3 SUPER SIMPLE steps to barbell rust prevention

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So you’ve laid out quite a bit of money on a barbell – now you will want to look after it properly! The core architecture of a barbell is three pieces of metal (2x sleeves with the shaft) which means we meet an old foe – RUST! Treating rust is one thing – but it’s ALWAYS best to get ahead of the game to PREVENT rust from forming on your barbell in the first place. Here’s all you need to know about barbell rust prevention…

3 SUPER SIMPLE steps to barbell rust prevention

At a glance…

  • Rust is caused by moisture reacting with the metal surface of the barbell
  • Your choice of barbell coating influences how likely you are to encounter rust (black oxide is most likely to rust, Cerakote is least)
  • Barbell rust prevention is a three step process:
  • Step 1: Wipe down your bar after each use to remove sweat and chalk
  • Step 2: Coat the bar with a thin layer of 3-in-1 oil once a month (wipe any excess off again before use!)
  • Step 3: Consider where you store your bar – if you keep it in a humid area consider storing the bar inside or wiping down more regularly

Barbell rust prevention: How to…

Prevent rust from forming on your barbell by brushing it down at the end of each workout to remove loose chalk. This should take less than a minute each time. Once a month wipe the bar all over with 3-in-1 oil. If you live in a humid area – or sweat a lot – wipe down with oil once a week for extra protection.

What causes rust on gym equipment?

Gym equipment is typically iron (more old school) or steel (more new school). Both materials rust. It is typically reddish-orange in appearance.

Rusting is the process where the surface of the material oxidises due to exposure to other elements. In a gym environment that is typically water in the form of sweat or humidity as well as salt (again from the sweat). Using chalk compounds the issue as the chalk absorbs sweat from your hand, but if it’s not brushed off the barbell then that chalk sits holding the moisture on the surface of the barbell for ages!

Most barbells are sold with a rust resistant coating such as black oxide, Cerakote or zinc to help prevent rust from forming. Over time this can wear off in places allowing rust to appear on an otherwise protected barbell. Some coatings are more resistant than others to this corrosion (more on this later).

Why is rust bad for barbells?

While some surface rust is typically FINE an excessive amount is an issue. This is because of the way rust almost ‘bubbles’ off of the metal surface it will impact your ability to get a good grip on the knurl as the rust can fill in the grooves or otherwise blunt the effectiveness of the knurling.

Fortunately rust works from the outside working its way inwards typically (as the moisture is on the outside) so it is rare to rust a barbell to the point of it breaking or causing serious structural issues. The ‘bubbling’ nature of rust forming can leave unsightly pock marks on the surface, however.

How do I keep my gym equipment from rusting?

Fortunately it is quite easy to minimise your chances of encountering corrosion – here are three steps to prevent your barbell from rusting:

Step 1: Remove workout sweat!

The easiest way to prevent gym equipment from rusting is to wipe it down with a towel after use. This removes moisture from the surface of the equipment massively reducing the chance of rust forming. Take special care to brush any chalk out of the barbell knurling where it can become trapped easily!

Step 2: Top up protective coating

Secondly I recommend wiping down your equipment at least once a month with a drop of 3-in-1 oil (some like WD40 also, but I stick to 3-in-1). This acts as a chemical barrier to block moisture from getting to the surface of the metal – one of the ‘three’ things it does is prevent corrosion! Use a small amount (less is more) and then wipe down with a clean rag before using the bar to remove any excess oil from the surface.

3 in 1 oil can be used to prevent rust
3 in 1 oil can be used to prevent rust (for proof see 3rd line in this picture!)

Step 3: Consider ambient humidity

The last thing to consider is where you store your equipment. In steps 1 and 2 above we have dried off our barbell and taken steps to keep its coating in tip top condition – but if you keep your bar outside near the beach or in a humid garage then you will simply have MORE exposure to moisture and salt than someone who keeps a bar inside an air conditioned facility!

You can decide – do you want to CHANGE something about where you keep your gym equipment to prevent rust, such as taking your barbell inside? Or do you want to increase the regularly of your barbell rust prevention regime e.g. using 3-in-1 oil weekly instead of monthly? The choice is yours – and will depend on just how humid your environment is.

Coatings matter: Do black oxide barbells rust MORE than other finishes?

A quick word on barbell finishes – MOST barbells are sold with a corrosion resistant coating such as zinc or black oxide. Some are even made with STAINLESS steel which won’t rust (unless the quality of stainless steel is especially poor). Choosing a corrosion resistant coating for your barbell in the first place will vastly reduce the maintenance required to prevent your barbell from rusting. This is important for those in humid areas of the world – it may well be worth springing the extra money for a MORE resistant barbell finish!

The trade off is the MORE resistant the coating the WORSE the grip feel is due to the thickness of the coating. Some simply prefer the feeling of a bare steel bar and will put up with the rust in order to get that pure connection.

In order of MOST likely to rust to LEAST likely to rust, here are the most common barbell finishes ranked:

  1. Bare steel – no protection, great feel
  2. Black oxide – thin coating, more likely to rust than most other coatings
  3. Chrome
  4. Zinc
  5. E-Coat
  6. Cerakote
  7. Stainless – won’t rust

Pick a coating that suits your locations and tolerance to rust-proofing!

Do you need a special barbell cleaning kit?

You do not need an expensive barbell cleaning kit to clean your barbell. You can buy one if you want – but you do not need one (and this is coming from the guy who will try and buy ANYTHING gym related!)

A bottle of 3-in-1 can be found in most supermarkets and a stiff nylon brush can be found in any tool store. Heck even a nail scrubbing brush will work. 

Personally I like to stick to non-metal brushes (no brass, steel or stainless steel brushes in my bar cleaning tool kit) because I want to avoid damaging the coating any more than I need to. A stiff nylon brush with a bit of 3-in-1 oil is enough to clear out the knurling on a barbell in my experience.

How to clean barbell knurling

Use 3-in-1 oil on a rag to coat the barbell and then use a stiff nylon brush to agitate the grooves in the knurling. I like to go back and fourth in line with the knurl cuts. Apply another round of 3-in-1 oil to wipe down and remove debris and then job is complete! Perfectly clean knurling! The 3-in-1 acts as a lubricant to soften stubborn chalk and get it out.

What prevents metal weights from rusting?

While we have talked about barbell rust prevention so far, what about metal weights? What prevents them from rusting if they are also metal? The truth is metal plates DO rust. The same chemistry applies – exposed metal will rust if it makes contact with moisture.

Metal weights typically are LESS exposed to moisture than barbells as we are not handling them NEARLY as much. This is why you may not see as much rust on a set of weight plates compared to a barbell.

Conclusion

Preventing barbell rust is not glamorous – but it is necessary if you want to keep your equipment in perfect condition. To prevent rust wipe down your equipment after each use to remove sweat and coat with a thin layer of oil once a month. This should be enough to give you a long and happy life of lifting with your bar!

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