How to Clean Rust off Antique Metal |Toy Fire Truck

Wondering how to clean rust off antique metal like this adorable toy firetruck while maintaining the aged character and patina?? Let me show you how!

graphic showing before and after of restored toy firetruck

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This post is sponsored by Dixie Belle. All opinions are my own!

memory lane

Rusted antique metal toys can be part of the history that we want to preserve. They can hold memories for many of us.

Whether it was a toy we actually played with or one that we remember our parents or grandparents talking about from their childhood. Restoring these treasures from the past can be so much fun!

full view of toy fire truck before restoration

One of our custom clients asked if we could ‘fix up’ this treasure. She asked if we knew how to how to clean rust off antique metal like what she found on this toy firetruck she had. It had been in her family for some time and she wanted to breathe some life back into it.

Can you blame her?? I mean, look at this adorableness!!

Can’t you see a child playing and pretending for hours and hours in this toy firetruck?

front view of toy fire truck showing rust

But she didn’t want all of the character removed. A complete restoration wasn’t what she was looking for and it isn’t something we offer here at Reinvented Delaware.

front view of antique toy fire truck showing rust

bring in new life

What we do offer, is bringing new life to an old and discarded piece. We love to maintain the character of any piece we bring into our workshop but we like to make things a bit better.

So I told her, of course, we can clean rust off of antique metal while maintaining the patina!

back view of antique toy fire truck showing rust

clean rust off antique metal

We started off by removing some of the rust. A mouse sander, a package of #0000 steel wool, worn-out sandpaper, and a couple of wire brushes were the tools and supplies I started with.

supplies used to clean rust off antique metal, mouse sander, steel wool, wire brushes

And of course, a respirator face mask. Rust makes a dangerous type of dust so even if you are outside in a well-ventilated area like my garage with the big door open, wear a mask!!

lady using mouse sander to clean rust off antique metal toy fire truck

mouse sander

This little mouse sander is perfect for getting into tight areas as this fire truck had. It has a pointed end and a squarish end so it fits into all sorts of areas.

I used the mouse sander in all the areas it would reach.

wire brushes

Then I pulled out the wire brushes. I keep two sizes – one is the size of a toothbrush and the other is a bit larger. It is actually used to clean the grates on an outdoor grill.

lady using a wire brush to clean rust off antique metal toy fire truck

steel wool

The #0000 steel wool came in handy for the areas that I wanted to be careful in so that I wouldn’t remove any of the original paint.

Most of the rough texture that the rust creates was removed. I worked on it for a couple of hours while I listened to an audiobook. And I didn’t worry about every bit of the rust.

clean and neutralize

The fire truck got a good vacuuming with the shop vac. The next step was to spray the whole piece down with white vinegar. The vinegar neutralizes the rust and prevents it from spreading further.

I learned this little trick while watching Salvage Dawgs from Black Dog Salvage. They are masters at reinvention!

bottle of vinegar with a spray bottle sitting next to it.

A little more scrubbing with the vinegar and then I let the piece dry in the sun.

lady demonstrating how to clean rust off antique metal toy fire truck with vinegar and scrubbing

I turned the fire truck in several directions while drying to make sure the vinegar wasn’t pooling in any areas.

antique metal fire truck sitting on end so moisture can drip off

wax on, wax off

The next day I applied wax to the outside surfaces of the fire truck. Miss Mustard Seed Furniture Wax is my go-to wax. It’s super soft and so easy to apply and buff off.

Side view of toy metal fire truck with wax being applied with chip brush

I applied it with a chip brush and then lightly buffed the surfaces with a blue shop towel.

BTW, wax isn’t just for old rusty metal. You can use it on an upcycled lamp project like this one too!

And this project too!! Omgoodness, I’m on a roll!

side view of toy firetruck with wax being buffed off

The surfaces on the underside would be difficult to wax so I opted to use Miss Mustard Seed Hemp oil. I applied it with a chip brush and wiped off the excess with a shop towel in the areas where I could reach it. The moving gears also got a good once-over with the hemp oil.

It was a bit chilly outside so I brought the project indoors. I also made a little video for you to watch the process!

view of iphone recording setup of toy fire truck showing how to clean rust off of antique metal toys


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fire alarm bell

The bell on the front of the toy fire truck needed some attention. My hubby removed all of the rust but left some marks on it for the sake of character. I applied Miss Mustard Seed Zinc Wax. It helped to bring a beautiful antique silver look to the bell.

close up of bell on front of antique toy fire truck

The fire truck has just enough sheen to make it look well-worn and aged, don’t you think?

And take a look at the sweet license plate! And that bell on the top! I can’t get enough of this sweet toy fire truck!

antique toy metal fire truck that has been cleaned of rust
close up of antique toy fire truck headlights

perfectly preserved patina

The furniture wax will prevent the remaining rust from going any further while keeping the aged character and patina of this adorable toy fire truck.

Steel wool helped me to pay careful attention to the lettering on the side of the fire truck too.

side view of antique metal toy fire truck with patina
close up of wheel on antique fire truck

The toy fire truck is a pedal car. I bet some child had a blast pedaling around pretending to be a fireman! It makes me wonder if that child grew up to be one!

above view of restored antique toy metal firetruck

Our client loved it! She said she will use it during the Christmas holiday to hold a small Christmas tree!

Can’t you just see it displaying a tree during the holidays??

above view of restored antique metal toy firetruck

preserving the past

See how easy it is to clean rust off antique metal like this toy fire truck? A couple of hours, simple supplies, and an audiobook is all you need to breathe new life into this sweet vintage toy.

above view of restored antique toy metal firetruck

Thanks for stopping by!

Did you enjoy this tutorial? I know I sure did! Working with metal toys is so much fun

Let me know if you have any questions about this project or any others you see here on the blog. I would love to help you out the best I can!

You can find me on Instagram and Facebook. Also, feel free to pin any of the images in this post to Pinterest for future reference!

Until next time….

graphic showing before and after of restored toy firetruck

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  1. Patti Donopha says:

    Cindy – I really enjoyed watching and reading how you restored this vintage child’s fire truck! I love your face gear when removing the rust, very professional! Actually, the ‘new’ firetruck was done so professionally and it looks awesome!

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      Isn’t it the cutest?? So glad you enjoyed my face gear! It’s a necessity when sanding especially rusty items! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. That little fire truck looks great! I always learn so much from your tutorials, Cindy. Thanks for turning me on to the mouse sander. Very handy. And, I didn’t realize you can put wax on metal!

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      Wax on metal is the best!! It really creates a unique finish on metal. Thanks for stopping by my friend!

  3. Hi Cindy! Beautiful restoration on the fire truck! I’m contemplating restoring a Hitchners oyster cracker can. It is metal with lettering in the middle of the can which is a 4′ round can. What process would you recommend to remove the rust while retaining the lettering? Also is there any way to enhance faded letters! Thanks!

    1. That oyster cracker can sounds amazing! I chatted with my hubby about your questions and we decided it was best to answer via email. He will be sending you his thoughts and ideas about restoring the can to your email. Thanks for reading the post!