Get a primer on a metal makeover you can use to restore rusted relics to better-than-new condition.
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Elegant and durable, metal makes an appearance on furnishings and decor in and out of the house, from entryway benches to patio chairs and fence posts. But the strong material has an Achilles heel: rust. Any metal made of iron or alloys containing iron, such as steel, will rust with enough exposure to oxygen and moisture. Paint offers one way to spare these rusted pieces from the junkyard and restore their looks while lending them a pop of color. But painting rust shouldn’t begin without first understanding the scope, benefits, and limitations of the project. Read about them below before going to the rescue of your rusted possessions with paint.
Stick to painting metals with strictly surface rust.
Painting rusted metal is not only possible but can produce beautiful results—as long as the rust doesn’t extend beyond the surface of the metal piece. If rust has partially or fully eaten through the metal (i.e. pits or holes are visible in the piece) or the piece has structurally weakened to the point that you can bend it by hand, then paint won’t halt the corrosion and inevitable crumbling of the metal. Filling the pits with an auto body filler product (like Bondo, available from Amazon) would be your best option for restoring it, or else you’ll need to replace the metal piece altogether.
You’ll face blistering and peeling paint if you don’t remove loose rust first.
A primer can help paint adhere to a rusted metal piece, but you still must first remove as much loose rust as possible from the surface first. Otherwise, the metal will continue to shed the loose rust, pushing the dried paint coat upward until it blisters or peels off.
To avoid this, detach any hardware (screws, nails, etc.) from the metal surface, then run over it with a wire brush or sandpaper to scrape off as much rust as possible. Then, when no more rust flakes off, remove grit, grime, and grease. All it takes is a pass with a soft cloth dampened with a homemade degreasing solution—four teaspoons liquid dish soap mixed in one gallon of warm water—followed by a “rinse” using a water-dampened rag. Let the metal air-dry completely before breaking out the primer.
You’ll need to apply a primer to boost paint adhesion and prevent discoloration.
With the loose rust gone, your metal may either show extensive surface rust or little to no rust. Good news: You can cover up either! But paint alone doesn’t adhere as well to rust—even light rust—and when it does stick, rust stains can bleed through the paint coat and discolor it. A primer specific to your amount of rust will help aid adhesion.
- If painting over extensive rust, prime it with a water- or oil-based interior-exterior rust conversion metal primer (available for around $4 to $17 per 10 to 13 ounces in spray or standard cans from brands like Rustoleum and Gempler’s via The Home Depot and Amazon, respectively). This coating will chemically convert the rust into a flat, usually black, non-rustable surface that’s ready to receive paint.
- If painting over lightly rusted or bare metal (i.e. no rust remained after wire brushing it), then top it with a water- or oil-based interior-exterior rust-preventative metal primer (available for $4 to $8 per 12 to 15 ounces in spray or standard cans from brands like Rustoleum via The Home Depot). The primer will penetrate the rust and bond with the underlying metal.
You want to apply the primer as soon as possible after wire brushing and cleaning it since the metal will otherwise continue to rust with exposure to oxygen. Apply one to three coats of the appropriate primer to the metal surface, letting each coat dry to the touch before applying the next, then drying the final coat fully for the recommended amount of time.
You can achieve a range of looks with commercial metal paints.
The primed metal piece can be coated with either water- or oil-based metal paint (available for $4 to $9 per 12 ounces in spray or standard cans from brands like Rust-Oleum via The Home Depot) in a wide spectrum of colors. Non-metallic colors like hunter green, in flat or matte sheens, can be used to give metal a back-to-nature look, while metallic colors like gray in a glossy sheen can be used to play up the lustrous, modern look of metal.
Pro Tip: Aim to apply one or more coats of whichever paint color and sheen you choose, allowing each coat to dry according to the paint instructions before applying the next.
You can save lots of money painting rusted metal pieces rather than replacing them.
Painting rusty metal items versus replacing them is a win for your wallet. Add up the costs of a 12-ounce spray can of rust conversion primer and a 12-ounce can of metal paint that each cover around 15 square feet, and you’ll find that painting the rusty surface of a small metal piece such as an end table runs you as little as $8. Compared to the cost of scrapping the item and buying it new (which might start at $25 for a barebones metal end table), you’re looking at a savings of at least $17 for a minor project alone. The savings climb even more when painting larger or more decorative metal pieces.
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You should steer clear of oil-based finishes on galvanized metal.
The protective coating around galvanized metal (usually made of zinc) can corrode with exposure to heavy rain or an accidental splash of a powerful household chemical like muriatic acid. With continued exposure to the atmosphere, the metal piece can form white rust. While you should still scrape off loose rust and clean the metal as recommended above for other metals, you should only apply a latex all-surface primer or universal bonding primer ($5 to $13 per 12 ounces from brands like Rust-Oleum via The Home Depot) and a latex interior-exterior paint ($11 to $13 per 12 ounces from brands like Krylon via Walmart) to galvanized metal. The reaction of zinc with the binders in oil-based primers and paints will only cause the paint to peel off.
Use these five fast fixes to remove unsightly rust remains in and out of the home.
You might recall from Chemistry 101 that only iron or iron alloys like steel can form rust when exposed to oxygen and moisture. But that doesn’t completely limit rust’s reach. In fact, when rust comes into contact with other materials that you wouldn’t expect to rust—your work clothes, concrete garage floor, or even the ceramic sink in the bathroom—it can leave behind nasty stains that generally don’t come off with soap and water alone.
