Effective Rust Removal and Long-Term Protection Using VCI

Effective Rust Removal and Long-Term Protection Using VCI
Published On:February 3, 2021 Revised On:August 28, 2023

Metal is widely used across many industries, but it’s vulnerable to corrosion like rust, which weakens structures and appearance. Rust is caused by iron reacting with moisture and oxygen, leading to damage, shorter lifespans, and higher maintenance expenses for items ranging from machinery to household objects.

To combat the problem of rust, researchers and engineers have developed solutions, one of which is Vapor Corrosion Inhibitors (VCIs). Unlike coatings that physically isolate the metal from the environment, VCIs operate on a molecular level to protect metal surfaces. In this article, we will explore the science behind rust formation, the mechanisms of Vapor Corrosion Inhibitors, and a guide to effectively removing rust.

Understanding Rust

Rust, scientifically known as iron oxidation, is a chemical reaction that occurs when iron or steel comes into contact with oxygen and water. This interaction leads to the formation of iron oxide, commonly recognized as the reddish-brown rust layer on metal surfaces. The reaction can be represented as follows:

Iron (Fe) + Oxygen (O2) + Water (H2O) → Iron Oxide (Rust)

Several factors contribute to the formation of rust on metal surfaces: moisture, oxygen and environmental conditions. Water acts as a catalyst for the rusting process by facilitating the movement of electrons between iron molecules. Even small amounts of air or surface moisture can initiate rust formation.

Oxygen is essential for the oxidation reaction that leads to rust. The presence of oxygen in the atmosphere accelerates the process of electron transfer from iron to oxygen molecules. Factors like humidity, temperature, and the presence of pollutants can influence the rate of rust formation. Higher humidity levels provide more moisture, which accelerates the reaction. Elevated temperatures also enhance the kinetic energy of molecules, increasing the likelihood of collisions and reactions.

Effects of Rust on Metals

Rust, scientifically known as iron oxide, results from a chemical reaction between iron or steel and oxygen in the presence of water or moisture. This reaction leads to a reddish-brown layer on the metal’s surface, weakening its structural integrity over time. Beyond the unsightly appearance it imparts, rust can have far-reaching consequences:

  1. Structural Compromise: Rust can weaken metal structures, making them susceptible to fractures and failures. This is particularly concerning in industries such as construction, where the stability of buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure depends on the strength of the materials.
  2. Mechanical Impairment: Rust can interfere with moving parts and machinery, hindering their performance and efficiency. This can lead to breakdowns, increased maintenance, and reduced operational lifespan.
  3. Financial Impact: The costs of repairing or replacing rust-damaged components can be significant. Industries and individuals alike are burdened with maintenance expenses and downtime.
  4. Aesthetic Degradation: Rust detracts from the appearance of metal objects, impacting their visual appeal and potentially diminishing their value.
  5. Environmental Concerns: Rust particles can contaminate surrounding environments, posing risks to human health and the ecosystem.

Introducing Vapor Corrosion Inhibitors (VCI)

Vapour Corrosion Inhibitors, often referred to as “molecular armour,” work by releasing a protective vapour into the surrounding atmosphere. This vapour forms a molecular barrier on the metal’s surface, inhibiting the electrochemical reactions that lead to rust formation. VCIs offer a comprehensive and efficient solution as they can reach even hard-to-reach crevices and interior areas of complex structures, ensuring complete protection.

The fundamental principle behind VCIs is to create a protective layer that shields metal surfaces from the elements that trigger rust formation—moisture and oxygen. When VCIs are released into the air, they adsorb onto the metal’s surface, forming an invisible shield. This molecular layer acts as a barrier that repels moisture and oxygen molecules, preventing them from directly contacting the metal. By interrupting the rust-forming electrochemical process, VCIs effectively halt corrosion progression. Compared to conventional rust removal and prevention techniques, VCIs offer several key advantages:

  • Comprehensive Protection: VCIs provide an all-encompassing defence against rust, reaching even the smallest and most intricate parts of metal structures. This level of coverage is difficult to achieve with traditional coatings.
  • No Physical Contact: Unlike coatings or physical barriers, VCIs don’t require direct contact with the metal surface. This means there is no damage or uneven application risk, ensuring uniform protection.
  • Long-Lasting Effects: VCIs provide protection even after application, creating a lasting molecular barrier on the metal surface. This durability reduces the need for frequent reapplication.
  • Ease of Application: Applying VCIs is often straightforward and can be done through various methods, including packaging, diffusers, and sprays. This ease of application makes VCIs a practical choice for various industries and scenarios.
  • Environmentally Friendly: VCIs are often considered environmentally friendly as they release minimal or no harmful chemicals during application. This is in contrast to traditional methods involving coatings with potentially hazardous components.

