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How to Deal With Damaging Shipping Container Rust

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Can a shipping container rust? When used in cargo shipping, they endure harsh conditions on the seas, exposing containers to humid conditions that might make other steel-based products quickly rust away. Are shipping containers made of a special type of steel?

In this blog, we’ll cover how rust affects shipping containers, and tell you the necessary steps to ensure the quality and longevity of your container.

Are Containers Rust-Proof?

While containers aren’t rust-proof, they are rust-resistant. Containers’ primary use is on cargo ships, so they’re made with a special type of steel called Corten Steel. Corten is a combination of two terms: COR, standing for corrosion resistant, and TEN, referring to tensile strength.

This special type of steel has qualities that make it useful for the type of conditions that containers regularly encounter. While containers aren’t rust-proof, they are rust-resistant, and hold up well in rust-sensitive environments.

Additionally, we treat all our containers with a primer as a rust deterrent, using a solution that’s used for industrial maintenance and refurbishment.

However, containers still naturally rust over time, especially in areas with high humidity. That’s why it’s important to take action to protect your container’s longevity when it comes to corrosion.

Steps to Prevent Container Rust

Before telling you the steps that you can take to prevent container rust, here’s a quick explanation of how container rust occurs. Once steel on a container is exposed, it’s only a matter of time before it comes in contact with oxygen and water, starting the oxidation process. Corten steel doesn’t rust like normal steel, although it’s a similar process. Corten steel will form an initial rusted layer, called a patina, that protects the steel from further rusting so long as it isn’t exposed to additional wet conditions. Functionally, Corten steel serves as a corrosion shield, but it can’t stop the rusting process completely.

Evidence of container rust on a blue shipping container.
Rust is an inevitability for shipping containers. However, with a careful eye and regular maintenance, your container can be preserved to maintain its condition for many years to come.

The key to preventing container rust is regular monitoring and taking quick action on affected areas. Luckily, maintaining your steel container is straightforward. Follow these steps to prevent damage from container rust:


  • Use rust-proof scrapers, files and tools for any physical contact. Soft bristled brushes made of natural fibers like nylon and non-scratch plastic brushes work well with containers. Avoid wire brushes or anything stiff that could scratch the surface.
  • Avoid using cleaning agents like soap or detergent that can damage the patina.
  • Clean rag
  • White vinegar
  • Phosphoric acid


  1. Lightly brush the exposed area to remove grime.
  2. Clean the area with a clean rag and white vinegar.
  3. Ensure exposed areas are repainted following cleaning.
  4. Address scale and grout spots with phosphoric acid, followed by rinsing with water.

Once the initial layer of steel rusts, monitor for additional rust accumulation. Prevent water from pooling on the roof to ensure your container enjoys a prolonged lifespan, as bare steel requires primer to prevent rusting.

A refurbished shipping container in a construction site yard.
At Southwest Mobile Storage, all our rental containers are refurbished. This process removes rust, and we apply a rust-resistant primer before adding a protective layer of paint. While we do offer as-is containers that may have dings, dents and surface rust, we always make the conditions of our containers clear to customers. Want to see the container’s quality for yourself before purchasing? Visit our container yard today!


By practicing proper maintenance and scheduling semi-regular inspections to check for chipped paint that might open areas to corrosion, you can ensure that your container will maintain its quality for many years to come.

Curious about renting or purchasing a shipping container? At Southwest Mobile Storage, we have a wide variety of containers available to meet your storage needs. From new one-trip Containers to used as-is containers available for a cheaper price, we can match you with a container that’s right for you. Don’t want to worry about maintenance? Perhaps renting a container would be better for your circumstances.

Call us today and speak with a container sales representative, who can answer questions and provide you with a quote.

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