Fortunately, relief from rust stains is close at hand, if you only know where to look. Read on for the strategies needed to remove rust stains from five not-all-that-uncommon places.
How to Remove Rust from Clothing
THE FIX: Lemon and salt
Sporting a rust stain on your favorite white shirt? You can blame a rusty laundry machine drum, a brush with a rusty railing, or sloughed off rust deposits inside old pipes that feed into your laundry room sink.
Whatever the cause, the simplest solution for removing the rust stains from your white clothing is a couple of fridge essentials that are tough on rust but gentle on cotton, polyester, and other relatively durable fabrics: lemon and salt.
- Rub a cut lemon half onto the stain until saturated to unleash the fruit’s rust-removing citric and ascorbic acid.
- Sprinkle a dash of table salt over the stain and work it into the fabric fibers with a soft cloth to help draw out the stain.
- Lay the garment out in direct sun (treated side face up) for two to three hours to fade the stain completely.
- Finally, machine wash and dry it as per usual to remove the lemon-salt residue and reveal rust-free, like-new threads!
Do note that, if using this technique on delicate fabrics like chiffon, you’ll want to avoid doing more harm than good by testing the lemon juice out on a small, inconspicuous area of the garment before applying it to any stains on visible areas of the garment.
Shroud Rust Skin
Also keep in mind that, because lemon juice is a natural bleaching agent, this trick is best saved for your white duds that need to be returned to their original color.
How to Remove Rust from Carpeting
THE FIX: Vinegar and salt
Shroud Rust Drop
If your carpet was stained by rusty metal furnishings once dragged across its pile, try this simple trick before you go the route of a costly carpet tear-out and replacement.
- Saturate a clean, lint-free cloth in white vinegar and lightly wring it out until it no longer drips.
- Sprinkle a scant amount of table salt over the rust stain with salt and place the wet cloth over it.
- Let the cloth sit for half an hour—the abrasive properties of the salt and the acids in the vinegar will help draw out and dissolve the rust buildup and neutralize any unpleasant odors in the carpet.
- Remove the cloth and inspect the stain again. If it’s still visible, re-soak the cloth in the vinegar, lay it over the stain again, and give it another half hour.
- Once the carpet stain has faded, let the vinegar dry on its own.
- To finish the job, vacuum the spot a few hours later to pick up any lingering grains of salt and restore the fluffiness of the carpet fibers.
How to Remove Rust from Ceramic or Porcelain
THE FIX: Hydrogen peroxide
Have you ever picked up a canister of shaving cream from the edge of a tub or sink one day to find a reddish-orange ring left behind in its place? A salve for everyday cuts and scrapes, hydrogen peroxide can also cure ceramic or porcelain tubs, showers, and sinks of these stubborn rust stains and those commonly left behind by dissolved iron in water—all thanks to the stain-lifting and brightening power of its oxygen component.
- Mix up a paste consisting of one part 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and two parts cream of tartar.
- Apply it with a soft sponge to the offending stain.
- Let the paste dwell on the ceramic or porcelain surface for one or two hours.
- Scrub down the stain with a stiff-bristle brush.
- When the rust is gone, run water from a tub or faucet tap (or use a water-dampened cloth if no faucets are nearby) to rinse away the crustiness that’s left over.
How to Remove Rust from Stainless Steel
THE FIX: Baking soda
While the chromium oxide that coats stainless steel sinks and countertops makes them more resilient to rust than traditional steel, that coating is not foolproof. It can degrade with time, after which rust stains can crop up on stainless steel just like on ordinary steel. Fortunately, a dash of baking soda can remove rust stains small and large from stainless steel; its mildly abrasive properties and alkaline pH allow it to lift stains and neutralize any acids on the steel surface that may worsen the rusting.
To banish small rust stains on stainless steel, use a soft clean cloth to work a baking soda paste—one tablespoon baking soda and two cups of water—onto the stained area of the steel in the direction of the steel grain (horizontal or vertical). Then, wipe away the paste with a water-dampened paper towel.
To remove rust stains that are on the larger side, sprinkle a layer of baking soda over the stained area and let it dwell for 30 minutes to an hour. Then you can gently scrub the soda into the stain with a soft-bristle scrub brush (again, go with the direction of the grain). Wipe down the soda-laden area with a water-dampened paper towel, follow up with a dry paper towel, and watch your stainless steel sparkle!
How to Remove Rust from Concrete
THE FIX: Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
Corroded garage door parts, rust patches on vehicles, and iron deposits in pipes or wells that supply water to lawn sprinklers are common culprits behind rust stains that appear on your garage floors, driveways, and other concrete surfaces. You’ll typically need to bring in an industrial-strength degreaser known as trisodium phosphate (TSP) to give them the heave-ho, as rust stains on concrete tend to be larger and cause more severe discoloration.
Shroud Rust Sens
- Donning protective gloves and glasses, mix one-half cup of TSP with a half-gallon of hot water in a large bucket.
- Pour enough of the mixture onto the concrete to cover the stain.
- Let the solution dwell for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Scrub down the concrete with a push broom (a broom with a handle attached at an angle) featuring stiff bristles.
- Rinse the solution away with plain water from a pressure washer, and you should see that your concrete has reclaimed its original hue.