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How to Remove Rust from an Outdoor Fire Pit?

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Your fire pit is supposed to add beauty and appeal to your backyard landscape, but after years of use, it could begin to rust, and suddenly, which was once a feature is now an eyesore. Don’t worry! In most cases, you can restore your fire pit to nearly like-new conditions.

To remove rust from a fire pit, you can use a chemical-based rust dissolver or several natural methods including scrubbing with steel wool or using distilled white vinegar. After the rust is removed, the fire pit should be repainted and resealed to prevent rust from returning.

Removing rust from a fire pit is a simple process, but involves a good amount of work, time, and effort. To learn all the details of how to get rid of rust using a chemical-based rust dissolver and natural methods, and how to prevent rust from occurring in the first place, continue reading.

What is Rust?

Before we get into how to get rid of rust, let’s talk about what rust is and what are the dangers. Rust is a common occurrence in items made of metal. We’ve all seen it, and it can cause some serious problems if left to run rampant.

Technically rust is iron oxide. Iron oxide is caused when iron reacts with oxygen and water. This reaction is called oxidization.  If a piece of iron or other metal has continual exposure to water and oxygen, rust is inevitable. It may not happen overnight. Rust can develop in a matter of day or years, depending on the intensity of the exposure and the type of metal. 

How soon and how much rust your fire pit will endure is not only contingent on the type of fire pit you have, but also on where you live.

If the area where you live has any of these characteristics, your fire pit may get rusty more quickly.

  • Changes in the temperature
  • Increased humidity
  • Being near the sea
  • Rainy areas will all contribute to increased rust

If left to its own devices, rust can cause holes to form in your fire pit and reduce its structural integrity. This is both damaging to your fire pit and unsafe.

Different Types of Rust

All rust might look the same to the untrained eye, but there are subtle differences in the nature of how rust occurs in different environments. Even one object can have various types of rust flourishing on it at the same time. 

The 4 different rust conditions are stable rust, flash rust, flaking rust and pitting rust. The type of rust should play a role in determining what type of rust removal you buy, and how you tackle removing it. These four types of rust conditions are nice pieces of information to know and are explained below.

  • Stable Rust – occurs over very long periods of time, this rust is usually a singular tone in appearance. Sometimes, like on uncoated steel building panels, stable rust can be considered a desirable aesthetic.
  • Flash Rust – Happens at 1 spot when water sits for too long. This type of rust is typically bright orange in color and can develop in as little time as 6 hours. 
  • Flaking Rust – Often times, this rust condition can take up more volume than the metal it displaces. Frequently found in transitional areas where a coating of paint ends.
  • Pitting Rust – Results from moisture getting trapped under pockets and inside the cavity areas of metal tools and furniture. When people think of rusty old tools, this is the type of rust they are thinking of. 

How Do You Get Rid of Rust?

As long as your fire pit only has surface rust, it should not be difficult to remove the rust and refinish the fire pit. You could purchase a rust removal product like Rust-Oleum Rust Dissolver, but just be careful since these products tend to be highly toxic. They are bad for the environment and dangerous to your pets and children.

I will explain how to remove rust using one of these chemical-based products as well as how to remove rust using natural, non-toxic methods.

We also cover how to remove rust from outdoor patio furniture in a separate article.

Removing Rust with a Rust Removal Product

To remove rust using a rust removal product, you will have to be a little more prepared. You should always follow the instructions that come with the product you choose as each product is unique in its formulation and will have specific instructions.

Below I have outlined a general idea of what you will need to do.

  1. Make sure your fire pit is in a well-ventilated area. It is best to do this outside, and away from anything that will be harmed by the chemical runoff, like your garden.
  2. Clean the fire pit using water and a soft scrub brush or steel wool.
  3. Brush the rust dissolver on the areas that have rust with an old paint brush or spray it on if it is in a spray bottle. This stuff is very caustic and toxic. Handle it very carefully and always wear PPE.
  4. Allow the rust dissolver 15-30 minutes to work on most metal products. You may need to apply it a second time if the rust is significant.
  5. Rinse away all of the rust dissolver solution.
  6. You will then want to reseal the fire pit and ring to help protect it from future rust.

The Top Brands of Rust Remover

According to yourbestdigs.com, rust remover brands can be broken up into two main groups of products. There are rust removers that are metal focused and some that are considered to be all around rust removers. Refer to the table below to learn a little bit more about these brands of rust removers. 

