A rusty car frame is nothing to sneeze at (unless you happen to breathe some of the particles up your nose). The frame holds the body, the engine, and pretty much the whole car into one piece, designed to maintain stability and withstand tension. But how can we get the rust off a frame that’s begun to corrode?
The best tool for removing rust from your car frame is a wire brush drill attachment. These attachments are not as aggressive as grinders, which you use at an angle to remove deep, set-in rust, and not as easy-going as sanders, which are perfectly fine for surface rust.
The only instances in which I wouldn’t recommend using a wire brush drill attachment are if:
- The car frame’s integrity is not too far gone for help.
- The power drill attachment is too aggressive for the job (which could hurt the frame more than help it). For frames with heavy rust or complex angles, a softer, smaller brush may be in order, or even a rust converter (see below).
- There are crimps and corners in the frame, making it difficult for attachments to reach.
In this article, I’ll discuss the best tools for removing rust from a car frame and what to consider when removing rust. Let’s get started!
For those of you who need to dash off, here is a handy table that cuts right to the chase:
|Easy and effective
|Wires can fly loose
|Gentle on bare metal
|Not for heavy rust
|Works like a dream
|A bit messy to use
Ready to learn more about each tool? It’s time to examine the details.
Wire brush drill attachments are specifically designed to be used with a drill and are particularly useful for cleaning and preparing large surfaces or hard-to-reach areas. They can remove rust from car frames so long as the procedure is done carefully.
To use a wire brush drill attachment to remove rust from a car frame, the user would attach the brush to a drill, set the drill to a low speed, and scrub the rust-affected area. Don’t forget to put on goggles and gloves before you start.
- Faster than sanding, but not as aggressive as grinding.
- Easy to get the hang of.
- Coated with brass to reduce sparks.
- Won’t work as well on heavy rust.
- May create swirl marks on the frame.
- You need to use the brush drill attachment correctly for it to be effective.
Several types of wire brush drill attachments can be used for car frame rust removal. These include:
- Twisted knot brushes
- Knot wire brushes
- Cup wire brushes
It’s important to select the appropriate type of wire brush based on the severity of the rust and the surface being cleaned.
These brushes are also made of different materials and in varying shapes and sizes. Let’s begin with the wiring style:
Crimped wire brushes are suitable for light to medium-duty cleaning and rust removal tasks. They’re made with individually crimped wires that support each other, resulting in a flexible brush that can be used on irregular surfaces without damaging the metal.
Choose this type of brush if you’re concerned about twist knot brushes (see below) doing too much damage to the frame. The surface of your frame is likely fraught with angles and curves; therefore, it’s best to choose a crimped wire brush with longer wires that are more effective at reaching tight areas.
Twist knot brushes are wire brushes made by twisting wire strands like a rope. They’re often used for medium to heavy rust and paint removal and cleaning and preparing metal surfaces. Twist knot brushes can be particularly effective at removing heavy rust from car frames—though once more, be sure that the frame is salvageable before you begin.
The user should start at one end of the rust-affected area and work their way to the other, applying moderate pressure and moving the brush in a back-and-forth motion. The brush should be frequently rotated to expose fresh bristles, and the process should be repeated until the rust is removed.
When choosing between a steel or stainless steel brush for rust removal, the decision will depend on the specific needs of the task. Suppose the metal surface being cleaned is prone to rusting or is likely exposed to corrosive elements. In that case, a stainless steel brush may be the better choice as it will be less likely to rust itself and will not transfer rust to the surface being cleaned.
On the other hand, if the metal surface isn’t prone to rusting and the main concern is removing heavy rust, a steel brush may be more effective due to its greater abrasiveness. It’s important to remember that steel brushes will wear out more quickly than stainless steel brushes due to the softer nature of the metal.
Aside from wiring and material, brushes come in different shapes, each with its own strengths. The choices here will change depending on the shape of the frame you’re working on:
Cupped brushes are wire brushes with a circular shape and wire bristles arranged in a cup-like formation. They work perfectly for light rust removal from your frame, albeit with this limitation: they work best on large, flat areas, so certain areas of your car frame may not be suitable for this brush style.
