One thing I inherited from my late father is a small house in Evia, an island off of Athens. When I first visited the place, it had been closed for a couple of years, with no one visiting. What struck me was how rusted everything was, including even nickel faucets and pipes.

When I mentioned this to my mother, she recalled how they had spent a couple of months there, then took my dad’s car to be serviced. The mechanic asked them if they had left the car close to the sea and was even able to tell them how my dad parked, based on the prevalence of rust on one side of the underside.

So, one has to wonder: how did knights and soldiers maintain their metal armor in the past? Surely that would rust just as fast, right?

As Eric Lowe explains, there were three main ways of looking after your armor: polishing, painting, and seasoning.

Polishing Your Armor

A really high polish (so-called “white” armor) is actually more rust-resistant than either painting or bluing. Of course, a really high polish also takes an awful lot of work … but that’s part of the point. A mirror-polished harness is proof that you take very serious care of your kit and that you have enough people working for you that you can get a mirror polish. Plus, it looks pretty intimidating when charging atop your horse.

Polished armor | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books
Polished armor. Image: Quora

Painting Your Armor

Men-at-arms cared a lot about the aesthetics of their armor. Not to the point of sacrificing function to form, of course, but when it came to aesthetic features that didn’t compromise function—such as what color their armor should be—yes, aesthetics were a large consideration. Painting your armor, however, was also one way to fight rust and protect your fighting kit.

Painted armor | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books
Painted armor. Image: RoyalOakArmoury.com via Quora

Seasoning Your Armor

“Blued” armor was quite popular in some parts of the world and in some time periods: partly for aesthetics and partly because it protects the underlying steel from rust. The simplest way to season your armor was to dab a piece of cloth in oil and rub all parts that were at risk from rust.

Seasoned armor | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books
Seasoned (“blue”) armor. Image: Quora

As a general rule, painted armor was “lower-class” than either blued or white armor. Blued and white armor tended to be of roughly equal prestige value and appealed to different aesthetics.