How to Remove Rust From Metal Before Painting

Do not paint over bare rust.
Do not paint over bare rust. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Oxidation is a natural process that occurs when metal is exposed to oxygen and water. Unless it is galvanized, a metal surface will rust when exposed to exterior weather. If you would like to paint a rusted surface, dedicate yourself to thorough preparation, or adhesion difficulties will inevitably result. Rust removal is essential to promoting a durable, lasting finish. Fortunately, metal is strong enough to allow for rough removal techniques. Employ the correct tools, or the process may take much longer than it should.

Things You'll Need

  • Pressure washer
  • Gloves
  • Protective eyewear
  • Wire brush
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • Steel wool
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Red oxide primer
  • 2- to 3-inch natural-bristled paintbrush
  • Mineral spirits

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Eliminate as much rust as possible from exterior metal surfaces with a pressure washer. Skip this step if the rusted surface is located indoors.

Wear protective work gloves and eyewear. Scrape away loose rust fragments with a wire brush. Smooth the remaining rust particles with 80-grit sandpaper.

Coat the rusted surface with an iron oxide primer before you paint it. Use a natural-bristled brush to apply the primer. Allow the iron oxide primer to dry for two hours before you paint.

Tips & Warnings

  • Wash the iron oxide primer from your brush with mineral spirits.
  • Never paint unprimed rusted surfaces, or peeling will result.
  • Do not paint over loose fragments of rust, or adhesion problems will result.
  • Do not use ordinary primers on rusted surfaces, or you will see a recurrence of rust.
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