Wheeled brushes can reach small, cramped areas of your frame quite well. A wheeled brush is a wire brush mounted on a wheel or a hub, allowing it to spin over the surface being cleaned. The brush should be rotated frequently to expose fresh bristles.
Wheeled brushes come in various sizes depending on how difficult the treatment area is to reach. In the case of a car frame, such areas can be numerous, and a wheeled brush is just the ticket to achieving great results.
End brushes can be made of crimped, knotted, or twisted wire. They look like the brushes your dad used to pat shaving cream on his face.
Like wheeled brushes, end wire brushes help clean hard-to-reach areas or for accessing tight corners and crevices. They can be effective at removing rust from car frames, particularly in cases where a larger wheel brush cannot access the rust-affected area.
A drill may make some parts of your frame too tricky to reach. In these cases, opt for hand-held wire brushes. Wire brushes do a fantastic job of removing rust from all sorts of car frames.
Using a grinding disc to remove rust from a car frame can be an effective and efficient way to restore the frame to its original condition. However, it’s essential to use caution and proper technique to avoid damaging the frame or causing injury.
- Most suitable for heavy rust.
- Works quickly.
- Can help restore your car frame to its former glory.
- The grinder requires a lot of muscle power to use.
- Since it’s so aggressive, there’s a chance of damaging your frame.
- Can cause injury or damage if you’re not careful.
Here’s how to use a grinder drill attachment to remove rust:
- Get a grinder with a suitable grinding disc. A flap disc is a good choice for removing rust, as it is made of layers of abrasive cloth that can easily remove rust without damaging the metal underneath.
- Examine the area to be treated, and mark any areas that should be avoided, such as welds or areas with thin metal.
- Attach the grinding disc to the grinder and adjust the speed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Hold the grinder at a slight angle to the frame, and move it in a back-and-forth motion to remove the rust. Use light pressure, as applying too much force can cause the grinder to dig into the metal and create divots or damage the frame.
- Once the rust has been removed, clean the area thoroughly to remove any dust or debris. You may apply a rust converter or inhibitor to prevent the rust from returning.
Sanding is a less aggressive method of removing rust than grinding, making it a good choice for surface rust and more delicate areas of a car frame. When sanding, you use abrasive paper or a sanding disc to wear away the rust rather than aggressively grinding it off with a spinning disc.
- Works effectively on surface rust.
- The discs are easy to attach or swap out.
- Does a gentle job of rust removal, protecting the frame better than grinding.
- Sometimes has a bit of trouble working in tight corners.
- Not suitable for heavy rust.
Hook and loop sanding discs are popular for sanding rust off car frames because they’re easy to attach and remove from the sanding tool. These discs have a Velcro-like backing that sticks to a special pad on the sanding device, allowing you to change out the discs as needed quickly.
Here’s how to use a sander drill attachment for removing rust:
- Obtain a sanding tool, such as an orbital sander or a pneumatic air sander, and a selection of hook and loop sanding discs in various grits. Grit is a measure of the abrasiveness of the sandpaper, with lower grits being more coarse and higher grits being finer. For coarse sanding, start with a low grit, such as 40 or 60 grit.
- Move the sander in a back-and-forth motion over the rust, applying light pressure. The rust will start to wear away as you work, revealing the metal underneath.
- Once you’ve removed most of the rust, switch to a higher grit for finer sanding, such as 100 or 120 grit. This will help to smooth out any roughness or imperfections in the metal and give the frame a more polished appearance.
Sandblasting removes rust and other contaminants from metal using pressurized sand or another abrasive material. One of the main advantages of sandblasting is that it can easily reach hard-to-access areas, making it an excellent choice for car frames with complex shapes or small crevices.
- Works incredibly well.
- Effective for all levels of rust.
- Reaches hard-to-reach rust.
- The air compressor can be messy for beginners
- Some blast media, such as silica sand or crystalline, are toxic.
- It can take a while to perfect your sandblasting technique.
To sandblast a car frame, get your hands on an air compressor, and follow the steps below (an air compressor provides the pressurized air needed to propel the abrasive material). You’ll also need a sandblaster with an abrasive material container and a spray gun.
