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How to Paint Over Rust in 7 Steps

person wearing glove paints over rusty radiator
seroma72 / Shutterstock

Ready to freshen up your home’s style? It may be time to slather on some new paint to boost your curb appeal and get your home ready for resale — but sometimes rusted metal areas can be intimidating to tackle. If that’s the case, don’t fret: You may not have to replace that gate or gutter just because it’s rusting. You might just need to try a coat of rust paint.

Even if you’re a newbie when it comes to DIY projects, painting over rusted accessories or patio furniture doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. Each piece is different, so follow these steps to ensure a successful DIY project for your home. Here are some professional tricks of the trade for painting over rusty metal (and finding the perfect rust paint).

How to paint over rust spots, step by step

Step 1: Check for structural damage to the metal

Check the extent of the rust. If it’s only surface-level rust where it flakes off by gently touching, the paint will hold better. But if the rust is deeper, you may need to consider replacing it. If the rusty area is at all bendable or malleable, it’s too far gone to consider painting. No matter how high quality the primer and paint are, once a piece of metal is rusted beyond the point of no return, you’re better off replacing it.

Step 2: Scrape off excess rust

Before you can begin priming and painting your project, you’ll need to remove all of the rust and begin with a clean slate. If you don’t, your new paint job will have an uneven surface and risk peeling.  Effective tools to use on rusted metal include wire brushes and sandpaper. Run a wire brush gently over the rust a few times or until all of the rust flakes away. Next, rinse the area with warm water and wipe with a soft cloth to get rid of excess grime and grease that might be leftover from the rust damage.

Tip: Make your own homemade solution to de-grease the rusted area by mixing gentle dish soap and water, applying it to the rusted area, then allowing it to air dry before priming.

Step 3: Use a quality primer before painting

In order to get the paint to adhere to the metal once the rust is gone, a quality primer is key. Rinse the area with water and allow it to dry. Then, completely coat and cover the area with an oil-based rust conversion metal primer. These primers can easily be found at Amazon, Lowe’s, Home Depot, or wherever you choose to shop for your home improvement goods.

Step 4: Apply the paint

Depending on your style, painting over rust can take on a variety of looks and textures. One of our favorite rust paint brands to use when painting over rust is Rust-Oleum in a spray can. By using a spray can to paint over rust, you’ll get a more even texture rather than using a standard paintbrush. Using a spray can to paint allows for a more consistent and professional-looking paint job. It will also do an exceptional job at coating each spot on hard-to-reach areas.

Paint as many coats as per your paint’s instructions, and wait until each coat dries before starting the next.

Products and tools you’ll need to paint over rust

When prepping for a DIY project, make sure you have all the key tools you’ll need beforehand. These will vary depending on how excessive the condition of the rust is — you could need anything from sandpaper to a wire brush to a wire wheel tool.

  • Sandpaper: Use a rectangular piece of fine- or medium-grit sandpaper to remove rust. This sandpaper piece is washable and can be used for a variety of different DIY projects around your home.
  • Wire brush: A wire brush is ideal for removing rust quickly and efficiently.
  • Wire wheel: A wire wheel can be attached as a drill head to remove excessive rust from an object. Be sure to wear protective eyewear when operating with a wire wheel.
  • Drop cloth: A drop cloth will protect other surfaces from flaking rust or debris from the removal process.
  • Spray paint and primer: Spray paint and primer made for covering rust creates an ideal barrier to the elements when covering up previously rusted areas and will often help prevent rust from returning.

When not to paint over rusty metal

It’s vital to inspect the rust thoroughly before you begin painting simply because you don’t want to waste your time. If a piece of rusted metal is too far gone, no amount of prep and primer will be able to bring it back to life. Be sure to check and assess if the rusted metal is structurally sound enough to fulfill its purpose — whether it’s a piece of patio furniture or an iron gate you hope to salvage.

Frequently Asked Questions

When can you paint over rust?
You can paint over rust when the rust is only surface level. You can tell it’s surface-level rust if it only flakes off by gently touching. On the other hand, if the rust is deeper, you may need to consider replacing it. If the rusty area is at all bendable, it’s too far gone to paint.

How long should I let the paint dry after painting over rust?
After painting on top of rust, we suggest waiting five to nine hours before handling. The paint will be completely dry after a full 24 hours. If you are applying multiple coats of paint, make sure to let each coat dry in between applications.

What kind of rust paint is best?

You should start painting over rust with an oil-based rust conversion metal primer. Next, we recommend using a spray paint for rusty metal, like Rust-Oleum.


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