rusty bolt and nut

Removing Rusted Bolts and Nuts

Removing rusted ​nuts and bolts isn't always as easy as slapping on an socket wrench or impact wrench, is it? It's probably quite a serious thing for you which is why you're here.

It is true that I'm no expert on anything mechanical but I have definitely spent my own personal share of hours trying to break free a wide variety of immovable objects and irresistible forces, otherwise known as rusty screws. Actually, when I think about it, I shudder at the amount of times I've gashed open my knuckles in the process of either breaking a rusty nut free or having the wrench slip off of it completely.

My poor hands....you've endured so much! (perhaps you can empathize?)

This is WrenchGuru, so ​I decided to spend some more time taking what I've learned about how to break those bolts and nuts free without breaking the them--or your hands.

Let's see if I can help you with that corrosion issue right now.

​1. Remember: ​Muscle Isn't Everything

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​The First Main Thing: I'd like to remind you to toss aside the idea that you simply need to add more muscle in order to get ​this particular job done. 

​After browsing around some other articles, I noticed that too many people are tossing around ​a more-harmful-than-helpful idea: use a bigger tool! Get an impact wrench! Be like Tim the Tool Man!

​So, my first key point for you is to please do yourself a favor and chunk the "more power" thought immediately!

The reasoning behind this is simple: if you just apply more torque in order to remove rusted bolts then it’s quite possible that you’ll shear it off in the process. A rusty nut removal can cause the same even to occur to the bolt it’s attached to. In some cases, the rusty bolt itself is a bit old, permanently attached, difficult to find and replace, or all of the above. If you decide to spit on your hands, buckle down and bow-up on that sucker, then it’s quite possible that you’ll have more than simply a rusted bolt or rusted nut on your hands—you’ll have a rusty nut/bolt that’s also broken.


The Next Thing to consider is whether or not the rusty culprit has some sort of thread lock in place.

​A thread lock is, basically, what it sounds like: it locks the threads in place so that the nut stays fixed and doesn't come off. While it may seem like a massive pain in your keester, you should also be able to see why these little doohickeys are so valuable. I'd like to give you a quick example of why.

​I have an electric motorcycle which was made by a relatively young factory located in China. When I first received it, I was quite impressed as it had a really cool appearance and even the electric-green paint job I requested was spot-on and tight.

​However, as I pulled out my tools and began to check various screws, nuts, and bolts, I realized that many of them--a surprisingly and disturbingly large number of them, actually--were loose! While we could just blame stuff like this 100% on the manufacturer (and I do), it doesn't help with the immediate situation of how to keep them from coming loose. A simple addition of a washer or thread-locked nut is a good solution to avoid any small or severe problems.

If​ the time comes, however, that you or I need to remove such a nut--and if you haven’t noticed before--then buckling down on it would only add grief to your life that you shouldn’t have to suffer!

​So what’s the solution to the possibility of lock nut removal? ​Its simpler than you might think: heat things up a little bit (this handy video goes through several of these steps clearly, if you are a "monkey see, monkey do" type like I am).

Typically, the thread locking pieces of nuts and bolts can be loosened up with a bit of heat. Warming up the bolt will soften the thread lock as they aren’t as hearty as the bolts and nuts themselves. One of the simplest ways you can do this is with a special, long lighter, which can be picked up at your local hardware store, or maybe even supermarket.

For larger, more serious applications, consider picking up a small butane torch. They are definitely strong, ​but not as dangerous or difficult to use as you may think!

​2. Check For and Soften Thread Locks

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3. Clean Up The Rusted Bolt and Nut

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After That, Rust Must Scat. That’s right: one, two, three, four, make absolutely sure you have rust no more!

​One of the main things that I failed on when I was younger was the addition of lubricants, as I will discuss below. However, one of the things that I became quite proficient at was getting out the old wire brush and shining that nasty bolt up right good!

Before you latch onto it, do your best at this point to clean up that nut and bolt, as well as the area directly around it. By doing so, you’ll make the stubborn screw or nut easier to get a bead on with your tools, thus being able to transfer more torque (turning power) to the rusted bolts and nuts.

By cleaning up the rusty nut and bolt, you’ll also be able to better see what you’re dealing with and then make a logical decision about how to get it removed or taken apart.

For example, what if you hadn’t realized that there’s a thread lock on it but after cleaning it, viola! There it lies.

There have actually been times when I realized the screw's threads were reverse--can you imagine trying to get that sucker off without knowing that and applying an impact wrench in the wrong direction? My goodness...

​My friends, do yourself a favor and clean it up first!

The Lube Tube ​may not be a TV show but I definitely believe that it's something you need to tune in to.

​As I mentioned above, I didn't always lubricate my intended target of loosening when I was a wee lad. The reason for that is simple: my dad usually only had WD-40 and it wasn't exactly something that he could afford to keep stocked, so either I used it sparingly or not at all.

​The other thing is that I also got into a bad habit of only using lubricant when I wanted to stop rust from forming or clean up some corrosion which had started to form. I never really thought very often about applying it in order to actually help REMOVE rusty nuts. I guess seeing my dad use it on creaks, hinges, joints, and bearings just kind of conditioned me.

​Anyway, after ​you get that rusty nut and/or bolt prepped from cleaning it up to see what you're dealing with, you really should soak it down with some nice lubricant—particularly the penetrating kind. If you don’t use the proper type of lube, then it’ll only be on the surface and not even remotely inside and between the spaces, which is where you need it the most.

Furthermore, if you skip the cleanup and just go straight to the lube, it’s possible that the rusty materials will keep the lubrication from doing a proper job of getting into every nook and cranny.

Remember each step!

Additionally, remember that some of these rusty bolts won’t be removed so quickly and may require soaking overnight. If you soak it and it still seems unlikely to budge--and you're not in a huge hurry--why not drench it down as best you can and give it a few more doses here and there before you hit the hay.

This little, patient step ​can actually work miracles sometimes, and not only that, it just may keep you from snapping off a bolt and causing a bigger problem.

​Trust me, I know!

​4. Lubricate and Soak if Needed

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5. Know Which Way to Turn the Bolt or Screw

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Some Roads are one-way streets so it’s best to keep this in mind before really giving that rusted screw the old college try. Some say “lefty-loosey, righty-tighty,” but keep in mind that this isn’t ALWAYS the case—just most of the time. Be informed before you go crazy and break not only your sanity but your bolts or tools!

Don’t Wrench Your Back, wrench that rusty screw! Be sure to keep yourself from an awkward position when attempting to remove these rusty beasts. Yes, you’re removing a bolt or a nut but it’s not worth hurting yourself over it, especially something as important as your back. Use the best angle possible for your arms and body. Another reason for using the right angle and position is simply for the aforementioned torque or power. If you are lying on your side while attempting to turn the rusty beast over your head, there will be so much power lost that your five-year-old would be ashamed of your effort.

Next, select the appropriate tool for the job: is a hand wrench okay? Would a socket wrench be the better choice? Is that rusted out bolt a monster that calls for an impact wrench? Again, use your best judgment when picking the best tool for the application, but keep in mind that if it’s truly a beast and MUST come off, then a nice cordless impact wrench works wonders (not to mention it’s super handy for changing your tires!).

6. Take Care That You Don't Hurt Yourself

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If you've already wrenched your back, start checking out some options for relief.

7. Do You Even Care if the Bolt Breaks or Strips?

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Do You Even Care if the bolt breaks? If you aren’t going to replace that rusted bolt or nut and just want it out and gone, then just grab an impact wrench and go to town. Today’s cordless impact wrenches are an impressive lot and are capable of doing the impossible (almost).