalk and dead skin (yes, dead skin) off stainless steel bars is not that difficult a process.

In one afternoon (mostly just waiting), you can have your barbell looking shiny and rust-free again.

In this article, I’m going to go over the materials you’ll need and walk you through the cleaning process step-by-step. Let’s get started.

Materials Needed

Cleaning Barbell Rust Materials
From Left to Right: Towels, Gloves, Plastic Wrap, Shop Towels, Spray Bottle, Water, Vinegar, Nylon Brush and 3 in 1 Oil.

Good news. You don’t need a lot of materials for this job, they’re relatively cheap and some (if not most) you may already have laying around your house already.

  • 50/50 Solution of Water and Vinegar
  • Shop Towels
  • Plastic Wrap
  • 3 in 1 Oil
  • Black Nylon Bristle Brush
  • Extra Towels
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Plywood, Tarp or some other material to cover and protect the surface you’re working on.
  • Something to prop the bar up off the ground

Prep Your Work Area

Cleaning Setup
Good look at my cleaning setup. Plywood to protect the floor and two 4x4s to prop the bar up off the floor.

Honestly, properly setting up the area where you’re going to work on your rusty bar is one of the most time consuming parts of the whole process. However, having everything properly set up will save you a ton of time and hassle later on.

Protect Your Floor

Start by laying out whatever you’re going to use to protect your garage and/or gym flooring where you’re going to be working.

This could be plywood (what I used), a tarp, drop cloth – anything that will cover and protect the floor from the vinegar solution.

Our vinegar/water solution is a very natural solution, especially when compared to more toxic rust-removal products, but vinegar can still stain a garage floor or driveway.

Prop Up Your Barbell

Technically, you don’t have to prop your barbell up off the ground, but having that extra room underneath of it to work is well worth it.

I used a couple 4x4s that actually used to be my DIY Squat Rack. You can use a number of different things – just make sure you’re okay with them getting soaked in vinegar.

Create Your Solution

5050 Vinegar and Water Solution
The cleaning solution is just a super simple 50/50 mix of vinegar and water.

I repurposed an empty spray bottle for this and I’d recommend for you to do the same. No need to go out and buy a spray bottle unless you absolutely have to. Better for the environment and your wallet.

Make sure to do a thorough cleaning of your spray bottle so whatever was in it before doesn’t end up on your barbell.

Rust Removal Process

If you haven’t already, start by laying your barbell in a horizontal position across your setup.

Wrap and Soak the Shop Towels

Shop Towel and Plastic Wrap on Barbell
Here are a few Shop Towels covered in Plastic Wrap around the bar.

Take your shop towels, one or two at a time and wrap them around a section of the bar.

Now, soak the towel with the vinegar solution.

Keep the bottle close to the bar and spray from one end of the towel to the other. Rotate the bar and repeat until the entire towel is soaked.

Now, to hold that moisture against the bar, we’re going to wrap the towel in the plastic wrap.

Repeat this process section by section for the entire bar, including the barbell sleeves.

Once you have done this for the whole bar, now it’s time to wait.

How Long To Leave Them On

Rust Being Soaked Up Onto Shop Towel
Can you tell which part of the bar was the worst?

How long to leave the towels on really depends on how rusty your bar is and how close to complete perfection you’re trying to get.

If you have an old rusty bar, you probably want to allow the vinegar to soak overnight.

On the other hand, I’ve seen people remove the shop towels after a few hours and it still removed quite a bit of rust.

I kept mine on for 24 hours. After 24 hours, some of my shop towels actually turned black from the amount of rust that was pulled from the bar.

(It was at this point that I realized just how neglected this bar had been and I repeated the whole process a second time and the vinegar soak took off even more rust the second time through.)

I highly recommend leaving them on at least overnight to get the maximum benefit.

Scrub The Bar

Scrubbing Barbell with Nylon Brush

While the vinegar overnight soak is going to do a lot of the work for you, you’re still going to have to put in a little elbow grease.

Once you remove the towels, find the areas that need a little extra TLC.

Spray some of the vinegar solution on the bar, scrub it down with your nylon brush and then wipe down the excess oil and rust with your towel. Continue this process until you’re pleased with how the bar looks.

Depending on how bad your bar was when you started will depend on how long this part of the process will take. If your bar was in bad shape like mine, it may take a good 30 minutes of spraying, scrubbing and wiping.

Finish With the 3 in 1 Oil

Once you’re happy with how your stainless steel bar is looking, it’s time to finish it off with a little 3 in 1 Oil.

Using the 3 in 1 Oil really isn’t different than the vinegar solution we’ve already been using.

Apply a few drops of oil to the bar, work it in with the nylon brush and then wipe off the excess oil with either a clean cloth or paper towel.

Once you’ve finished with the entire bar (including the bar sleeve), you’re all finished!

Barbell Maintenance FAQ

How Do I Keep Rust Off My Bar?

The best offense is often times a good defense, so here are a few ways to keep rust off your bar in the first place.

Wipe Down Your Bar After Lifts

Sweat left on your bar after a lift allows the rust process to kick in while your bar sits waiting for the next lift. A quick wipe down after each lift can go a long way toward keeping rust away.

Get a Humidifier

If you’re lifting in your garage during the summer, chances are you’re working out in a pretty humid environment.

Humidity is probably the number one cause for gym equipment rust in a garage gym.

Buying, and using, a dehumidifier is a worthwhile investment for those summer months.

Pay Attention to Bar Finishes

Once upon a time, a barbell was just a bare steel bar. That’s not the case anymore. Many barbells come with finishes and many of these finishes are more resistant against rust.

If you’re concerned about rust, look for a barbell with a stainless steel or cerakote finish. These are both very resistant against rust.

Final Thoughts

For about 10 bucks and a little bit of work, you are now the proud owner of what could very well look like a brand new bar! It’s definitely worth the effort, especially if you’re building out your garage gym on a budget.

Not a bad deal, right?

If you have multiple stainless steel bars, I strongly suggest doing all the bars at once. Getting all your materials together and setting up your work area is half the work. Might as well do all of them at once while you have everything set up.

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