How To Repaint Iron Railings

2-4 hours work time (depending on the size of the job) plus 2-4 hours paint-drying time
Can You Save My Iron Railings?

iron railings1

The truth is that everything breaks down eventually. Sagging, peeling, flaking and rusting are all part of nature's way of telling us to freshen things up from time to time. When it comes to home maintenance, it's easy to overlook the little things you see every day. So, nature steps in and gives us a little push, in the guise of environmental conditions.

Take a look at your iron railings, for example. Outdoor metallic surfaces such as iron railings are quite sensitive to environmental conditions, and prone to rust and chipping. Oxygen, airborne moisture, salt water and direct sunlight all have corrosive effects on paint and finish. Here's a satisfying little project to be completed in less than half a day (depending on the size of your railwork) that will de-flake your railings and stave off nature's little reminders that time marches on. So if your currently de-railed, bring those worthy old bars back to life with a new coat of paint.

* What, no flakes, rust or chips? Hoorah for you—simply re-paint every 6 years and head to step 5 for maintenance tips!

Project Steps

Step 1

Whenever you paint, no matter what you paint, always start with a clean surface. Using the scrub brush, scour away the grime using the cleaning solution and let it dry completely. Then protect the surrounding area, covering it fully with the drop cloth, and drape yourself in protective covering while you're at it—goggles, cap, and coveralls. You may look like an Oompa-Loompa, but you'll keep the paint flakes out of your hair and ears!

Scuff the entire railing, top and bottom, using the wire brush or drill with sanding pad. Focus on eliminating all paint bubbles or other textural inconsistencies to provide a smoother surface and allow the paint to adhere.

Jane Tip: Scraping and sanding old paint can release toxic dusts, so be sure to wear a NIOSH-approved respirator to stay safe. If there's any chance you're pregnant, avoid the risk altogether. You can learn more at

Step 2

Removing all rust areas will ensure an even finish and keep your railing looking better for longer. How you remove it depends on how extensive it is. Hand-sand light rust with the emery cloth. Sand or grind heavier rust with the drill and sander attachment or a heavier weight emery cloth.

After removing all traces of rust, keep the stuff from returning by applying a rust neutralizer, which can be found at your local hardware store.

Step 3

Vacuum or sweep up the dust, paint chips and rust flakes, and wipe down the railing with a clean cloth, making sure the entire area is clean. You don't want old debris settling back onto your railing and marring the paint finish. You may want to rub down the metal with mineral spirits and an emery cloth to clean up the railing and wipe away any remnants of old paint.

Don't delay getting your repainting started; in only a few hours, the elements can actually start to take a toll on unfinished iron.

Using a roller or aerosol can, apply two coats of rust-inhibiting primer. As for technique: applying multiple, lighter coats is more effective and neater than laying it on thick with your first coat. Aerosol application is definitely more wasteful of paint, but it does provide a much smoother finish, since it leaves no nap.

Jane Tip: Mix paint conditioner in with your primer to seal the surface from the elements.

Step 4

Be sure the primer coats are completely dry before you begin painting. Take this time to adjust your drop cloths, making sure they cover the entire area to catch drips, spills or stray sprays of paint.

Select a color that complements its location; basic black is a traditional choice, but the paint aisle at your home improvement store will reveal a rainbow of alternatives. Consider metallic colors that contrast or blend in with nearby colors; you can also choose from flat, satin, semi-gloss or gloss finish, depending on your desired end result.

You also have a choice when it comes to how you'll apply your new paint. Aerosol sprays are expensive and can get messy, but the application is fast and even. If you use aerosol, you may want to increase drop cloth coverage, and make free use of masking tape over any areas you don't want painted.

You can also opt for a paint roller. A double roller is a nifty way to coat both sides of the railing at once, though in tricky areas near posts and turns you'll need to turn to a small paint sponge to fill in the gaps. Alternately, you can choose to hand-paint the entire railing, making sure to apply the paint evenly and fill all crevices. For this job, a paint sponge is preferable to a brush, which can leave stray brush hairs and marks behind.

Jane Tip: For best results, avoid painting in direct sunlight, rain or high humidity. In buggy weather, opt for a faster-drying paint so the little critters don't get stuck in the paint and become immortalized in your railing.

Step 5

To keep your railing rust-free, neutralize the surface by wiping the iron down with white vinegar once a year. Let it dry, and follow with a coat of car wax to seal it. As a general rule, iron railings need to be sanded and repainted every 6 years or so--more or less, depending on the amount of direct sunlight or moisture they are exposed to.

Conclusion: A fresh coat of paint and a little yearly maintenance will go a long way in keeping your railings flake-free. It's little like Retin-A for your porch!

Related articles:
Exterior Paint Prep
Repair your Aging Fence
Amp up your Curb Appeal