Corrosion vs Rust – What’s the Difference

difference between rust and corrosion

Rust and corrosion are common terms used interchangeably, but there are important differences between them. Understanding these differences is important to know how to best protect your assets. Let’s break down what rust and corrosion are and how they differ from each other.

What is Rust?

Rust occurs when iron or steel corrodes in the presence of oxygen and moisture, creating an orange-brown coating on the metal surface that can be easily identified. The process of rusting is known as oxidation, which means that oxygen molecules react with iron atoms. This reaction creates a new compound called iron oxide, which is commonly referred to as rust. Rust usually forms in damp environments such as near oceans or rivers or areas with high humidity. It can also form when iron or steel comes into contact with acidic compounds such as vinegar or battery acid. 

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What is Corrosion?

Corrosion occurs when metals interact with their environment, resulting in the deterioration of their structures over time. Unlike rust, corrosion affects all types of metals, not just those containing iron or steel. In addition to water vapor and oxygen, corrosion can also be caused by bacteria, salt water, and sulfur dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels, and even acids found in food items like citrus fruits.  Corrosion can cause significant damage to both metallic and non-metallic surfaces alike due to its ability to react with a variety of materials under different conditions.  Additionally, it often results in discoloration or pitting on metal surfaces due to its gradual degradation process.  Corrosion prevention often requires protective coatings like paint or galvanizing to keep metals safe from this destructive force over time. 

Difference Between Rust and Corrosion

  • Rust is a type of corrosion that occurs when iron or steel is exposed to oxygen and moisture.
  • Rust can cause the metal to weaken and eventually break.
  • Corrosion is a type of degradation that occurs when a material is exposed to a chemical or environmental agent.
  • Corrosion can cause the material to deteriorate, but it does not necessarily cause the material to break.
  • Rust is more likely to occur on iron or steel than on other metals, due to the way these metals react with oxygen and moisture.


Rust and corrosion are two distinct processes that lead to similar outcomes—the erosion of metal surfaces over time due to oxidation reactions caused by environmental factors like oxygen, water vapor, salt water, and acidic foods or chemicals. While rust typically only affects metals containing iron or steel—and is easier to identify due to its orange-brown color—corrosion can affect any type of metal surface exposed for prolonged periods without proper protection from coatings like paint or galvanizing. Fully understanding the difference between them will help you better protect your assets from damage due to either process over time!

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