20 Survival Uses for Steel Wool


Steel wool is commonly used in pretty much every home, especially in kitchens and workshops. However, there are also many survival uses for steel wool.

Steel wool can be used for survival in the following ways:

  • Stop rodents
  • Plug drafts
  • Start a fire
  • Remove shoe scuffs
  • Tighten screws
  • Clog prevention
  • Clean windshields
  • Clean cookware and knives
  • Wood staining and preparation
  • Sharpen scissors
  • Restore and clean metals
  • Remove rust
  • Firearm bluing
  • and more…

Below is a list of 20 ways to use steel wool in a survival situation. They will help your gear to last longer as well as help create a hygienic environment that will help prevent illness and disease.

Survival Uses for Steel Wool

Rodent Control

Rodents can steal your food and transmit diseases, making them a real threat in a survival situation. They can get into your home, cabin, or tent and cause a bunch of problems. Fortunately, steel wool can be used to keep them out of your dwelling.

If you are having a rodent problem, the first thing that you need to do is find out how they are getting in. Next, pack the opening with steel wool. Unlike other materials, rodents will not be able to chew through it. The steel wool will injure their mouths and could even kill them if they consume enough.

Plug Draft Holes

If you live in an older home, there may be places where air can seep in. I lived in a house when I was in college that had a large gap between the window and the rest of the wall. During winter, it made the room much colder than it should have been. It didn’t help that it was one of the coldest winters in recent history.

Steel wool can be used to plug gaps such as this. Stuff steel wool into a sock and push the sock into the gap. It will help reduce the amount of outside air getting in and has the added benefit of being rodent-resistant.

Start a Fire

Steel Wool Start FireOne of the most popular survival uses of steel wool is starting a fire. To do this, tear off a piece of steel wool and fluff it. Next, sit it on top of a 9-volt battery. The steel wool will begin to glow and can then be used to light a fire.

This works because the steel wool resists the electrical current, causing it to heat up. As it heats up, it will eventually light on fire. Be sure to keep steel wool and batteries stored separately. You don’t want to start a fire in your pocket or backpack.

Erase Shoe Marks

Many shoes can leave marks on floors. Fine steel wool and water can remove these marks like they were never there. Use the dampened steel wool to gently scrub away the markings.

Shore Up a Loose Screw

Steel Wool Screw TrickSometimes a screw hole can enlarge, preventing the screw from holding as it should. This can be caused by repeatedly removing and replacing a screw or because of movement. You can solve this problem in a few ways, but if you need to use the same screw and need a quick fix, steel wool will do a decent job.

Wrap the screw in steel wool and then reinsert it into its hole. The steel wool will help pack the hole as the screw is inserted. This will give the screw a better bite and a much better hold.

Clog Prevention

Clogged pipes are a big frustration and can be unsanitary. Many times they are caused by bathing animals in bathtubs and showers. Dogs, such as German Shepherds, can shed a lot of hair at once, which can easily overwhelm pipes.

Steel wool can be used as a temporary drain strainer in tubs, showers, and even kitchen sinks. Place it in the drain’s opening and it will catch hair and particles that the existing strainer would not.

*Do not do this on drains that do not have some sort of strainer in place. Doing so could cause the entire pad of steel wool to go into your drain, which would result in a really bad clog.

Cleaning Car Windshields

If you have gunk on your windshield, steel wool may be what you need to remove it. I recommend using fine grade steel wool to avoid scratching your glass.

If there is adhesive residue on your windshield, spray a little WD-40 on the steel wool. This will help break up the adhesive and make it easier to remove. Clean the glass with Windex afterward to remove the WD-40.

Clean Cookware

Having clean cookware is important in everyday life and will be important in a survival situation as well. Use steel wool to remove baked-on grease and food from pans, skillets, and utensils.

Knife Maintenance

Your knife is one of your most important survival tools. You want it to remain clean and free of rust. Use fine grade steel wool to remove surface rust. Be sure to wipe off any fibers that transfer from the steel wool to your knife.

DIY Wood Stain

Steel wool and vinegar can be used to create a simple non-toxic wood finish. It will give the wood a nice aged look.

To make the wood stain, place a pad of 0000 steel wool into a jar and fill the jar with distilled white vinegar. Then let it sit for 2 or 3 days. Don’t place the lid on the jar. The vinegar and steel wool will create a reaction that gives off gases that need to be able to escape.

After this, stir the mixture together and filter out the bits of steel wool. You can do this by pouring the contents into another jar, using a cloth to strain out the steel fibers. You can also use a coffee filter for this purpose as well. Click here to see my article, 60 Survival Uses for Coffee Filters.

Then let the solution sit for several more hours. It is ready to use when it is an amber color, similar to apple cider vinegar. From there, it can be applied like a regular wood stain.

