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I don’t know about you but my heart skips a beat when I come across reclaimed wood, rusty metal, and forged iron. There’s something to be said about pieces that speak their history through their old age and rusty patina, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to mountain homes and log cabins.
However, there are times when those reclaimed materials are out of budget, or even just difficult to find. Luckily there are ways to make new items look old, and today I’m sharing how you can make metal rust in less than 10 minutes!
How to Make Metal Rust
There’s a project we’ve had in mind for our RV, all we needed was some antique horseshoes. I can’t tell you how many times I came across rusty horseshoes while we were living in Georgia, but I wasn’t quite ready for my project so I kept telling myself I’d get them later.
Fast forward several months and now that we’re ready for the project I can’t find old horseshoes anywhere! Well, that’s only partially true, I did find some online but wanted them NOW because I’m impatient. I did find a couple at a local antique shop but there were only two (I wanted at least three), and they didn’t have holes in them which we wanted to make it easy to attach to our reclaimed wood. Oh yeah, and they were suuuuuper heavy.
In case you didn’t know, traveling in an RV means you have to be extra careful about how much weight you add to the motorhome, and every little thing adds up. Naturally, I’m drawn to overly heavy wood and iron. Go figure.
Even something as small as a horseshoe all of a sudden seems to weigh a whole heck of a lot more than I ever realized. Anyway, since my mission to find antique horseshoes was a fail I decided it was time to fall back on plan B, buy new horseshoes and make them look old. I was able to pick up this 4 pack of horseshoes for $8 at a local tractor supply store. There were different kinds so we picked up the ones that are supposedly “lightweight”.
Update: Video Showing How to Make Metal Rust
Check out our recent video showing how easy it is to make metal rust:
Gather Your Supplies
I gotta tell ya, making metal rust in fast forward was even more fun than I anticipated. Plus you probably have everything you need to try this out right now. The only thing we had to buy was salt. We had Himalayan salt, which may work, but I wasn’t sure how much I’d use so we just grabbed a big container of table salt for $1.
I have to admit that I didn’t really follow any specific recipe for this. I originally came across this post on how to make metal rust and planned to follow it to a tee, but then I became all impatient and excited and just did my own thing. The good news is that it worked.
Don’t forget about safety – while these are household items you want to be extra careful when mixing, and wear proper eye protection and gloves. Be sure to do this away from kids and pets and keep in mind that if this mixture gets onto any metal it will rust it. I recommend doing this outside so you have good ventilation, and don’t risk ruining anything.
My New Horseshoe:
Here’s one of the horseshoes I photographed during this process:
Update: If you watch the video at the top of the post you can see how using a small spray bottle or one with a misting option makes this method even easier! The first time I did this my spray bottle was busted so I skipped it, but when I tried using one the second time around, I found that it used fewer supplies, was less messy, and worked awesomely! The method I mention below is fun to watch though, so just play around with it and have fun!
The first thing you will want to do is grab your steel/iron/metal and place it into a container or bucket. I just used a small, plastic storage container.
After I placed my horseshoe in the container I poured some white distilled vinegar on top. I didn’t measure but I poured just enough so that it covered the horseshoe and then I sorta swished it around on top. You could pour some of the vinegar into a spray bottle and spray your metal objects instead.
Let your metal objects sit in the vinegar for as little or as long as you want, then drain the vinegar from the container.
For this specific horseshoe, I let it sit in the vinegar for about 5 minutes before I emptied the vinegar from the container.
At this point, you’ll want to add peroxide on top of your metal objects. You can mix it with vinegar and salt inside a spray bottle if you want.
I had pre-mixed roughly 5 oz of peroxide with 2 oz of vinegar and started spraying that onto the horseshoe while it was still in the container. My spray bottle wasn’t working that well and I became impatient so I just took off the spray cap and dumped the mixture onto my horseshoe. This is where it starts to get fun because the peroxide starts to bubble on the metal and you can see the rust color coming on.
I then sprinkled …err dumped… a bunch of salt on my horseshoe and the rusty color started to come out even more. Ooooooooh! #EasilyAmused
Then I called Eric over because I was all excited to show him, but I wanted more bubbles and fizz so I poured a bit more hydrogen peroxide on top. I didn’t measure.
Remove from mixture and let air dry.
After a few minutes, I swished the horseshoe around in the solution to sort of rinse off the salt and then patted it dry with a paper towel. You don’t want to wipe it too hard or it could remove some of the patina. You’ll see that it’s a bit rusty but don’t worry if it doesn’t look exactly the way you want, it actually rusts more as it dries. This is what mine looked like right after I removed it from the mixture – I did this all in less than 10 minutes.
It was getting dark outside so I just let it sit overnight and the next day this is what my horseshoe looked like, next to metal that’s been rusting for years:
I like that some of the bluish-grey color of the iron is coming through the rust.
I made a few more horseshoes prior to this one and let some of them sit for about an hour because I wasn’t noticing the color change right away. I later realized that they get rustier as they dry. So I would just say to experiment. If you don’t like how your metal looks after 10 minutes and air drying, you can always repeat the process and keep them in the solution for a longer period of time 🙂
Spray with a clear sealer.
You’ll want to add a clear sealer to prevent the rusty patina from flaking off and staining anything they touch.
To be honest, I waited a while before sealing mine which was a BAD idea. Some of the patina had rubbed off by then, including getting on some of my towels. Oops. When I did seal them I just used some leftover Spar Urethane and a foam brush, but you can use any clear sealer and may prefer a spray-on kind.
The second time I did this I went ahead and sealed the horseshoe after about 2 hours, but you can always wait overnight.
That’s it! Now we have some rusty, antique-looking horseshoes that are perfect for our project, which we’ll be sharing with you next week.
This is just one way to rust metal, but I’m definitely a fan. If you decide to try this out we would love to hear about your results in the comments below. And if you have a specific technique that you prefer when it comes to making new metal look old, we would love to hear about that too!
Not all metals will rust
After receiving a lot of comments and emails about this not working on certain objects I wanted to add that not all metals will rust. I believe it has to have iron in it in order to rust, and if it’s galvanized, stainless steel or some other type of metal that doesn’t corrode then this process won’t work. I learned this the hard way by trying to rust some galvanized buckets I had on hand and read up about it here.
Sealer IS important
If you don’t want the patina to rub off on you or anything else it touches, you’ll definitely want to apply a clear sealer!
Spray vs. Dunk
If you watch the video at the top of this post you’ll see the difference in the spray vs. dunk method. Basically, the spray method will allow more of the contrast of the original metal to show through and it is easier to work in layers and add more rust if you want. The dunk method could cover nearly the entire metal object, depending on how much you cover and how long it sits. Although you’ll notice a few of my “dunked” horseshoes still have a decent amount of contrast.
Let it dry
I know it may not seem like it’s changing right away or the patina may not seem as bold while the object is wet, but if you’re patient and let it sit for 5-10 minutes you’ll notice just how much of a patina was created. Of course, you can always add more, but I went a little overboard on some just because I was being impatient and kept adding more of the mixture.
Don’t forget to check out the rustic bathroom shelf we created using these horseshoes.