Got Rust? Try Converting It to a Protective Seal

Rusty Vintage Peugeot 201 Car
Rusty Vintage Peugeot 201 Car. Chris Hellier/Getty Images

Rust is a complicated electrochemical process whereby a metal is converted to an oxide whenever it comes in contact with oxygen in the presence of moisture, and that can happen even in the protective custody of your garage. Because of that, the longer you own a car, it’s more than likely that one day you’ll find rust on it.

The standard approach to rust removal has been to sandblast or scrape down to bare metal, prime with a rust-inhibiting primer and then paint. When we come across rust on our cars or restoration project, we found using rust converters in the form of brush-on liquids to be an attractive alternative.

To show you how well a rust converter can work, we'll demonstrate with this heavily rusted and flaking interior magazine holder we found in our most current restoration of a 1961 Jaguar Mark 2.

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Prep the Part Prior to Treatment

Flaking rust removed but surface rust remains.

The first thing you need to do before applying the rust converter is to remove loose particles of rust and debris with a wire brush, scrapper, or rag. You can see that we took the flaky rusted metal down to a smooth surface but left plenty of surface rust. This is important because rust converters depend upon a layer of rust being present to be effective.

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Remove Fine Particles and Degrease the Surface

Remove any other surface contaminants.

Next, we used a vacuum cleaner to remove fine particles and denatured alcohol as a degreaser; mineral spirits would work as well. This step makes sure that other surface contaminants will not interfere with the reaction of the rust converter on the rusted area. Make sure that the surface dries completely before you apply the converter.

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Apply the Rust Converter

Half of the part treated with rust converter.

Choose a water-based rust converter like Eastwoods or Corroseal that contain two active ingredients; tannic acid and an organic polymer. The tannic acid reacts with iron oxide (rust) and chemically converts it to iron tannate, a dark-colored stable material. The organic polymer (2-Butoxyethanol) provides a protective primer layer. The overall chemical reaction converts rust into a stable, black protective polymeric coating.

Make sure you use gloves and safety glasses in a well-ventilated area that is between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the application process and follow the manufactures instruction. The consistency of most converters is pretty thick and is more easily rolled or brushed on, but it's thin enough to flow into cracks and seams.

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Before and After

Before and after rust converter.

We applied two thin coats to our Jags magazine holder within twenty minutes of each other and all the rust had turned to black. Once it cures for 48 hours, we'll be able to paint and attach its accessories.

The entire process took about two hours and cost less than ten dollars. We converted the rust into a paintable, protective, black layer that will seal out moisture and protect this part against any future corrosion.