Wood Finishing

Steel wool can also prepare the wood before it is stained. To do this, sand the wood’s surface as normal. Then, take a damp cloth and run it across the surface of the wood.

Small fibers, or “whiskers” will stand up after the wood has dried. Use steel wool to remove them. Doing this will prevent the whiskers from rising up as a result of the stain being applied to the wood. This will prevent the surface from having a rough texture and make applying a clear coat easier.

Sharpen Scissors

If you have dull scissors, you can sharpen them using steel wool. If they are pretty dull, start with a medium grade of steel wool (1) and work your way up to more fine grades, such as 0 to 0000. This will reduce nicks that may be present and bring back a sharp edge. The process works similarly to running a sharpening steel down a knife blade.

Restore Aluminum

Get Good Tools Cheap

Fine steel wool does an excellent job of restoring aluminum. I used this method to polish the aluminum pull handles on a vintage tool chest. The steel wool will remove the top layer of aluminum along with anything stuck to it. This will leave the aluminum smooth and shiny.

Cleaning Brass

Steel wool also does an excellent job cleaning brass fixtures. It can be used to hand clean ammo brass. This will allow you to remove fouling from brass prior to reloading without having to use a tumbler or ultrasonic cleaner. Follow up with a microfiber cloth to make sure no steel fibers remain on the surface. They can get stuck in your reloading dies or even your firearm.

Rust Removal

One of the most common uses of steel wool is to remove rust. Since steel wool comes in many different grades, it can remove either small or large amounts of rust. Coarse steel wool can remove caked-on rust from garden tools or grills. Very fine steel wool can be used to remove surface rust from firearms and chrome-plated tools.

If the rust is severe, try using a solvent along with the steel wool. This will help dissolve the rust as you are scrubbing. Be sure to use gloves whether you are using a solvent or not. Even when not using a solvent, small pieces of the steel wool can end up in your fingers.

Cold Bluing Firearms

Fine steel wool (0000) can also be used to help cold blue solution blend into the rest of a firearm’s finish. While there are many types of finishes, bluing is one of the most common and has been in use for a long time. Most bluing is done using a hot-dip process that performs a “controlled rusting” of the surface. It is a very dangerous process, but it is perfect for larger surfaces.

Cold bluing is very similar but uses a room-temperature chemical that is applied to the metal with a cloth or swab. It is more well-suited for touch-up work and small parts. The steel wool is used to buff the cold blue after it has been applied to the steel. This helps it blend into the existing finish, making it look much nicer.

Make a Motorcycle Stealthy

Motorcycles are excellent vehicles to have in a survival situation. They are fast and can get into places that cars and trucks can’t. However, they are also very loud. This could draw unwanted attention to you and make it easier for people to follow you.

Some motorcycle owners have packed their muffler cans with #3 stainless steel wool. I have never tried this, and I don’t own a motorcycle. However, this probably works due to the steel wool acting as baffles to dissipate the gasses in the muffler.

Remove Child Graffiti

If you have kids and crayons, eventually some of the crayons will end up on your wall. Fine steel wool can be used to remove those marks from your wallpaper.

Clean Your Oven

Cleaning your oven can get really messy. The chemicals that are used to clean ovens are also very toxic. To reduce your exposure to those harmful chemicals, skip them and use steel wool instead. Some ovens could be damaged by doing this, so read your oven’s instructions.

Long-Term Vehicle Storage

If you need to store your vehicle for an extended period of time, there are several things that you need to do first. One of those things is making sure that animals don’t get into the vehicle through air intakes and mufflers.

To do this, place steel wool in a ziplock bag and seal it. Then place the ziplock bag into the pipe. This will block the pipe, preventing creatures from getting inside. Placing the steel wool in a bag will prevent steel fibers from coming loose inside which could damage the vehicle. Don’t place the bag so far into the pipe that you can’t remove it. It may be a good idea to tie a string around the bag so it can be pulled out even if it gets pushed in further than intended.

What You Need to Know About Steel Wool for Survival

Steel wool can be a valuable tool in a survival situation, however, there are some things you need to know about it to prevent damage to equipment.

Steel Wool Grades

Steel wool is available in several different grades, all the way from very coarse to very fine. Coarse steel wool is labeled with the number 4. It is to be used for heavy rust removal and other intense jobs. Very fine steel wool is labeled with four zeroes (0000). This type of steel wool is suitable for minor surface rust removal and buffing.

Only use coarse steel wool on surfaces where appearances do not matter, such as shovels and other garden tools. Using coarse steel wool on glass and painted surfaces will create bad scratches.

Steel Wool Materials

Steel wool also comes in a few different materials. Regular steel wool is good for general cleaning purposes. However, any fibers that remain on a surface will rust very quickly. Stainless steel wool will not rust and is good for use as muffler baffling and rodent barriers.

Bronze wool has many of the advantages of stainless steel wool, the main one being that it won’t rust. It is used in marine and industrial applications.

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