How to Prep Rusty Metal for a New Coat of Paint

Get rid of the rust before you paint.

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Got rust? We can show you how to get rid of it. The key is to properly prep the rusty steel before you paint. A little work up front will yield long lasting results.

Tools Required

  • Angle grinder
  • Corded drill
  • Wire brush
  • Wire wheel

Materials Required

  • Rust-inhibitive primer
  • Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer

Can You Spray Paint Metal?

In short, yes! That old wrought iron fence or steel gutter may look terrible, but with the right preparation and primer, most rusty metal surfaces can be restored to almost new.

Project step-by-step (3)

Step 1

Prep the metal

The first step is to clean off loose rust and flaking paint and then apply a rust-inhibitive primer. You don’t need to get down to bare, shiny metal—just clean off the flakes and powdery surface rust that prevent paint from adhering. However, badly rusted metal areas need more prep work and possibly a special primer.

Start with a wire brush. Scrub partially rusted metal areas with a wire brush to remove flakes and powdery surface rust, then prime with a rust-inhibitive primer. Once done, you can paint over rust.

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Step 2

Treating heavy rust

If the area is heavily rusted and pitted and wire brushing by hand is ineffective, use a drill with a wire wheel to remove rust, and a primer that adheres to rusted surfaces. Grind down heavily rusted metal spots with a wire wheel and a drill or angle grinder, or for smaller rusted objects, try removing rust with electrolysis.

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Step 3

Treating problem spots

Coat deeply rusted metal areas with a special primer that chemically converts rust to a paintable surface. Once done, you can paint over the rusty spot. This also works great as metal fence paint, metal shed paint, or for older steel lawn and garden equipment such as lawnmowers or wheelbarrows.

For spots that are very badly rusted or too delicate or detailed to clean thoroughly, use a product like Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer, which soaks into the rust and changes it into a non-rusting, paintable surface. Once done, you can paint over rust.

Family Handyman