How to Paint Over Rusted Metal: A Comprehensive Guide from a Professional Painter

Bob Thomas


As a qualified painter and decorator, I've encountered rusted metal surfaces more times than I can count.

Rusted metal can be a real eyesore, but with the right approach and tools, it's possible to bring these surfaces back to life.

In this article, I'll guide you through the process of painting over rusted metal to achieve a durable, professional finish.

Quick Summary

To paint over rusted metal, follow these steps: 1) Remove loose rust, 2) Clean the surface, 3) Apply rust converter, 4) Prime the surface, 5) Paint the metal, and 6) Add a protective topcoat. Using the right tools and materials, as well as following proper painting techniques, will ensure a successful and long-lasting finish.

Remove Loose Rust

To start, you'll need to remove any loose rust from the metal surface. You can do this using a wire brush, sandpaper, or a power tool like an angle grinder with a wire wheel attachment.

  • For small, less severe rust spots, use a wire brush or sandpaper (80-120 grit).
  • For larger or more heavily rusted areas, consider using a power tool like an angle grinder.

Remember to wear proper safety gear, such as gloves and eye protection, while working on this step.

Clean the Surface

After removing loose rust, it's essential to clean the metal surface.

Dirt, grease, and other contaminants can prevent paint and primer from adhering properly.

Use a mild detergent or degreaser and a sponge or cloth to clean the surface.

Rinse the metal with water and allow it to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

Apply Rust Converter

A rust converter is a chemical solution that neutralizes rust and creates a stable surface for painting.

Apply the rust converter according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Typically, you'll need to brush or spray the solution onto the rusted areas and let it dry for a specified period.

Some popular rust converters include:

  • Corroseal Rust Converter
  • Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer
  • Krud Kutter Rust Converter

Prime the Surface

Priming is crucial when painting over rusted metal, as it provides a barrier against moisture and improves paint adhesion.

Use a rust-inhibiting primer designed for metal surfaces, such as Rust-Oleum Rusty Metal Primer or KILZ Original Multi-Surface Primer.

Follow these steps to apply the primer:

  1. Stir the primer well before using.
  2. Apply the primer with a brush or roller, covering the entire surface evenly.
  3. Allow the primer to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions (usually 24 hours).

Paint the Metal

Once the primer is dry, you can apply your chosen paint.

Use a paint designed for metal surfaces, such as Rust-Oleum Protective Enamel or Sherwin-Williams All Surface Enamel.

Paint the metal using a brush, roller, or paint sprayer, depending on the size of the surface and your preference.

Apply multiple thin coats, allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.

Usually, two to three coats are sufficient for a durable, even finish.

Add a Protective Topcoat

To further protect your newly painted metal surface, consider applying a clear topcoat.

A topcoat adds an extra layer of protection against moisture, UV rays, and scratches.

Use a product like Rust-Oleum Crystal Clear Enamel or Krylon Clear Protective Finishes.

Apply the topcoat in the same manner as the paint, using thin, even coats.

Let the topcoat dry completely between coats, and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for drying time before using or handling the painted metal surface.

Bonus Tips for Painting Over Rusted Metal

  • Proper surface preparation is key to a successful and long-lasting paint job. Don't rush the process and make sure each step is completed thoroughly.
  • Pay attention to the weather when working outdoors. Ideal painting conditions are warm, dry days with low humidity. Avoid painting in direct sunlight, high humidity, or temperatures below 50°F (10°C).
  • Test your paint and primer on a small, inconspicuous area of the metal surface to ensure compatibility and the desired finish.
  • Maintain your painted metal surfaces by periodically inspecting them for signs of rust or damage. Address any issues promptly to prolong the life of the paint job.

Personal Experience: Transforming a Rusted Metal Patio Set

I took on a project to restore a rusted metal patio set for a client.

The chairs and table had been exposed to the elements for years, and rust had taken its toll.

Following the steps outlined in this guide, I successfully transformed the patio set into a beautiful and functional outdoor centerpiece.

I started by removing loose rust with a wire brush and sandpaper.