ProductCategoryPrimary UseForm
Iron OutMetal FocusGreat for bathrooms, kitchens, appliances, laundry machines, fabric, tile and tools.Spray Gel
CLRAll PurposeStands for Calcium Lime Rust Remover, good for surfaces and appliances.Gel
Aceros Metal FocusGood for appliances and stainless steel, though a little pricier.Liquid
Evapo Rust All PurposeGood for tools, antiques, hardware and other equipment.Liquid
StarbriteAll PurposeGood for fiberglass, vinyl, metal and painted surfaces. Spray
WD-40Metal FocusGood for nuts, bolts, locks, chains and anything metal. Great all purpose metal aid. Spray

These products were rated by the website based upon their own claims and instructions. For example, WD-40 was tested for its ability to remove rust typically found on nuts and bolts.

While the rating system only means so much, most of their list’s rankings seem typical. Additionally, this table shows the diversity of specified product types in this market. No two products serve an identical purpose. 

Removing Rust Using Natural Methods 

If you aren’t interested in using toxic chemicals to remove rust from your fire pit. You can try one of these methods recommend by the Farmer’s Almanac. There are at least 6 natural and easy to come by ways to remove rust. 

  • Scrub: Yes, the use of elbow grease is a good place to start. You can use just about anything that is slightly abrasive to scrub the rust away including steel wool, sandpaper, or even crumpled up ball of tin foil. Try this before other methods to get rid of the easiest to remove rust first.
  • White vinegar: Distilled white vinegar is acidic enough to dissolve rust. You can pour the white vinegar directly over the rust spots or wipe it on the surface with an old cloth.  Just remember to rinse the area thoroughly after the rust has dissolved. Prolonged exposure to acidic vinegar could cause damage to the surface of the fire pit. 
  • Baking soda: First, you must make a paste by mixing the baking soda with water. The paste has to be thick enough to stick to the rusted surface.  Let the baking soda paste sit on the rust for a few hours and then scrub it off with steel wool or scrub brush. You may need to do this several times. 
  • Potato: Slice a raw potato, sprinkle a little salt or baking soda on the potato and then rub it over the rust spot. This method works better if your rust is not completely covering your metal fire pit but just occurring in specific areas. The oxalic acid in the potato will help dissolve the rust while the salt and baking soda provide scrubbing powers. 
  • Lemon juice: Sprinkle some coarse salt on the rust and add lemon juice. Wipe off the juice and rinse.  Don’t let the lemon juice sit too long or it could cause damage beyond the rust. You can also try mixing lemon juice with vinegar for an extra-strong solution.  
  • Cola: Cola and other soft drinks contain high levels of phosphoric acid, which is a common ingredient in store-bought rust removal products.  Cola can be used to remove rust. It is stickier than some other rust removing options, so a good cleaning afterwards is necessary.

If you use any of these natural methods to clean your fire pit, remember to rinse and DRY all surfaces completely. If you leave them wet, they will just rust all over again.  

Restoring the Metal Fire Pit to Its Glory Days

Once you have successfully removed the rust either by toxic or non-toxic methods, you will need to reseal the fire pit and potentially repaint it as well if it is painted. This will protect it from getting rusty again and will make it look like new.

  1. Sand off the paint: To sand the paint off of the fire pit, you will need to use coarse-grit sandpaper. Sand the fire pit until you’ve exposed the metal beneath the paint.
  1. Smooth the fire pit out: Switch to fine-grit sandpaper and go over the metal a second time.  Use smooth circular motions. Continue until the metal is smooth. There should be no noticeable pits or scratches. 
  1. Apply sealant: Holding the can of high-temperature metal sealant about two feet from the fire pit.  Apply a thin, even coat of sealant over the entire surface. You don’t want it to get thick anywhere because this will cause bubbling and cracking. 
  1. Apply the paint: Stand 1 to 2 feet away from the fire pit and coat the fire pit with the high-temperature metal paint. Again, avoid putting it on too thick because this too will cause bubbles.  You might have to apply a second coat of paint to make sure the entire fire pit is covered.
  1. Apply another layer of sealant: After painting, add a second layer of sealant. The second layer will protect the paint from water damage.

How to Prevent Rust

Although no fire pit is immune to rust, and it is likely that eventually, your fire pit may experience some rust, there are some measures you can take to prevent your fire pit from rusting and keep your fire pit looking great in your backyard.

You can help keep your fire pit from rusting by…

  • Putting a cover over it when it is not in use
  • Moving it into storage during the winter months
  • Cleaning it regularly
  • Removing ashes after each fire
  • Inspecting it frequently for rust so you can deal with the problem before it gets out of hand

Preventing Future Rust by Using a Rust Converter

According to theruststore.com, rust converters differ from rust removers in that they react with rust to create a new substance that can be painted over while rust removers simply try to destroy and remove rust. 

