Why Barbells Rust and 5 Ways To Prevent This

Barbells can last for decades if properly cared for but corrosion can dramatically reduce the lifespan of your bar. Rusty barbells don’t only feel gross, it can actually destroy your barbell if nothing is done. In this article, we’ll go into why barbells rust and what the best ways to prevent this are.

Some barbells are more prone to corroding than others. With proper cleaning and maintenance, all barbells can last a long time. Wiping off sweat after use is a big one but so are proper cleaning, drying, and storage. Using stainless steel or coated barbells reduces maintenance needs.

In the rest of this article, you can find exactly why barbells rust, which factors make it worse and how you can prevent this from happening.

Understanding Barbell Corrosion

Barbell corrosion is a natural process driven by chemical reactions between the metal of the barbell and the elements in its environment.

These reactions, primarily involving oxygen and moisture, lead to the barbell’s surface being damaged. Corrosion can take a few forms, such as rust, pitting, and discoloration. Whatever way it shows up, it’s bad news since corrosion negatively impacts the feel, structural integrity, and looks of a barbell.

Leaving your barbell sweaty and dirty is the biggest driving factor of corrosion.

Looking for a great barbell for your home gym? I’ve selected the three best here.

Barbells More Prone to Corrosion

It all starts with the barbell. Some barbells are more susceptible to corrosion than others

  • Material: Barbell materials play a significant role. Barbells made from carbon steel are more prone to corrosion due to their composition. In contrast, stainless steel barbells are pretty much invulnerable to rust, but they cost a lot more.
  • Coating/Finish Type: Many steel barbells are coated with something to prevent corrosion. There are different types and ways to do this with different results. Some just reduce the corrosion, some completely stop it.
  • Coating Quality: Barbells with lower-quality coatings or finishes may not provide adequate protection against corrosion, leaving the underlying metal vulnerable. Also, some coatings wear off over time.
  • Manufacturing Processes: The way a barbell is manufactured and the quality of the materials and finish can impact its susceptibility to corrosion.

Also, it’s usually the shaft of the barbell that’s more prone to rusting since that’s the part you touch all the time. The sleeves are rarely touched and most sleeves are chromed which helps to protect against rust quite a lot.

Common Factors During a Workout that Promote Barbell Corrosion

Then there are things you do during a workout that increase the risk for rust. Most of which you can’t do anything about.

  • Sweat: As you start sweating during a workout, that sweat comes into contact with the barbell. Sweat contains electrolytes and salts that accelerate corrosion by promoting chemical reactions on the metal’s surface. So sweat makes your bar rust even faster than just water.
  • Chalk Usage: While chalk improves grip, it can also trap moisture and particles on the barbell’s surface, leading to increased corrosion risk.

Common Factors in a Gym that Promote Barbell Corrosion

There are a few factors that don’t have much to do with your bar or workout that can still make your bar rust. They depend on the gym and location.

  • Humidity and Moisture: Gyms often have varying humidity levels due to factors like sweating, showers, and ventilation. High humidity contributes to moisture accumulation on the barbell’s surface, accelerating corrosion.
  • Airborne Contaminants: Dust, dirt, and pollutants in the air settle on the barbell’s surface, providing a conducive environment for corrosion to occur. If you’re in a very polluted area, this can make a difference.
  • Contact with Other Metals: If a barbell comes into contact with other metal equipment, the contact can initiate galvanic corrosion, where the metal with a lower electrochemical potential (more reactive) corrodes faster. Think about the hooks the barbell rests on and weight plates with metal inserts.

Choosing the Right Barbell

While all the preventative measures you can find below help, the best way to deal with rust choosing the right barbell. And especially the right barbell for your needs. They might all look similar but there are big differences between barbells. And some of those differences pertain to their rust protection.

Choosing a high-quality barbell made from stainless steel or with a good coating will dramatically reduce the chances of your barbell rusting, even with sub-par maintenance.

