Painting on Rusted Metal: What to Know

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

Project step-by-step (3)

Step 1

Prep rusty metal for a new coat of paint: For light rust

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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.

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 (Photo 1). 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.

Step 2

For Heavy Rust

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If the area is heavily rusted and pitted and wire brushing by hand is ineffective, use a drill with a wire wheel (Photo 2) and a primer that adheres to rusted surfaces, such as Krylon Rust Tough or Rust-Oleum. Grind down heavily rusted metal spots faster with a wire wheel and a drill or angle grinder.

Step 3

For Problem Spots

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Coat deeply rusted metal areas with a special primer that chemically converts rust to a paintable surface. Once done, you can paint over rust. This also works great as metal fence paint or metal shed paint.

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 (Photo 3). Once done, you can paint over rust.