How to Remove Rusted Screws

Are you having trouble removing a corroded screw? Have you tried drilling out the screw and stripping its head? Or perhaps you’ve attempted to remove a rusted or stripped screw? These are all common problems when dealing with screwed fasteners. Stripped and rusted screws can be easily dealt with, and there is nothing more satisfying than removing a stubborn screw that nobody else could get out of the assembly.

In this article, we will answer some of the most common questions about how to remove rusted screws. We’ll also discuss what you can do to prevent it in the future. With so many different options available on the market today, there are plenty of ways to get rid of that pesky screw

Table of Contents

METHOD 1: Shock, Break, and Lube

Always start with the most gentle means of “persuasion” first to avoid damaging or breaking off the screw heads. If the gentle methods don’t work, then move on to the more heavy-duty methods (#2 and #3) to remove the rusted screws.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
– Ball peen hammer
– Aerosol rust penetrant
– Acetone or nail polish remover (optional)
– Transmission fluid (optional)
– Sewing machine oil (optional)
– Screwdriver with hex bolster
– Powdered kitchen/bath cleanser
– Closedend wrench to fit screwdriver bolster
– Heavy leather gloves
– Hand impact driver

STEP 1

First, break the rust’s bond by applying several swift hammer blows directly to the head of the screw. The hammer blows crack the rust, creating channels for the rust penetrant to seep in dissolve and lubricate.

STEP 2

Find rust penetrant at any hardware or home center store for around $6/can (Liquid Wrench, PB Blaster, and WD-40 Specialist Rust Release are three popular brands). Don’t have any rust penetrant? You can make your own from a 50/50 solution of acetone or nail polish remover and transmission fluid or sewing machine oil. If you don’t have those supplies, you can use a general purpose lubricant like WD-40; it just won’t work as well or as fast as a rust penetrant fluid.ADVERTISEMENT

After striking the screw head several times, apply a liberal amount of rust penetrant around the screw head. Let it soak for a few minutes. Then apply several more hammer blows. Next, take a 15-minute break to let the rust penetrant work.

How To Remove Rusted Screws

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 3

When you return to the task at hand, smack the screw head several more times and then tap the metal surface around the screw head to drive the penetrant deeper into the screw threads. Then try removing the screw.

If your screwdriver slips out of or starts stripping the screw head, stop! Adding more force will just strip the screw head, making it even more difficult to remove and impossible to re-use. This is the point where pros add a dab of automotive valve grinding compound to the screw head to act as a “gripping paste” to get more grip between the screwdriver tip and the screw head. You can make your own gripping paste, though, using an ordinary powdered kitchen or bathroom cleanser. Just stir a few drops of water into a half teaspoon of cleanser, press the paste into the screw head, then jam your screwdriver into the screw head and twist and push at the same time.

STEP 4 (optional)

If your screwdriver is equipped with a hex-shaped bolster near the handle, you can more leverage and twisting force by sliding a box-end wrench over the bolster. Lean into the screwdriver to keep the tip engaged with the screw and turn the screwdriver with the wrench.

If that increased torque doesn’t help, switch to a hand impact driver and a ball peen hammer. A hand impact driver converts straight hammer blows into a twisting motion force while forcing the bit deeper into the screw head at the same time. That means it reduces the chances of stripping the screw head while increasing your chances of a successful removal. Before you start, don eye protection and wear heavy gloves to protect your hands in case you miss the head of the tool. Set the tool to rotate counter-clockwise and choose an impact bit that fits snuggly into the screw head. Locate the bit in the screw, hold the tool with one hand and strike the impact tool with your hammer. Repeat until the screw loosens.ADVERTISEMENT

If the rusted screws still won’t budge, move on to the more aggressive methods below.

METHOD 2: Cut a New Groove into Stripped Screws

Philips and star head screws can’t handle a lot of torque without stripping. If your rusted screws remain stuck or you’ve stripped the screw heads, try cutting a notch into each head and removing them with a flat blade screwdriver.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
– Rotary tool with cut-off wheel
– Heavy leather gloves
– Large flathead screwdriver

STEP 1

Still wearing your heavy leather gloves, cut a new straight slot deep into the screw head using a rotary tool and a cutting wheel. Make sure the slot is wide enough to accept the largest flat blade screwdriver you own while still providing a tight fit.

STEP 2

Jam the flat tip into the newly made screw slot, and push and turn at the same time.

No dice? Time to turn up the heat.

METHOD 3: Bring the Heat

Look, this can be a dangerous option, but it’s an option. Be sensible, and make sure you follow the instructions properly.

Step 1 – Prepare and Apply Some Heat

When fire is applied to metal in any significant way, that metal will expand. If you can make your screw expand, you’ll maybe crack the rust fixed around the metal, which will give you more wiggle room to get the screw out.

First, you want to wipe the screw with a rag, to make sure there’s nothing flammable on it. Next up, prepare some water and anything with a flame (a normal household lighter is okay, but something more powerful is usually better).

Heat the screw until it starts smoking, then immediately remove the heat before quickly throwing some water on the screw.

Step 2 – Repeat the Heat

If you’re lucky, one cycle of heat and water might have loosened the screw sufficiently, but you’ll probably find that you need to do a few cycles to really make this method work. With this method, it’s the rapid switching between heat and cold that makes the area around the screw crack. Keep going until the screw seems to be significantly movable.

Step 3 – Revisit Method One

If the screw seems like it might start moving, revert to the beginning of method one, as outlined above. You should now be able to get the screw loose.

How to Remove a Rusted Screw With No Head

As we’ve already mentioned, you can use pliers to remove a screw with no head. If you use a patient combination of pulling and lubrication, or pulling and heat, you’ll usually be able to use pliers to remove a rusted screw with no head.

But if pliers aren’t working, you can also try similar approaches with cordless drills, chisels, and cutting tools. Basically, if you can create a divot around the screw or clamp onto the screw, you should be able to pull it out with enough heat or lubrication.

This video has some excellent guides and tips on removing screws with no heads. Follow the instructions while using added heat or added lubrication, to account for all the rust.

How to Prevent Screws From Getting Rusty

pile of rusty screws

If you can stop your screws from getting rusty, you’ll never need to remove rusty screws ever again. Here are some things you can do to prevent screws from getting rusty:

Store Stuff Properly

Screws get rusty because of exposure to moisture and air (which is how everything gets rusty).
If your screws are fixed to something you’re able to store indoors (such as a bicycle or your trusty tools), store them indoors. Store them where there’s little moisture and little humidity. If you can use a dehumidifier in your storage room, that’s even better.

Keep Things Dry

If screws and their surroundings are dry, they’re much less likely to rust. Frequently and routinely wipe down your fixtures, fittings, and outdoor areas, to prevent moisture from building up on and around screws.

Oil Things Up

If you regularly apply lubricant to your screws, such as WD-40, you’ll massively slow down the rusting process.

Get Painting

If you paint over your screws, you’re applying a barrier that will help to stop moisture, air, and water from getting in and around the screws. Some paints – like this POR-15 paint – are specifically crafted to prevent and deter rust.

Conclusion

Screws are used in many objects that we use on a regular basis. Whether it’s a bike or a washing machine, you’re sure to find screws holding these objects together. Oftentimes, screws can become rusty, and this can make it challenging to remove the screws when you need them the most.

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