Rust converters are water-based primers that contain two active ingredients: Tannic acid and an organic polymer. Tannic acid reacts with iron oxide, or rust, to chemically convert it to iron tannate. Iron tannate is a dark colored, highly stable material.

The second active ingredient, the organic polymer, provides a protective primer layer. The overall reaction converts rust into a stable, dark protective coating that serves as a very solid primer for both oil and epoxy based paints. 

In other good news, rust converter can be utilized for almost any project involving rust. The chemical can be used on vehicles, trailers, iron railings, sheet metal, cast iron, farm equipment, fences, gates and any rusty iron or steel object for that matter.

But when rust converter absolutely should be used is when you are trying to fix rust on items that you are considering painting.  

Preparing a Surface for Application of a Rust Converter

Good surface preparation is critical to enabling any rust converter to work properly and thus in producing a high quality outcome for your project. Here are the steps you should take previously to applying a rust converter product. 

  1. Remove large or loose rust particles with a stiff bristled brush or sandpaper. You want to create as stable of a surface as you can. 
  2. Rust converters cannot penetrate grease or oil, so the next item is to clean and degrease the surface. 
  3. Let the surface dry after cleaning and degreasing it. Also, if the surface of the rusty metal is located in an area where it is subject to the ocean spray of saltwater, wash the surface again and let dry immediately before the next step.
  4. Apply your rust converter using either a brush or a roller, which is best for larger projects, then let the conversion process begin. 
  5. Most rust converters are dry in 20 to 40 minutes but require 24 hours of curing before a 2nd layer can be applied. If you want to paint after the 2nd layer is applied, you should wait an additional 24 hours. 

Here is a link to browse some of the best rust converters on the market, and here is a link to learn more about rust converters, cleaning up after using them, safety, how to store and more questions. 

Cleaning Steel or Metal Fire Pit

Most fire pits are made out of steel or other metals, and these are very susceptible to rust. Help prevent rust by cleaning it regularly.

  1. Do not try to clean the fire pit or remove any ash until the fire is completely extinguished.
  2. Remove all of the ash and other debris from the bowl of the fire pit.
  3. Spray the fire pit down with a hose to rinse away the majority of the dirt and grime. 
  4. Gently wipe the fire pit with a soap and water solution.
  5. Allow the fire pit to air dry by turning it upside down.

Cleaning Cast Iron Fire Pit

Although it looks great the cast iron fire pit is slightly harder to clean because it involves a little more elbow grease. The process is still simple.

  1. Well after the fire is extinguished, remove ash and debris from the bowl of the fire pit.
  2. Gently scrub the bowl with steel wool. 
  3. Rinse the bowl with a hose.
  4. Dry it with a soft rag.

Cleaning Copper Fire Pit

Copper fire pits are a great way to add visual appeal to your back yard. They are beautiful, but over time they will develop a greenish film over it which is caused by oxidation. Some people find this look attractive, and it will not harm the copper. 

  1. Once your fire is extinguished and cooled, remove any ash and debris from your fire pit bowl. 
  2. Spray the fire pit with a hose to remove most of the dirt and grime.
  3. Clean the bowl and outside of the fire pit with a solution of soap and water. 
  4. To remove the patina caused by oxidation, you can add 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of distilled white vinegar and apply it to the copper fire pit using a soft cloth.
  5. Scrub the bowl with the cloth and this solution, and it should bring your copper back to its former glory.

Cleaning Gas Fire Pit

Gas fire pits are low maintenance, but they do need to be cleaned on occasion.  Before you start the cleaning process, make sure that the fire pit is not hot or even warm.

  1. Do not try to cool the fire pit by dumping water on it.  This sudden change in temperature can cause damage to the fire pit. 
  2. Shut off the gas line or disconnect the propane tank from the fire pit.
  3. Clean fire pit tabletop and burner using a cloth and soapy water. 
  4. Cover the table with a vinyl canvas until you’re ready to use it.
  5. This is a good time to check all of your gas lines to ensure that they are not leaking.
  6. Remove any leaves, rocks, or debris that have accumulated in any part of the fire pit.
  7. Make sure the drains and vents aren’t clogged, and there aren’t any bugs hiding out anywhere.
  8. It is not necessary to clean the fire glass.
  9. In between cleanings cover your pit.  Make sure the pit is completely cooled down before covering.

Final Thoughts

No matter which kind of fire pit you are using, make sure you handle the first signs of rust promptly. If the fire pit becomes too rusty, it could become permanently damaged and you’ll need to buy a new one. If you do have to purchase a new one, we have listed our favorite fire pits in a separate article.

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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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