Jan 19, 2024

How to repaint rusted patio furniture

Q: I have a metal patio set that I bought about 20 years ago. It is rusting, and the paint is coming off, but it’s in good condition otherwise. Can it be sanded and repainted, preferably by a professional?

A: Yes, metal patio furniture can be repainted. You can do it yourself, but a professional job will be much easier and last longer.

If you do it yourself, begin by wire-brushing to remove as much rust and old paint as possible. Then apply a chemical rust remover, such as Rust-Oleum’s rust dissolver gel ($16.99 for a quart at Ace Hardware). You can squirt it on or use a brush. The instructions warn that it will strip off paint, but for a job like this, that’s an advantage, because you want that gone — or at least etched — too.

Leave the gel on the metal for 15 to 20 minutes, then rinse with water where the runoff doesn’t flow into sewers or waterways — something you don’t have to worry about if you get the refinishing done by a professional. If rust and paint remain, repeat the process, but wait a little longer before rinsing. (If you can’t get all the rust off, you can still repaint, but choose a primer that sticks to rusty metal, and be aware that the finish might not be as smooth.) After the final rinse, dry the furniture with a clean cloth.

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Apply paint within 48 hours, so rust doesn’t reappear before you protect the metal. Standard house paint won’t do, because water vapor can wick through, causing rust. You need an oil-based paint in either a spray or brush formula. Get the primer that the manufacturer recommends based on the paint you’re using. Even within a brand, the specific pairing of paint to primer may vary. This might be mostly a marketing decision, but why risk paint failure by using a primer that could be incompatible?

If you want to use the Rust-Oleum Professional high-performance enamel gloss spray paint, you should use the Rust-Oleum Professional flat red primer spray if some rust remains, or the gray version if the surface is mostly bright metal. (A 15-ounce can of these products is $10.48 at Home Depot.) Or if you want to use a brush-on paint, such as the Rust-Oleum Stops Rust protective enamel, prime with the rusty metal primer if considerable rust remains, or with the flat white clean metal primer if the rust is mostly gone (each $16.48 a quart at Home Depot).

Spray paint gets into uneven areas, such as the mesh backs and the seats on chairs, but overspray can be a mess. Brush-on paint wastes less. It’s easiest to apply it with a small roller, then quickly follow with a small brush to get paint into details, such as mesh.

No matter how careful you are with spray or brush-on paint, you’ll probably miss some small crevices. And for furniture that’s out in the weather, that’s where rust will probably begin. A professional job by a company equipped for powder coating should be able to get paint onto even the most hidden spots because of how powder coating works: The paint is neither a liquid nor an aerosol spray; instead, it’s a powder that’s given an electrical charge opposite to the charge temporarily given to the metal. That draws the paint to the chair like a magnet. “It wants to stick and to get into all the nooks and crannies,” said Gary Lamb, owner of Extreme Powder Coating in Lorton, Va. (703-339-8233;

For $165 to $180 per chair, his shop would sandblast the metal to remove all rust and paint. The company would make any repairs needed, such as spot-welding parts that separated, and it would pretreat for rust using iron phosphate. Then it would pressure-wash the chairs and put them into an oven to dry. To prime and paint, it would attach the furniture to a metal rack and give these a negative charge. The paint, which Lamb said has the consistency of talc, shoots out from a gun with a positive charge. Once coated, the chairs would be wheeled into an oven until the paint cures, in about 20 to 30 minutes.

“There’s no solvent, no VOCs, no thinners,” Lamb said, referring to volatile organic compounds.

If you opt for this approach, you’ll have an array of color options, including metallics and neons, as well as the basics. Lamb said his company has 350 colors in stock. As with all paint, a few colors — especially reds — are more prone to fading than others. Nevertheless, Lamb said, he has a glider at his house that he painted maroon 18 years ago. Only now is it beginning to fade noticeably, he said.

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