Recycling Rusty Metal: Process, Methods & Challenges

When it comes to a metal drum, there are three conditions to look at: new (for open head and tight head), reconditioned and recycled. Reconditioned drums have gone through a thorough process of cleaning, repairing and repainting to store and transport flammable and hazardous materials. They can also hold rainwater, waste, oils and glues.

With drums that go through a recycling process, the metal is broken down so that it can be used for scrap metal later.

What Is Rust?

If you have ever seen a red-brown flaky finish on your drums or metal containers, that is considered to be rust. Rust, or iron oxide, is a type of corrosion that is the deterioration of a material. This corrosion is the result of three particles coming into contact with one another: water, iron and oxygen. Removing rust can depend on how much rust is on the metal container and how long it has been on the metal.

Can I Recycle Rusty Metal?

But what if that metal container has a significant amount of rust on it? Can it still go through the recycling process successfully? Yes.

Whether you are working with a rusty drum or metal container, it can still be recycled. The amount of rust that is present can change how long it would take to deconstruct the container. Additionally, the rust may bring down the quality of the scrap metal, bringing down its value. However, rusty drums and metal containers can be recycled.

How to Remove Rust from Metal

If there is rust on your steel drum or metal container, and you would still like to use it, there are methods of removing the rust without recycling it. 

Some DIY project options are available to remove rust from metal containers, such as using lemon juice and salt, soda or even vinegar. This can be effective, but if not used correctly (leaving the container in the soda for too long as an example), it can cause damage to the metal under the rust.

If you are not confident in removing rust, taking it to a local scrap yard or hardware store would allow professionals to remove the rust from metal or suggest the right tools to remove it effectively.

What Causes Rust on Steel & Metal?

Rust is the deterioration of a metal when it comes into contact with water and air. So if a metal container is left out in the rain, there is a good chance that rust will form. The best tip for ensuring that rust does not develop on your drum or metal container is to place it in a location that limits any water from getting onto the container.

Impact of Rust on Steel & Metal

Rust on metal products, whether they are drums, containers or household items, can hurt performing the tasks they are used for.

The flaky finish on metal containers after corrosion means that the metal is getting weaker. If it has a red-brown color, that means the metal does not have the same strength as it previously had.

Rust, primarily on containers, can lead to holes developing if it deteriorates for a long time or the rust has gotten past the first layer of metal.

Recycling Process of Rusty Steel & Metal

If you have steel drums that you would like to get rid of because of the rust, taking them to a scrap yard would be the most effective option. Here is an overview of the process they would utilize to recycle the rusty metal. The process has three steps: collecting and sorting the metal, cutting it down and melting it and cooling the metal sheets.

1. Collecting & Sorting

In a scrap yard, the metal containers would be collected and separated based on what the material is and the condition (whether it is pure without any damage or not).

2. Cutting Down & Melting

The next step in the recycling process is cutting down the drums and other metal containers and placing them into furnaces to melt into small sheets of metal. This allows workers to easily get rid of any rust or imperfections that may limit its usefulness in the future if not removed.

3. Cooling Metal Sheets

After the metal sheets are melted down, they are separated and left for cooling for them to solidify.

After they go through the entire recycling process, they are sold off from the scrap yard as metal sheets that companies can use to make other products.

Challenges in Recycling Rusty Metal

One of the main challenges for both consumers and recycling facilities when recycling rusty steel and metal is time.

If the drum has a lot of rust or if the rust has been present for a long time, it will take a longer time to remove the rust and recycle the metal into a condition that is usable for other products or applications. The longer it can take for the facility to remove the rust (if they wanted to keep the drum or rusty container), the longer it can take the consumer to receive them back for their products.

Another challenge that may be important to consider is the compensation received from the metal that is brought into a scrap yard. The more rust that is on the metal containers, the less likely you are to receive good compensation for the metal.

In the Market for Drums?

Rust can cause damage to drums to the point where they can no longer be used. Are you looking to add some new drums into your warehouse or save money with reconditioned drums?

The Cary Company has a wide variety of new and reconditioned steel drums for your products, available in tight head and open head styles. Whether you are using food products or flammable products that require a UN Rating, we have the perfect drum for you. Shop popular industry sizes and browse our 55 gallon drums

We also offer drum disposal services to remove drums from your warehouse or business.

Need more information on our products and services? We have specialists available to answer any questions and find the perfect solution for you. Give us a call at 630-629-6600 or email us at!