Dealing with a Rusted Pipe: Causes, Solutions, and Prevention Tips

by Jessica Sawyer | Plumbing and Drainage

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For many homeowners, coming across a rusted pipe isn’t exactly cause for celebration. And it’s no wonder – finding corroded pipes in your plumbing system is more than just an inconvenience. It can lead to water quality issues, leaks, and even pose significant health hazards if left unaddressed. 

So, whether you’ve noticed any of the classic signs like odd-colored water flowing out of the faucet, unusual odors, or signs of leakage, understanding the ins and outs of rusted piping is crucial to maintain a safe and habitable home.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the causes behind a rusted pipe, offer up some practical solutions, and provide prevention tips to ensure you’re not left with a rusty mess down the line. 

Home maintenance may not always be glamorous, but when it comes to your plumbing, a little care goes a long way.

Understanding Rusted Pipes

Before we jump into solutions and prevention, let’s get into how and why you’re likely dealing with a rusted pipe in the first place.

Rust, also known as iron oxide, forms when iron and oxygen react with water or moisture. Now, this may seem like a given for metal plumbing pipes, but there are a few key things that can help speed up the process:

  • Age of the Pipes: Older pipes, especially those made of galvanized steel, are more likely to rust over time.
  • Hard Water: Water with high mineral content is more corrosive, leading to earlier pipe degradation.
  • Wrong Material Selection: Subpar material quality or poor installation practices can result in quicker corrosion.
  • Improper Water pH: Highly acidic or alkaline water can deteriorate pipes faster than water with a neutral pH level.
  • High Water Velocity: Fast-moving water can eat away at the protective layer inside pipes, making them more susceptible to corrosion.

Solutions for a Rusted Pipe

When you discover rust in your pipes, it’s essential to act quickly to avoid any further damage. Fortunately, there are several solutions you can try to fix the issue. In fact, you may already have the necessary equipment and ingredients on hand.


Vinegar is a go-to cleaning solution for many surfaces, including pipes. Since it is acidic, white vinegar can effectively dissolve the iron oxide, or rust, found inside pipes. 

To use vinegar for rust removal:

  1. Find a big enough container to fit the rusty pipe. Then, fill it with a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water. It should be enough to cover the rusted area.
  2. Seal off the container to prevent the vinegar from evaporating.
  3. Leave the vinegar to soak for at least a few hours. You may want to leave a particularly rusted pipe in the mixture overnight.
  4. After soaking, scrub with a brush or sponge, and rinse thoroughly.

Now, don’t worry if you’re not seeing results the first time. This method may need to be repeated a few times to completely remove the rust.

Lemon Juice

No vinegar on hand? The citric acid in lemon juice can also dissolve rust:

  1. Squeeze enough fresh lemon juice on the pipe to cover the rusty area.
  2. Leave the lemon juice to soak for an hour or more.
  3. Scrub the pipes with a brush or sponge to remove the rust residue.
  4. Flush it with water.

As with vinegar, you may need to repeat this one a few times to get results.

Baking Soda

Another popular at-home ingredient, baking soda can also be an effective cleaner for your pipes. It’s a gentle, non-toxic substance that creates a chemical reaction with the rust to loosen it from the surface.

  1. Mix baking soda with water to create a paste.
  2. Apply the paste to the rusted area, and allow it to sit for at least half an hour. But again, if there’s a lot of rust, you may want to leave this for a few hours.
  3. Scrub the area with a brush or sponge, and rise with water.

You guessed it – this is another method that may take a few tries, so repeat the process until the pipe is rust-free.

Commercial Rust Removers

If none of the at-home solutions work (or you’re just looking for a quicker fix), then there are lots of rust removal products out there for you to choose from. But if you go with this approach, then proceed with caution.

The reason they are often more aggressive than natural remedies is because they contain harsh chemicals. So, be sure to follow the instructions closely, and use gloves to protect your skin.

Professional Services

For advanced rusting, or if you prefer the peace of mind that comes with professional assistance, you can’t go wrong with calling in a plumber. Professional services can provide long-term solutions that go beyond temporary fixes, such as pipe replacement or extensive rust treatment, ensuring your home’s water system is back to its best.

Preventing Rusted Pipes

The best approach to dealing with rusty pipes is to prevent them from rusting in the first place. Here are some strategies you can try:

Use a Water Softener

Water softeners help to reduce the mineral content in your water, making it less corrosive and less likely to cause rust in your pipes.

Use an Epoxy Pipe Coating

Coating the inside of your pipes with epoxy can create a protective barrier, reducing their exposure to the water.

Apply a Rust Inhibitor

Rust inhibitors, often available in spray form, can be applied to the inside and outside of your pipes to slow the corrosion process.

Monitor Water pH

Regularly test your water for its pH level. If it is highly acidic or alkaline, consider a water treatment system to correct it.

Clean Regularly

It may not be a fun addition to your regular chore list, but regularly maintaining and cleaning your pipes can prevent the build-up of rust over time.

The Bottom Line

They may be little more than a nuisance in the short-term, but if left untreated, rusted pipes can result in significant damage to your home and pose health risks. It’s therefore essential for homeowners to take a proactive approach in dealing with this issue. Fortunately, by understanding the causes of rust, being aware of how to prevent it, and having an arsenal of cleaning solutions at the ready, you can keep your plumbing in top shape. 

And remember, if you’re not comfortable tackling this challenge on your own, be sure to contact a professional plumbing service. We have the knowledge, experience, and equipment necessary to tackle any rusted pipe, and keep your plumbing system in good working order for years to come.

Need a hand with rusty pipes? Click here to schedule a Water Pros Plumber online, or call (480) 459-4424 today.

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