How to clean and de-rust a dumbbell

I’ve been training in my garage for almost four years now. It was one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

During this time, I paid little to no attention to the maintenance of my gym equipment, beyond cleaning my weightlifting platform and sweeping the rubber mats around it. sometimes.

Thanks to my neglect, my dumbbells slowly developed a patina of sweat and rust. This is the result of having my gym in an unconditioned garage. Unless your steel dumbbells have some sort of special coating or are made of stainless steel, the humidity in your garage will cause them to rust. Rust doesn’t look good, it gets into your clothes when you lift it and can shorten the life of your dumbbell.

So a few weeks ago I took the time to finally clean my dumbbells and started a diet to keep them rust free. The process is a little complicated, but not very difficult to do; it was actually easier than I thought.

If you need your current bar cleaned or you just bought a rusty used one, this guide will show you how to make it look like new.

rusty barbell


White vinegar

Baking soda

Paper napkins

Plastic wrap

Three-in-one oil

Steel brush and brass brush

For this demo, I’m using my Bar Duffalo. This is a fantastic steel bar that I use to squat on when my biceps tendinitis is grumpy. Takes some of the pressure off the biceps tendons. It’s also great to play with. I didn’t pay for a special coating on it, so over the years my Duffalo Bar had gotten quite rusty.

how to clean rusty dumbbells

How to clean and de-rust a dumbbell

Step 1: Use a brass brush for initial brushing.

The goal is to clean off any bits of dirt or rust. No need to be thorough here. This should take less than two minutes.

Step 2: Soak in white vinegar overnight.

Soaking your bar in vinegar will do the lion’s share of rust removal. It’s amazing the improvement you will see after the soak.

There are two ways to soak your bar.

The first method is probably the most thorough. Disassemble the dumbbell by removing the sleeves (the process for this will be different depending on the dumbbell/manufacturer; find and follow the specific instructions for yours). Place everything in a box lined with a trash bag and large enough to hold the bar and shafts. Fill the canister with vinegar until the bar and sleeves are completely submerged. Soak overnight.

Personally, I didn’t have a box big enough to fit my bar and sleeves, so I went with a second option: the paper towel method.

Fill a bucket with white vinegar to soak your paper towels.

Soak paper towels in vinegar, then wrap them around your bar. Do it one section at a time. After wrapping a section with a vinegar-soaked paper towel, immediately wrap the towels with plastic wrap. This will prevent the vinegar from evaporating, causing “flash rust” to form on the bar. Flash rust is called flash rust because it appears very quickly – like within minutes. Flash rust does not harm the integrity of your bar, it just creates more rust which defeats the purpose of the cleaning process!

Continue wrapping with vinegar-soaked paper towels and plastic wrap until your dumbbell is completely wrapped. Let stand overnight.

Your dumbbell should look like a mummy wrapped in saran when finished.


Step 3: Brush off rust, rinse off vinegar, and neutralize with baking soda.

Very well. You left your dumbbell soaking overnight. It’s time for a deep clean.

This step is time sensitive. Once you take the bar out of the vinegar soak, you only have a few minutes to rinse and neutralize the vinegar before flash rust appears. So prep everything before you take the vinegar-soaked soundbar out.

Prepare a spray bottle containing a mixture of water and dissolved baking soda; The exact ratio of water to baking soda doesn’t matter, but the more the better. You will spray this on your bar to neutralize acidic vinegar and prevent flash rust.

Also have a garden hose and your brass brush nearby.

Note: Do not do this step on your squat rack or weightlifting platform. I thought I was pretty smart putting the bar on my squat rack. This made it easier to brush and spray the bar with the baking soda mixture. But it left a giant mess on my wooden platform. The mixture of vinegar, baking soda and oil that dripped on it left permanent stains on the wood (and Intense Life flag too). It’s not serious. I can still use my platform; it doesn’t look good. Clean the bar on your driveway (vinegar can damage the grass); if you’re worried about it getting scratched, put it on a tarp. Or if you have two easels, put them between them; raising the dumbbell will make the job easier.

Got everything ready to go? Okay. Remove the bar from the vinegar dip.

Immediately begin brushing your dumbbell with your brass brush. If the rust is really stubborn, use a steel brush (I had to do this with the Duffalo Bar).

After that first brush, rinse the bar with water to remove as much of the vinegar as possible.

Next, spray the bar thoroughly with your baking soda and water mixture.

If you work quickly and deftly, you should have a bar that looks almost new at this point.

dumbbell cleaning

Step 4: Oil and brush the bar.

Wipe the bar with a paper towel. Take your three-in-one oil and apply a few drops to a section of your bar. Brush carefully. If you really want to be as thorough as possible, use a metal wheel attachment on your cordless drill. I just used plain old elbow grease.

Oil and brush until you’ve done the whole bar and it’s as clean as you want it to be. It was actually quite meditative. Reminded me of cleaning a gun.

Step 5: Wipe again with oil.

Put some of the three-in-one oil on a paper towel and wipe the bar again. This will help prevent rust in the future.

Before (top), after (bottom)

Take care of your dumbbell and your dumbbell will take care of you

To avoid having to do that deep cleaning again, make dumbbell maintenance a regular part of your garage gym routine. After every dumbbell workout – especially if you’re using chalk on your hands – brush it off with a wire brush. It takes 30 seconds to do.

Once a week, wipe down your dumbbells with a three-in-one oil. This will help minimize future rust.

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