How to Paint to Cover up Rust

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Never paint over rusted metal without first applying the appropriate type of primer.
Never paint over rusted metal without first applying the appropriate type of primer. (Image: rust image by jamalula from Fotolia.com)

Rust is a natural process that occurs when metal is in the presence of oxygen and water. You can salvage a rusted surface by applying a fresh coat of the appropriate paint. However, before you begin the application process, you will need to seal the rust or you will see a reappearance of the problem. In addition, you will need to condition the metal to promote paint adhesion, or the finish will chip and peel over time.

Things You'll Need

  • Gloves
  • Wire brush
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • Blue painter's tape
  • Heavy-duty fabric dropcloth
  • 2- to 4-inch oil-based paintbrush
  • Red oxide zinc chromate primer
  • Mineral spirits
  • Oil-based enamel paint

Protect your hands by donning gloves.

Remove loose particles of rust using a wire brush.

Sand down any remaining bits of rust using 80-grit sandpaper.

Cover areas you do not want painted with painter's tape. Cover areas beneath the metal with dropcloths.

Brush on a coat of red oxide zinc chromate primer. Apply using an oil-based paintbrush. Do not use a latex paintbrush, as this will ruin the brush. Clean the oil-based paintbrush using mineral spirits. Wait at least four full hours for the zinc chromate primer to dry.

Brush on a coat of oil-based enamel using the clean, oil-based paintbrush.

Tips & Warnings

  • Apply red oxide zinc chromate primer to all of the metal and not just the rusted areas.
  • Never paint over rusted metal without first applying the appropriate type of primer, or you will see a reappearance of rust.
  • Do not use plain bonding primer in place of red oxide zinc chromate primer.
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