“A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools,” reads a Spanish proverb. 

I’m not from Spain, but I am a clean freak (just like my annoyed wife). I like to keep my workspace spick and span, and organized. It helps me concentrate and find stuff fast when I need it, including my tools. You never know when you’re going to need a wrench or socket to take care of a loose nut or bolt. (And we all have a few of those).

While nothing lasts forever, there is a way to preserve the life of these important tools by simply cleaning them properly. That may involve just a clean rag or an old toothbrush, but if rust and grime set in, get ready to take out the degreaser, a metal brush or sandpaper, heck, even a Coca-Cola (one for refreshment and another for helping you get rid of corrosion). 

The following are some simple DIY solutions for taking care of your tools.  

Regular Maintenance

What you will need: 

  • Clean rag
  • Old toothbrush

As a general rule, try to keep your sockets and wrench stored in the tool chest or case they came in after use. This will prevent them from being exposed to dirt and elements that can damage them. And it will make it easier to find them the next time you need them. 

Before putting them away, wipe the dust and any dirt with a clean rag or an old toothbrush. Clean inside of the socket head and drive socket, as well as outside, removing any muck that can scratch away the protective coating applied to tools. Dirt also traps moisture that could lead to rust, which is a major problem for any metal object. 

Even if you haven’t used the tools for a while, take them out from time to time to clean them. This will extend their life span for years. 

Grime and Dirt

What you will need: 

  • Clean Sponge
  • Clean Rags
  • Bucket
  • Soapy Water
  • Degreaser or Lubricant

Even if the sockets or wrench are full of grime, grease and dirt, you can still return them to a state nearly as close to when you bought them. All you may need is a bit of soap and water or degreaser, if necessary.  

Start by wiping them with the clean rag before applying soapy water (add a tablespoon of dish soap to a gallon of warm water for a good balance). Then go in softly with a scrubbing sponge to avoid any damage. 

If that’s not enough, spray a degreaser or lubricant like WD-40 onto the tool before wiping away until the dirt, grime or grease goes away. Dry thoroughly after with a clean rag before storing to make sure no moisture is left on the tool.  

If this is still not sufficient, it’s time for plan B. This involves mixing lemon juice with baking soda to make a thin paste. Dip the sponge onto the paste and use to clean any dirt or muck still on the sockets or wrench. The acid in the lemon juice helps remove persistent dirt. Clean with a cloth after. 

Removing Some Rust

What you will need: 

  • Hand Gloves
  • Brass Scrub Brush
  • Sand Paper
  • Cloth rags

Brownish, reddish, and rusty tools may seem worthless, but don’t throw them away just yet. As long as there are no holes in the metal, your tools are still salvageable and useful. 

Rust is to metal tools what plaque is to a tooth. It sticks to it covering the shiny part, damaging and weakening over time until it breaks them. But you can be your sockets and wrench “dentist” and remove it with a little bit of effort.

Tools can rust when exposed to oxygen and water for long periods of time or when not stored properly. Over time, it can make them inefficient or lead to damage. 

What you use to get rid of the rust will depend on how much rust or oxidation is on the socket or wrench. 

If it’s just starting to appear, use a brass wire brush on the areas covered by the corrosion first. Then, use sandpaper to remove any leftover rust. Repeat as many times as you need it. Rinse and dry after. Use gloves to avoid damage to your hands and rust from getting onto your skin. 

Dealing with Heavier Rust

What you will need:

  • Bucket
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Coca-Cola
  • Chemical rust remover

For large areas of rust or when the tools have a heavier coating of it, nothing better than vinegar and salt…and plenty of time. 

Put the sockets and wrench in a large bucket, and then add a mixture of four tablespoons of salt for every four cups of white vinegar. Don’t expect the rust to go away immediately. It will take some time for the reaction to break away the corrosion. It may take up to three days to soften before you can use a metal brush to take it off. But check regularly. If you leave the mixture too long, it might take the chrome off your sockets and wrench. After you’re done cleaning the items with the metal brush, wash the tools again, rinse and dry evenly.    

For more stubborn rust, try the “real thing.” 

Yes, we all love a Coca-Cola from time to time (in my case, I can’t eat pizza without it) and the famous drink is also a great rust cleaner. This is thanks to citric acid in the carbonated beverage, which breaks away the corrosion. For this “hack” to work, you need to leave the sockets and wrench soaking in coke overnight. Just rinse with soap and water to wash away the stickiness when you remove them. BTW, you can also use this on pennies and other metal objects, giving you the same results.   

If none of these solutions work or the rust cover is thick and heavy, it’s time for a little bit of magic.

Magica rust remover, that is. This product is specifically designed for cleaning rust on sockets and wrench without damaging the tools. Just spray the Magica onto the tool and wipe to see it disappear. You can apply some soapy water or degreaser after to make sure your tools are completely cleaned. 

A similar option is oxalic acid. But before using it, you need to take some precautions, like rubber gloves and goggles, and it’s preferable you use it outside. While this is a commercial product available for purchase, it is still a chemical that can spew fumes. And most importantly, don’t leave it where children may find it. 

Place the sockets and wrench in a bucket of water and add three tablespoons of oxalic acid, leaving it to soak for some 20 minutes. Take out the tools, rinse and dry them.  

Sockets and wrenches are useful for a number of projects, whether big or small. As such, they are among the most commonly used tools in any home and they are prone to get dirt and grease more easily, making them more vulnerable to rust and corrosion. Cleaning and storing them properly after each use will avoid this and save you troubles and money down the line. Remember, a tool is only as good as the person who uses it, but if the user takes care of it, it will be good a lot longer.