Is it SAFE to use a rusty barbell? PROBABLY… Here’s why

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So you’ve seen the dreaded orange RUST appear on your barbell… So what now?! The first thing to tackle is whether it is SAFE to use a barbell that has rusted. Lets take a look at that now.

Is it SAFE to use a RUSTY barbell? PROBABLY... Here's why

At a glance…

  • Using a barbell with minor surface rust on it is typically safe
  • Tetanus is caused by a bacteria that grows in soil or faeces and is not commonly found on gym equipment so the risk of contracting it from a barbell is low
  • Most rust on gym equipment is surface rust only and unlikely to affect the structural integrity of the bar
  • Rust can get messy – orange discolouration may transfer to clothes and hands

Is it safe to use a rusty barbell?

Yes it is safe to use a lightly rusted barbell. Rust is oxidation of the iron in the steel of the bar and in most situations is completely harmless to humans. At the most basic level, it is combination of iron and oxygen – both of which are in your body already!

While they are safe to use, rusty barbells are undesirable as using excessively rusted equipment can reduce your ability to get a firm grip on the bar and, in some extreme cases, the rust can flake off and cause discomfort in your hands.

Can you get tetanus from rusty barbells or weights?

No – rust is not typically the primary issue as tetanus is a bacterial problem. Tetanus is caused by Colostridium tetani bacteria which originates in soil, dust and faeces (yuck!) If this bacteria works its way in to your bloodstream it can cause tetanus. 

Where rust comes in is when people get deep wounds from random metal objects such as iron gates – the iron itself has accumulated Colostridium tetani bacteria over time from contact with people, animals and soil and the rusty gate in this example is the vehicle that delivers that in to your body.

Surface rust on a barbell that has formed in an otherwise clean gym environment is therefore low risk for contracting tetanus.

Most countries mandate tetanus vaccinations to further reduce the risk so you must keep up to date with vaccine requirements to keep your risk managed. If you are worried about tetanus and want to know more then consult your doctor who will be able to advise (we are not doctors here at PMO – just experienced fitness enthusiasts – this is not medical advice!)

Can a rusty barbell break?

It is extremely unlikely that a bar will break due to rust. Typically rust on a barbell is superficial surface rust only. 

Rust occurs when the surface of the metal reacts with moisture in the atmosphere – so for a barbell to rust through and BREAK is extremely unlikely. If you think your bar may have 10% or more of the diameter compromised by corrosion then it is probably time to consider a new bar!

WARNING: Rust can be messy!

While it is usually safe, rust can be messy. If you wear light coloured clothes in the gym the rust may discolour them directly through contact (e.g. when a barbell runs up your shins during a deadlift) OR indirectly such as transferring to your hands and then getting wiped on your jumper or similar.

Can you get rid of rust on a barbell?

Yes it is usually easy to clean rust off of a barbell. Using a drop of 3-in-1 oil (or WD40 if you prefer) lubricate the barbell with a rag before brushing the bar all over.

Personally I recommend to use a stiff nylon brush (like a nail brush) on barbells as steel, brass or copper brushes can damage the coating and lead to MORE rust further down the line.

Do black oxide coated bars rust?

Yes black oxide bars will rust quicker than most other finishes (such as zinc) as it offers the last corrosion resistance. The trade off is that the coating is very thin and therefore it feels really nice in the hand – when cleaned up!

Conclusion

Rust on a barbell is typically superficial surface rust caused by moisture reacting with the iron in the steel the bar. Surface rust can be easily brushed off and is unlikely to harbour nasty bacteria if it is kept in an otherwise clean gym environment. 

With that said it is suboptimal to let your equipment get in to poor condition – it affects your ability to grip the bar and can cause discolouration of your hands or clothes as it rubs off. So we recommend keeping on top of your barbell maintenance routine as if you keep your equipment in the best condition you can you MIGHT be able to hook grip an extra few kilos on your next deadlift PR attempt… Maybe… 😉

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