There are great barbells out there with great rust protection that are pretty much impervious to corrosion. However, there can be reasons you want a bare iron barbell. Choosing the right one for your needs is key.

Stainless steel bars are great but expensive. There is a plethora of coatings out there that do a great job of reducing rust to zero or very minimal amounts. It’s a bit too much to get into all the differences between coatings here but you can find a comprehensive comparison between all the different barbell finishes in this article.

For most commercial, home, and garage gyms, a barbel with good corrosion protection is worth the extra money because you save time in maintenance, and your bars last way longer.

Bare (non-stainless) steel bars are for people who want the most natural feeling barbell and don’t mind doing some extra maintenance.

In summary:

  • Research different barbell materials and coatings before purchasing.
  • Opt for barbells made from stainless steel or those with high-quality protective coatings.
  • Paying a bit more for the right barbell now can save you money later on.

Preventing Your Barbell From Rusting

Luckily there are quite a few things you can do to prevent your barbell from becoming rusty scrap metal.

1. Wipe-down

The biggest impact you can have is by simply wiping down the barbell after use. Using dry tissues or a dry cloth will work well. Just getting rid of the sweat is going to reduce rust on the bar dramatically.

Using a sprayable cleaning solution with tissues helps get rid of any bacteria and more grime as well.

If you use chalk, use it sparingly to reduce the buildup. Chalk is a big factor in corrosion since it holds on to moisture and really gets stuck in the knurling to do it’s thing.

2. Regular Cleaning

Cleaning your barbell regularly is essential to prevent corrosion and maintain its appearance. Follow these steps:

  1. Use a mild cleaning agent and a soft brush to gently remove dirt, sweat, and chalk.
  2. Pay special attention to the knurling and other textured areas where grime can accumulate.
  3. Wipe the barbell dry after cleaning to prevent moisture buildup.

Don’t use hard brushes, harsh chemicals, or abrasive cloths to clean your barbell. This will wear down any protective coatings faster.

This is a very short summary of how to clean a barbell. You can read an in-depth article on it here.

3. Proper Storage

Proper storage plays a crucial role in preventing corrosion:

  • Store your barbell in a dry environment.
  • Always put the barbell away clean and dry.
  • Avoid direct contact with the floor during storage, which can introduce moisture and contaminants.
  • Using a barbell rack/ storage solution is the best option. Use one with plastic/rubber on the contact points.
  • Take plates off the bar: The metal inserts can cause galvanic corrosion over long periods of time.

I’ve written a whole article on how to store your barbells properly, click the link to find it.

4. Applying Protective Coatings

On some barbells, you can add a protective coating to protect against rust. This is only necessary on barbells that don’t have a coating from the factory or when the manufacturer recommends it.

This protective coating means applying a thin layer of oil or wax to coat the barbell’s surface.

  • Use a high-quality barbell oil or wax to coat the barbell’s surface. 3-in-1 oil also works.
  • Apply a thin layer of the chosen coating and spread it evenly using a cloth.
  • Repeat this process periodically to maintain the protective layer.

Of course, the bar should be perfectly clean and dry before applying this layer, otherwise it’s not much good.

5. Managing Humidity and Moisture

If your gym or equipment storage is very humid, this doesn’t help things. It’s not the most important factor but in very humid environments, it does make a noticeable impact.

You can manage humidity in a few ways;

  • Use dehumidifiers or a/c in your gym to control moisture levels.
  • During high-humidity seasons, be extra vigilant about barbell maintenance.
  • Opening doors and windows can already make a big impact on indoor humidity levels.
  • After workouts, wipe down the barbell to remove any accumulated moisture.
  • Make sure all the equipment is dry before storage.

This doesn’t only apply to barbells but all types of metal gym equipment. Especially equipment that has exposed metal surfaces.


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to HomeGymResource.com. After working out in many different gyms for almost 20 years and helping people build their own home gyms, i've learned a few things i'd like to share with you.

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