Is Rust Harmful, and Whats The Way to Get it Off Your Skin?

Rust is the product of a chemical reaction between iron and moisture from air or water. This reaction forms a coating that’s reddish-brown or orange-brown in color.

The coating can flake off rusty objects, staining surfaces, including skin. Here’s a look at how to remove rust from your skin, and whether rust poses any health risks, including tetanus.

Is it harmful to get rust on your skin?

Rust is made up of a combination of iron and oxygen atoms. This compound, a type of iron oxide, isn’t known to be harmful to humans if it comes into contact with your skin.

Having rust stains on your skin doesn’t pose any health risks. In particular, you can’t get tetanus from getting rust on the surface of your skin.

What’s the best way to get rust off your skin?

Rust is known to stain materials such as:

  • concrete
  • wood
  • clothing
  • human skin

While there are products to remove rust stains from fabric or other materials, you should never use these on your skin. They may contain chemicals that could be potentially harmful to your skin.

To get rust off your skin, you will need salt and an acidic liquid, such as vinegar or lemon juice. Then follow the steps outlined below.

Can you get tetanus from a rusty nail?

Tetanus is an infection caused by Clostridium tetani, bacteria found in organic matter, such as soil and manure. These bacteria can enter your body through broken skin from:

  • burns
  • punctures

Stepping on a rusty nail is a commonly cited way of getting tetanus. But a rusty nail doesn’t always cause tetanus.

The example probably comes from the fact that Clostridium bacteria thrive in deep wounds, and stepping on a nail — whether it’s rusty or not — causes a deep puncture.

In addition, rusty objects and tetanus-causing bacteria tend to be found in similar environments, like:

  • abandoned houses or sheds
  • forests
  • fields

Metal objects that are left to rust in natural environments are also likely to collect tetanus-causing bacteria. These objects can include things like nails, knives, and gardening tools.

So, although rust itself doesn’t cause tetanus, it may be a sign of an environment where Clostridia bacteria are present.

What to know about tetanus

In someone who isn’t vaccinated against tetanus, this infection can cause a stiff or cramped jaw, more commonly known as “lockjaw.” Other symptoms of tetanus can include:

  • muscle stiffness and spasms
  • difficulty swallowing
  • an increased heart rate
  • headaches
  • fever
  • sweating
  • elevated blood pressure

If left untreated, tetanus can lead to complications such as:

  • brain injury
  • broken bones
  • pneumonia

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tetanus causes death in approximately 11 percent of people who contract the infection.

Today, most children and adults in the United States are protected by the tetanus vaccine. To maintain immunity against tetanus, you need a booster shot every 10 years or so.

If you’re not sure when you last had a tetanus shot, check with your doctor.


You should seek medical attention immediately if you’re wounded by a rusty object and your tetanus vaccine is not up to date.

What’s the best way to care for a wound from a rusty object?

If you’re sure your tetanus shot is up to date, you can care for a minor wound from a rusty object at home.

Follow these steps:

What else can cause tetanus?

Wounds caused by objects contaminated with Clostridium bacteria are the most common cause of tetanus. However, it’s possible to contract tetanus from other sources, too.

Tetanus-causing bacteria can enter your body through any tear in your skin. You may be at risk of contracting tetanus if you have:

  • puncture wounds from tattoos, piercings, or substance use
  • burns
  • surgical wounds
  • an infection from a foot ulcer
  • broken bones
  • open sores, wounds, or cuts that become contaminated with dirt, saliva, or feces

Although less common, tetanus has also been associated with:

  • insect bites
  • animal bites
  • dental infections

You should seek medical attention right away if you suspect you may have contracted tetanus.

The bottom line

Rust isn’t inherently harmful to human beings. In particular, touching rust or getting it on your skin isn’t associated with any health risks.

While you can get tetanus from a wound caused by a rusty object, it’s not the rust that causes tetanus. Instead, it’s caused by a type of bacteria that may be on the object.

To prevent tetanus, make sure you’re up to date on your tetanus shot. If you’re unsure whether you’re current on your tetanus vaccine, be sure to contact your family doctor.

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