Laser Cleaning Wipes Out Rust—And It’s So Satisfying to Watch
Reddit users are obsessed with these transformation videos.
As Real Simple editors, we sometimes feel like we’ve seen and heard it all when it comes to clever cleaning hacks. Cleaning rugs with a shower squeegee? Sure. Using white chalk to absorb a grease stain? Absolutely. But using a high-powered laser to clean layers of rust off an old metal fireplace mantel or a vintage car? Now that’s something we’d never seen before. And trust us, once you start watching these mesmerizing transformations in action, you won’t be able to stop.
What is laser cleaning?
A trending topic spotted on Reddit, users are sharing videos of specialized lasers with incredible cleaning powers. The lasers miraculously remove years worth of rust, without harming the intricately detailed metal lying underneath. According to one explainer video posted on the site, the laser works by sublimating rust, or causing it to go from a solid to a gaseous state, skipping the liquid phase entirely. A common example of sublimation is dry ice, or solid blocks of carbon dioxide that turn into a gas without an intermediate liquid phase. The laser cleaning process, also called laser ablation, uses powerful, short, and rapid laser pulses to sublimate just the target material (in this case, rust), while it’s adjusted to have no effect on the underlying material (here, metal).
Doesn't laser cleaning really work?
Yes, see for yourself! In this video posted on YouTube by CleanLaser, the company shows the restoration of an old rusted fireplace in action. The rust magically disappears, while leaving the shiny metallic surface underneath intact.
Is laser cleaning an affordable fix for my rusty cookware/furniture/car?
While we may one day grab our laser cleaner when we want to polish up some rusted silverware, it’s currently a very high-tech and expensive process reserved for professionals. Plus, a laser this powerful will set you back about half a million dollars. CleanLaser, a Germany company, sells one model called the CL 1000 that packs 1,000 watts of laser power and can clean the rusty surface of a vintage car, a process that typically takes many hours, in just seconds. The current price for the machine is $480,000, making it an unattainable dream for even the most dedicated cleaners.
Is laser cleaning safe?
In this popular video posted by Reddit user iam_nobody, your heart probably skips a beat when you see the laser user run the path of the laser right over their hand. Fortunately, because the laser is set to target a particular material (rust) and leave others intact, the unprotected hand is unscathed. According to CleanLaser, the process of laser cleaning is also gentler on the environment than other methods that involve solvents and dangerous chemicals.
The one downside is that when the rust is sublimated, it may seem to disappear entirely, but tiny rust nanoparticles are actually released into the air. In the book Laser Cleaning II, D.M. Kane recommends reducing the respiratory risk with specialized masks, as well as goggles and a fume extraction system. When you consider both the cost of the device itself and all of the safety gear it would require, we’re thinking we’ll leave this power cleaning technique to the pros—and admire the dramatic transformations from the comfort of our couches.