How to Paint to Cover up Rust

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

Step 1

Protect your hands by donning gloves.

Step 2

Remove loose particles of rust using a wire brush.

Step 3

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

Step 4

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

Step 5

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.

Step 6

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


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.