How To Rust Fabric

Did you know that you can use rusted items to colour or dye fabric?
It is really easy!

You will need:

  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Rubber gloves
  • Fabric made from natural fibres – for example cotton, wool or silk, or a combination of these. [I’d recommend smallish pieces of fabric for example 30cm x 30 cm up to about 1m x 1m.]
  • A small bucket or container that is able to hold about 5 litres of liquid.
  • String, wool, cotton threads or elastic bands.
  • Plastic bags – clip lock bags are particularly useful but not critical.
  • Several rusted items. I have used rusted nails, rusted coils, files, found bits of rusted tools or pieces of metal, rusted chains, keys, even an old cheese grater!

Make your ‘rusting’ solution

  • Mix 50% water with 50% vinegar.

I often use about 3 litres of this solution – so 1.5 litres of water and 1.5 litres of vinegar.

Place your solution in your bucket.

How to rust your fabric

  1. Put your gloves on!
  2. Immerse your fabric in the water and vinegar solution. Move the fabric around to make sure that it is fully wet with the solution. Remove your fabric and squeeze off the excess solution.
  3. Submerge your metal bits too.
  4. Take a piece of your wet fabric and wrap it around a piece of rusted metal. You can either leave the fabric loosely wrapped around the piece of metal or use elastic bands or a length of string, cotton or wool to ‘tie’ the fabric to the metal. I prefer this approach because you get more rust on your fabric.
  5. Place each wrapped metal piece into one of your plastic bags. You can either place one or many pieces into each bag – it depends on how many will fit.
  6. Repeat for as many pieces of fabric and rusted metal pieces that you have.
  7. Place your plastic bags with your wrapped metal bits in the sun! Keep an eye on these, as the rusting period varies a little depending on the season and how strong the sun is. I usually leave these for between 6 – 24 hours, depending on how rich or intense I want the rust effect to be. You can leave them longer but there is a slight downside! This rusting process actually means that the iron or rust is transferred onto the fibres on your fabric. So over a long period of time, the fabric may deteriorate.
  8. Some people recommend washing your rusted fabric in the washing machine with baking soda to neutralise the acid from the vinegar in your fabrics. On a small wash, don’t use washing powder, just ½ cup of baking soda. If you have enough fabric for a larger wash, use 1 cup of baking soda. I usually just wash my fabrics either by hand or in my washing machine. I have tried using baking soda too, but I am happy to use washing detergent.

The fun part of this process is you can never predict what pattern you will get on your fabric. Here are some photos:

Figure 1. Rusted metal bits
Figure 2. Previously hand-dyed fabric wrapped around rusted keys
Figure 3. Unwrapped keys
Figure 4. Rusted metal coil – cotton and gauze

WARNING: This site contains content that may offend some viewers