In a commercial gym, barbells are usually in good condition and receive regular maintenance from staff. If you go to a more hardcore gym, not only will you expect to see more rusted equipment but find it’s encouraged to create that hardcore lifting environment.
When you purchase a barbell for your home gym though, you’ll soon find that not only will you need to clean your barbell, you’ll also want to clean it to prevent any barbell rust or knurling damage. A barbell is an investment for many of us and keeping it in a high-quality condition should be a priority.
Therefore, read on to see what causes barbell rust, if it’s dangerous, how to clean it, and most importantly, how to prevent it!
Is it Safe to Use a Rusty Barbell?
The short answer is yes, and no. Rust can cause your barbell to become weak which could be hazardous but for the most part, there are a lot of misconceptions about rusty metal. The biggest one is Tetanus, which is rarely an issue with barbells.
That’s because Tetanus is actually a soil-based bacteria, so all the rusty nails you hear about have Tetanus from being in close contact with the ground where the bacteria gathers. Then someone gets cut on the nail and it transfers, but Tetanus needs an open wound.
Since barbells are cylindrical and smooth, even with rust, you’d probably have to go in with an open cut, to begin with, and, even then, your barbell hopefully hasn’t been on the ground long enough to get the bacteria.
As for the other half of the answer, rust is the process of metal oxidizing and it works its way in from the outside. So, even though you might have some flecks of rust on the exterior of your barbell, the interior structure of your bar is fine.
The best way to know is to look at the end of the bar because you’ll be able to see how far inward the rust has gone. If 10 percent or more of the bar’s diameter is rusted, you might be in danger of your bar bending during a set.
While this could be dangerous if a weight slides off onto your foot or something, it still doesn’t pose much of a risk. Still, it’s always good to wear gloves and use equipment that’s been maintained properly.
How to Clean Rust From a Barbell?
Unless you store your equipment in a climate-controlled room, it’s almost inevitable that humidity and sweat will cause rust to form on your barbell at some point. The good news is that there are 2 main methods that work: The wire wheel and vinegar.
Bring Out the Wheel
This way is pretty simple because all you need is a crimped wire wheel that can be found at any decent hardware store, a power drill, WD-40, and a towel that you don’t care about. To begin, apply the WD-40 to your barbell and give it a minute to soak.
It’s best to do this in small sections of the bar at a time, to keep track of the full 360 degrees, and it’s easy to spot how far you’ve gone. Once the WD-40 has been applied, just attach the wire wheel to your drill and let it do all the work.
Make sure you elevate the bar to avoid any build-up of the WD-40 and you might want to have a towel underneath. After you’ve gone over a section with the wheel, wipe it off and see if you need a second go depending on the amount of rust beforehand.
As a safety precaution, wear gloves and some form of eye protection. While it’s safe on your barbell and your arms will be fine, wire pieces from the wheel will break off as you work and eyes are always something to be careful with.
It’s recommended to use a corded drill, too, because they tend to spin faster and there’s no battery to recharge. Just be sure to check the temperature every now and then, because corded drills can overheat if used for too long.
It Might Smell, But It’ll Be Clean
The other option will need vinegar, water, baking soda, plastic wrap, paper towels, and probably a towel. It involves a few more steps, but it works just as well as requires very little physical labor. However, time is an important factor in this method.
Start by tearing off strips of plastic wrap to have them ready, then mix equal parts of water and vinegar. Soak paper towels in the 50-50 solution and wrap your rusted barbell with the paper towels. It’s best to do this in sections to have time to put the plastic wrap around them fast.
The reason that it’s time-sensitive is that the solution can cause your barbell’s outside to rust extremely fast if you don’t get the plastic wrap over it. Once you’ve got your bar covered in paper towels and plastic wrap, let it sit overnight or a full 24-hours if the rust is worse.
Once again, the next step has to be done with urgency because once the plastic is off it can create rust which defeats the entire purpose. Before you do anything, get a spray bottle and fill it with relatively equal water and baking soda.
More baking soda is okay because the basic nature of baking soda will neutralize the acidity of the vinegar and prevent “flash rust.” With the bottle ready, take off the plastic wrap and paper towels and get to work spraying your entire bar.
You might need to elevate it on something to turn it easier, but make sure you get all over the bar where you had the vinegar solution. You should see an immediate difference and, once done, just spray it with a hose and dry your shiny bar with a towel!
How to Prevent Barbell Rust
The above methods are best done before the rust on your bar gets too bad so that you don’t have to work as hard, but there are also a few things you can be conscious of to avoid rust as long as possible:
- It may be inconvenient after a hard workout, but no matter how tired you are, always remember to wipe down your barbell and remove the weights. Sweat is acidic and causes rust over time and the weights will wear away the Chromium coating.
- On the note of coating, only drop your bar with workouts that need it (and never drop an empty barbell). The repeated impact will damage the rust-protective coating on most bars.
- Like sweat, if you workout with lifting chalk it can build up on the bar and cause rust from absorbing moisture from the steel. Again, wipe off your bar every time.
- While WD-40 works better than 3-in-1 oil for cleaning rust off your bar, the 3-in-1 is great for protection. Applying it to your bar at least once a month will help against rust because one of the 3 actions reinforces the coating.
- Store your bar in a dry place. Many home gyms struggle with moisture, dampness, and humidity and while I’ve mentioned the importance of using a dehumidifier for garage gyms (and home gyms) this is to also protect your equipment and not just the walls and floor.
Cleaning rust from a barbell, dumbbell or iron weight plates can be a satisfying project. If you get some used weights cheap because they are rusted, cleaning them up is one way to get a bargain. Just look at how satisfying a rust cleaning session can be to renew a barbell:
The novelty from this can soon wear off though. Keeping your barbell in a damp environment, keeping a barbell outdoors, or just not wiping them down after use can quickly see your barbell lose quality and appeal. The key is to therefore keep on top of your barbell maintenance.
Preventing rust is the best scenario but in honesty, you can still use a rusted barbell so if some specks of rust don’t bother you during training, this won’t be an issue.