When choosing an abrasive material, or blast media, it is imperative to select a grit that is suitable for the task at hand. For removing rust, a grit of 70 is a good choice. It’s coarse enough to remove the rust but not so aggressive that it will damage the metal underneath.
- Before starting the sandblasting process, adjust the air compressor to the correct pressure, which is usually around 100 psi.
- A spray gun filter is also a good idea to prevent moisture from getting into the abrasive material, as this can interfere with the sandblasting process.
- Protect yourself when sandblasting. Wear goggles to shield your eyes from flying debris and a respirator to protect your lungs from the abrasive material.
Below is a nifty YouTube video to show you how sandblasting is done:
Rust converters are applications that transform rust into solid chemical barriers. There are three main types of rust converters:
Here’s how to use each type:
Brush on rust converter is applied using a brush or roller. To use it, follow the steps below:
- Clean the rust-affected area of the car frame to remove any dirt or debris.
- Apply a thin, even coat of rust converter using a brush or roller.
- Allow the rust converter to dry according to the brand instructions, which is typically about one hour.
- After the rust converter has dried, apply a second coat and let that dry. You’ll know each coat is dry when the metal turns into a dark purple color.
- Let the converter cure for about 48 hours, during which time the surface will turn from purple to black. An oil-based primer can be applied at this time, though it is unnecessary; you may apply two coats of oil-based paint to protect the frame from the elements further.
It’s best to use an airless sprayer for a spray-on rust converter. Below is how to use it:
- Use a dry brush to remove dust or light rust from the frame.
- Fill the sprayer with a rust converter (go sparingly because you will not be able to pour the unused converter back into the bottle).
- Hold the sprayer about 6 inches (15 cm) from the frame and apply a thin, even coat of rust converter using a back-and-forth motion.
- As with brush-on converters, allow the solution to dry, which will take about an hour.
- Apply two more coats of rust converter on the frame, let them cure for 48 hours, and apply oil-based paint.
An aerosol rust converter is applied using a can with a spray nozzle that releases a fine mist of the rust converter. Follow these steps to use an aerosol rust converter:
- Clean the frame with a dry brush first. Getting the dirt off, plus any light surface rust will work just fine.
- Let each coat dry for one hour. Aerosol rust converters work best with four coats in total.
- After the rust converter has cured to a black hue, move on to an oil-based paint application.
Laser cleaners are a high-tech option for removing rust from a car frame. These devices use a focused beam of laser light to vaporize rust and other contaminants from the surface of the metal, leaving a clean and rust-free surface behind.
To use a laser cleaner to remove rust from a car frame, you must set up the laser cleaner according to specifications. This may include adjusting the focus of the laser beam and setting the power level.
Once the laser cleaner is set up, you can begin the rust removal process:
- Hold the laser cleaner steady and sweep the laser beam over the rust-affected areas of the car frame.
- The laser light will vaporize the rust, leaving behind a clean and rust-free surface.
A laser cleaner removes rust by emitting a laser frequency through a hand-held gun. This frequency resonates with the contaminated metal, causing it to absorb the light. The absorbed light creates heat, vaporizing anything on top of the metal that shouldn’t be there, such as rust.
The thing to remember here is that the laser is hot. Wear goggles to protect your eyes from the beam, and always keep the beam in motion to prevent it from causing damage to the bare metal of the frame.
Laser cleaning a rusty car frame is expensive and takes a bit of professional training to master, so I haven’t included it with the four more popular methods above. Yet it is effective and, when done properly, leaves metal completely rust-free.
So Which Tool Should You Use?
Each car frame rust removal method works differently on different levels of rust and frame shapes. Look at your frame and determine:
- How much rust is on the frame.
- How deep or well set in the rust is.
- The frame’s shape (lots of tight angles or smooth, flat surfaces).
- Whether or not the method you choose will actually damage the frame.
Knowing what you’re up against will help you choose the better tool for the job. And now that you have that, you can begin the restoration.
A rusty car frame doesn’t necessarily mean a trip to the junkyard. In other words, don’t count your wheels out until all of the chips are played. Effective tools exist for most levels of rust, enabling you to restore your car’s frame. Here’s to the spirit of structural integrity and many future joy rides.