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How to Rust Metal Intentionally

By Jim Dugan
Professional Contractor & DIY Expert

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Oxidation occurs when metallic objects are exposed to oxygen and water. Typically, this is an unwanted occurrence; however, sometimes, do-it-yourselfers want to rust metal intentionally for aesthetic reasons. If you'd like to add an attractive patina color to a metallic surface by encouraging oxidation, choose a product specifically manufactured for this purpose; or employ the following strategy.

Etching Acid

Often, metal is galvanized to prevent rust from occurring. This means it's coated with a layer of zinc meant to provent oxidation. In this case, you'll need to soak the metal in an acidic etching solution. There are a variety of etching solutions on the market. For best results, choose one containing muriatic acid. Though you do not need to use an acid etch for non-galvanized metal, you'll achieve quicker results if you do.

Neutralizing the Acid

Once you've soaked the metal in an etching solution, you need to dilute the acid. Rinse the metallic object with vinegar, or you may risk burns. Work outdoors to ensure that toxic fumes donít build up inside your home or garage.

Encouraging Rust

To hasten the rusting process, soak the metal in salty water. You should begin to see a red, orange or patina color within a day or two; however, it could take longer. Remove and dry the metal once it has rusted to your taste.

Sealing the Metal

Unless you want orange hands every time you touch the metal, you'll need to apply some type of spray sealer. Choose one specifically made for metal, or flaking is likely to occur. A rust converter also tends to help promote a more attractive color by killing some of the rust and muting its overall appearance.


Acid etches can burn the lungs, skin and eyes. Be sure to wear acid-grade gloves and goggles. Soak the metal in an acid-proof plastic container and work outdoors in a ventilated area.