I Tried TikTok’s Rust Removal Trick on My Old Knives and Discovered an Even Better Way

published Nov 12, 2023
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Rusty knife on countertop
Credit: Sarah Crowley

On our last camping trip of the season, I discovered our one and only camp kitchen knife had patina and was beginning to rust. Once home, I promptly forgot about it, as one does, until I saw this TikTok describing a simple way to remove rust stains. In an effort to procrastinate on more pressing tasks, I prioritized cleaning our camping knife on the cusp of winter (when we will not be camping). Because it just made sense!

In the video, Chantel Mila encourages viewers to “Remove rust spots instantly using baking soda and lemon juice.” She uses half a lemon to scrub juice and baking soda on the surface of the knife, and the rust disappears. I always have lemons on hand, so I grabbed the camp knife from the garage and got to work.  

Credit: Meg Asby

Initially I ignored the baking soda recommendation, as I figured the acid-base combo results in mere “glorified water.” What I was actually excited about was using the lemon half as a scrubbing tool, so I got to work. 

I’m going to have to call bull on the “instantly” claim. There was nothing instant about this removal process. I saw so little progress initially, that — despite knowing a base neutralizes an acid — I tried the baking soda with the lemon. As expected, it didn’t make a difference. 

Credit: Meg Asby

Next, I added some salt to the knife as an abrasive. I saw some significant improvement, but at this rate I was going to be scrubbing the knife until our next camping trip. At this point — apologies to Mila — I turned to Google. Popular knife maker Wüstof cautions, “Do not use abrasive sponges,” but luxury knife maker William Henry says it’s OK to use steel wool. Since this was just my camp knife, and not my santoku knife, I decided to risk it. I gently scrubbed the lemon juice on the knife with a fresh ball of steel wool, and the spots quickly (and finally) lifted. 

The steel wool did the trick, and my camp knife is no longer covered in rust and patina. It’s also not scratched and no worse for wear from a gentle application of steel wool. If you’re not willing to risk scratches, the salt and lemon combo will get you to the same place eventually — assuming you’re more patient than I am. The lemony smell makes the work more pleasant, and if you have the time and inclination, the long route is definitely best. 

Credit: Meg Asby

If you’re like me, however, and you want to remove the spots and get on with your life, I won’t tell Wüstof you used steel wool. Promise!