Then, I thoroughly cleaned the metal surfaces with a degreaser and water. I applied a rust converter to the rusted areas and let it dry.

Afterward, I primed the entire set with a rust-inhibiting primer and allowed it to dry for 24 hours.

Next, I painted the chairs and table with a high-quality metal paint in a fresh, modern color chosen by the client.

I applied three thin coats of paint, ensuring even coverage and allowing each coat to dry before applying the next.

Finally, I sealed the paint job with a clear topcoat for added protection.

The client was thrilled with the results.

The patio set not only looked brand new but was also protected against future rust and wear.

Frequently Asked Questions Section  (FAQs)

Q. Can I use regular paint on rusted metal surfaces?

  A: Regular paint might not provide the necessary protection against rust and corrosion.

It is recommended to use a paint specifically designed for metal surfaces, as it offers better adhesion, durability, and resistance to rust and corrosion.

Q. Is it necessary to apply a topcoat after painting the metal?

  A: While it is not always mandatory, applying a topcoat can provide additional protection to the painted surface, helping to prolong the life of the paint job and enhance its appearance.

A clear topcoat is particularly useful for outdoor metal items that are exposed to the elements.

Q. What can I do if rust reappears after painting?

  A: If rust reappears after painting, it could be due to improper surface preparation or an insufficient paint job.

Address the issue by removing the rust, cleaning the area, and repainting it following the steps outlined in this guide.

Q. Can I use a power washer to remove loose rust and clean the metal surface?

  A: Using a power washer can help to remove loose rust and clean the metal surface; however, it might not be enough to remove all the rust.

After power washing, it is still essential to use a wire brush and sandpaper to ensure all rust is removed before proceeding with the painting process.

Q. How long should I wait before using the painted metal item?

  A: The drying time can vary depending on the type of paint and environmental conditions.

It is best to follow the manufacturer's recommendations for drying time, but as a general rule, allow at least 24 hours for the paint to dry before handling or using the painted metal item.

For outdoor items, it may be best to wait for several days to ensure the paint has fully cured.


In conclusion, painting over rusted metal may seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools, materials, and techniques, you can achieve professional, long-lasting results.

By following this comprehensive guide, you can successfully transform your rusted metal surfaces and enjoy their renewed beauty for years to come.

Suggested Products:

  1. Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Protective Enamel: A top choice for a rust-preventive paint, Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Protective Enamel provides a durable, long-lasting finish that helps combat rust and corrosion on metal surfaces.
  2. Krylon Rust Protector Paint: This quick-drying formula offers excellent coverage and protection against rust, making it ideal for restoring and maintaining rust-free metal surfaces.
  3. POR-15 Rust Preventive Coating: Known for its incredible resistance to rust and corrosion, POR-15 is a high-performance coating that helps to seal and protect metal surfaces from further rusting.
  4. Evapo-Rust Super Safe Rust Remover: An environmentally friendly option for rust removal, Evapo-Rust effectively removes rust without harming the metal surface, allowing for a smooth, clean surface to apply your chosen paint.
  5. 3M SandBlaster Pro Sandpaper: With its advanced grit technology, 3M SandBlaster Pro Sandpaper provides superior performance when it comes to removing rust and smoothing metal surfaces, ensuring the best possible adhesion for your paint.
  6. Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer: This rust reformer instantly bonds with rust and converts it into a non-rusting, paintable surface, making it an excellent product for treating heavily rusted metal surfaces before painting.
  7. Jasco Prep and Primer: An all-in-one primer and rust inhibitor, Jasco Prep and Primer prepares metal surfaces for painting by sealing and protecting them against rust and corrosion, ensuring a long-lasting and rust-free paint job.
  8. Rust-Oleum Clear Topcoat: This protective topcoat is designed to enhance the durability and appearance of your painted metal surfaces, providing an extra layer of defense against the elements and preventing rust from taking hold.

About the author 

Bob Thomas

A fully certified interior decorator and house painter , Bob Thomas brings immense expertise and knowledge amassed from many years of hands-on experience with residential, commercial and specialty painting and decorating projects of all sizes and scopes.

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