Effective Rust Removal Methods

Regarding rust removal, various methods offer different levels of effectiveness and safety. Incorporating these methods into maintenance regimens can help effectively address corrosion concerns and extend the lifespan of metal assets.  Here’s an overview of some rust-removing liquids:

Using Acids: Weaker acids, such as tannic, citric, and oxalic acids, are safer alternatives to strong acids. Found naturally in foods and medicine, weak acids dissolve rust gradually without the risks associated with strong acids. While the process takes longer, it is milder and less volatile, minimizing the risk of flash rusting. This method is effective for different metal types and poses fewer safety concerns.

Strong acids like hydrochloric, phosphoric, and sulfuric are potent rust eliminators. While strong acids quickly dissolve rust, caution is warranted as they can also harm paint, finishes, and even metal parts. Proper handling is crucial due to potential health and safety risks. Prolonged exposure can lead to metal erosion and pitting. Moreover, the reactive state of the metal after treatment can make it more susceptible to future rusting. This vulnerability can be prevented by sealing or neutralizing the metal using VCI (Vapor Corrosion Inhibitor) products.

Acid-Free Water-Based Solutions: Acid-free water-based solutions are environmentally friendly and safe and are considered one of the safest rust removal methods. Acid-free water-based solutions start working within minutes of application, eliminating the need for labour-intensive scrubbing.

They preserve metal compositions, plating, and coatings, making them suitable for various products. Non-acidic and non-caustic, they have a neutral pH, requiring no special handling or gloves. Their non-toxic and biodegradable properties make them eco-friendly and easily disposable, making them a valuable choice for various industries.

Rust Removing Gel: Water-based removal gels provide a quick and user-friendly rust removal solution. Brushing the gel onto metal surfaces begins removing light rust within 15 minutes. Once rust is dissolved, a simple wipe or rinse prepares the part for use or shipment. To safeguard against future corrosion, storing treated items with VCI packaging materials is recommended.

These gels are gentle on most surfaces, including paint and rubber, and offer a safe alternative to harsh chemicals. Like water-based solutions, they are non-hazardous, non-toxic, and biodegradable, making them applicable to various industries and products. They are particularly useful for items not immersed in liquid rust removers, such as construction equipment and tools.

Steps for Rust Removal and Protection Using VCIs

By following these steps, industries and individuals can effectively utilize rust removers to remove rust from metal surfaces. This approach ensures that rust is halted and eradicated, extending the lifespan of metal assets and reducing maintenance costs in the long run.

1. Assessment: Identifying Rust Extent and Selecting VCIs

Assessing the extent of rust damage before initiating the rust removal process is essential. This evaluation determines the corrosion’s severity and helps choose the appropriate type of VCIs for the task. Different formulations are designed to address varying degrees of rust, so selecting the right one is crucial for optimal results.

2. Surface Preparation: Enhancing VCI Effectiveness

Effective rust removal requires a clean and well-prepared metal surface. Dirt, oil, and other contaminants can hinder the interaction between the rust remover and the metal. Thoroughly cleaning the surface before VCI application enhances the effectiveness of the process. This can be done through methods like cleaning with solvents, degreasers, or abrasive materials, depending on the surface’s nature and the rust’s severity.

3. VCI Application: Methods and Techniques

There are several methods for applying VCIs to metal surfaces, each catering to different applications and scenarios:

  • Packaging: VCIs can be incorporated into packaging materials such as films, papers, and emitters. These packaging materials are placed near the metal object, allowing the VCIs to release protective vapours and create a barrier against rust.
  • Diffusers: VCI diffusers are designed to release vapour continuously over a while. These can be placed within enclosed spaces or containers containing metal objects, ensuring consistent protection.
  • Sprays and Coatings: Liquid VCI formulations can be sprayed or brushed onto metal surfaces. They create a thin protective layer that adheres to the metal, safeguarding it against rust. This method is useful for objects of irregular shapes or those that cannot be enclosed.

4. Enclosure and Sealing: Maximizing VCI Concentration

To enhance the efficiency of rust removal, it’s beneficial to create a controlled environment that retains the concentration of released vapour. Enclosing the metal objects within a sealed space, such as a bag, chamber, or container, helps prevent the dissipation of the protective vapour and ensures consistent coverage. Proper sealing prevents external moisture and oxygen from interfering with the VCI action.

5. Monitoring Progress and Adjustments

Throughout the rust removal process, regular monitoring is essential. Visual inspections, moisture measurements, and corrosion assessment can help gauge the progress and effectiveness of the treatment. Adjustments can be made if necessary, such as altering the placement, increasing the concentration, or extending the treatment duration.


As industries seek to preserve the integrity and functionality of metal surfaces, exploring these rust removal techniques and rust prevention strategies like VCIs can make a significant difference. Applying the right tools and knowledge can slow-rust, ensuring that metal assets remain strong, durable, and corrosion-free.

Stream Peak offers an extensive selection of VCI anti rust solutions designed to effectively remove existing rust and provide robust protection against future corrosion on metal components. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us for a no-obligation consultation with our experienced engineers. Your rust challenges are our expertise.