A kitchen with a stove top oven sitting inside of a refrigerator

How to Remove Rust Stains from Just About Anything

If there’s one subject that shows up in my inbox more often than any other, it has to be rust. Ugly, orange-ish stains on tubs, showers, toilets; washing machines and sinks, even stainless steel.

One reader (who shall remain nameless as I have hopelessly misplaced your message) wrote that tiny rust marks have appeared on his new stainless steel refrigerator. Sadly, the manufacturer considers this a cosmetic issue, so the warranty does not apply.

Granted, as evidenced by this photo, these rust spots are not readily visible from several feet away, but appear to be getting worse.

stainless steel refrigerator

And so today, for my nameless friend plus all others who’ve written about annoying rust problems, I have a story followed by a very effective, if not exciting, solution.

The year was 1882

The setting: Indianpolis. A chemist took a break from his scholarly endeavors to cook up a pan of rhubarb, that sour-but-hardy vegetable, common in the gardens of yore.

After plating his recipe, the man found that his formerly tarnished pot fairly sparkled. Being a chemist, he quickly ruled out magic and set out to discover what it was that made rhubarb such a superior cleaning agent.

The secret

Oxalic acid. Found naturally in rhubarb and other vegetables like spinach, oxalic acid attacks stubborn rust, tarnish, and lime stains at the molecular level, breaking the bonds that hold them together.

Using that active ingredient, our chemist formulated an oxalic acid-based cleaning powder that he sold to taverns for use as a brass rail polish. Thrilled at the results, tavern owners dubbed the product—get ready—Bar Keepers Friend,

Over the years, more and more people got in on the secret of Bar Keepers Friend discovering more varied and unique uses for this oxalic acid-based cleaning powder.

Still a family-owned company manufacturing in Indianapolis, and still motivated by solving problems for our customers, Bar Keepers Friend has grown and expanded its line of products with variations in ingredients and packaging, but the products remain essentially the same as the ones that polished bar rails over a century ago.

Back to our collective problem with rust spots and stains on stainless steel.

I’ve been using Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser for years, assuming it to be a liquid version of the powdered cleanser in the old familiar can. I keep it handy in my laundry room to remove rust stains from the inside of my clothes washer. No big deal. I see a spot, I hit it with BKF Soft Cleanser and a soft cloth, and it disappears.

But I was wrong about the BKG Soft Cleanser being just a liquid version of the powdered cleanser. It has something more I’m now convinced makes it so effective against household rust. The active ingredients in the soft cleanser are oxalic acid and citric acid.

Great news: This soft cleanser now comes as a spray foam—Bar Keepers Friend MORE Spray + Foam. This is fabulous because the foam sticks to vertical surfaces! And yes I am now thinking of that new stainless steel refrigerator that has developed tiny rust marks. The foam will stick to those spots long enough to do its work before being wiped away with a soft cloth.

BKF MORE Spray Foam is safe to be used on stainless steel, tile, porcelain (think: my washing machine), ceramic, fiberglass, aluminum, copper, brass, chrome, and glass. As for the “MORE” in its name, that covers Mineral deposits, Oily residues, Rust stains and Everyday grime. Get it?

I’m no chemist, but I can read lists of ingredients. As far as I can tell, BKF Soft Cleanser and the new BKF MORE Spray + Foam are the only BKF products that contain both oxalic acid and citric acid. Apparently, that makes for one powerful combination because I find myself reaching for this fabulous foam cleaner all the time. It’s just so convenient and easy to use.

Bar Keepers Friend MORE Spray + Foam is available online and in the cleaning products aisle of home improvement store like Home Depot.

And now for the important fine print:

CAUTION: Always test any product in an inconspicuous place, first. Always. DO NOT USE on wood, fabric, leather, mirrors, painted surfaces, gold, silver (sterling silver is OK) or natural stone surfaces like granite and marble.

There are affiliate links in this post. If you click through and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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11 replies
  1. Sarah Gold says:

    Wonderful post!! I’m always searching for new ways to get rust out of my fixtures. I’m going to try the Bar Keepers. I’ve never used it before but it seems like a great idea. I was looking online for other ideas on how to remove rust and saw this article: https://housetipster.com/housetips/9102/how-to-remove-rust-naturally
    It has some really good tips on how to remove rust.

  2. Gail says:

    First things first – rhubarb – love love love it. This goes back to as a girl, going out to the garden with a handful of sugar, and pulling out a stalk of rhubarb for dipping into the sugar! The one thing I have never tried is any savory applications for rhubarb. Would be interested to hear if others have.

    Second is a question for Mary. You mentioned that the BKF MORE could be used on sterling silver. Does this mean it could be used to get tarnish off of sterling silver jewelry? The best thing I’ve found for that is one of those jewelry dip liquids in a jar. The kind that is super effective, quick and easy has thiourea which CA has designated as a carcinogen. Would like alternatives and wondering if the BKF might work (without scratching of course).

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Is it truly marble or “cultured” marble. It would be very unusual to have a marble sink. If cultured you can use BKF MORE on it … but always test first.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Are you sure it’s marble, and not more likely “cultured” marble? It would be very unusual for a sink to be made of authenic marble. If yours is indeed “cultured,” then it would be similar to Corian or quartz—hard, non porous and durable—and on the good list for BKF MORE Foam Cleaner. Always test in an inconspicuous place first.


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