What is the Best Primer for Rusted Metal?

best metal primer for rust

If you ever see a piece of rusted metal in your home or workspace, just know that you could have prevented that with a little primer.

Primer stops metal rusting, keeping your metal surface nice and shiny, even in harsh weather conditions.

But what is a metal primer? To make sure we are on the same page here is a small explanation of what a paint primer for metal is…

A metal primer is a product that you usually spray or brush on metal to help prevent rusting and corrosion and at the same time create a good surface for the paint to stick to.

This type of primer is made of chemicals and acids that go deep within the rusty metal and bond with the rust to prevent the rust from happening on the main piece of metal. You can use it on rusty pieces or completely clean metals and due to its inbuilt properties it will prevent and reverse rusting altogether.

The Top 5 Best Primers for Rusted Metal

Primer and paint slow down rust provided you use the right product that is designed to stop the rusting.

Primers that come with rust-preventing properties not only fight with already present rust but also prevent further oxidation of the metal. Hence keeping off the elements of rust for a longer time.

Priming metal, that is exposed to the elements, should therefore be the utmost priority due to weathering causing rusting.

But which primer should you use for your project? Let’s look into our top five primers for rusted metals. I have used most of them and am satisfied with the results it provides.

1. Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Spray Metal Primer

Rust-Oleum 7769830 Stops Rust Spray Paint, 12-Ounce,...
  • Use to prime exterior or interior heavily rusted metal surfaces only
  • Oil-based formula provides a durable protective coating with excellent...
  • Dries to the touch in 15-30 minutes and covers between to 10-12 sq....

*Last update on 2024-03-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

I believe that most Rust-Oleum products are considered great value since they are relatively inexpensive and work on everything. And this Rust-Oleum rust primer is no exception. It just worked great for me and therefore is probably the most popular primer on this list.

This rust preventive primer can be used inside and outside since this is an oil-based product. The good thing about it is it attacks rust and bonds tightly to it while forming a surface on which topcoats can adhere very well without inviting any corrosive air and moisture.

And this is one of the products on this list that is actually in a spray can. This means that it takes only a few minutes to apply and only a few minutes to dry.

Although you don’t get a lot of primer in a can, this is the gold standard of primers. It is effective at what it does, and it does what it says it does.

• Easy to use
• Covers up to 20 sq ft
• Dries to touch in 15 minutes
• Provides good adhesion for topcoat
• Weak sprayer nozzle

2. TotalBoat Rust Primer Converter

TotalBoat Rust Primer Converter (GALLON) | Metal...
  • STOP RUST IN ITS TRACKS: TotalBoat Rust Primer is a metal treatment...
  • WIDE RANGE OF USES: Phosphoric acid-based rust converter is ideal for...
  • SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE: Restore, Preserve, and Protect metal from...

*Last update on 2024-03-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you couldn’t tell by the brand name, the product was actually created with boats in mind funny enough. However, this is probably the highest-quality liquid primer you will find for any application.

TotalBoat Rust Primer Converter is simply one of the better primers out there that can be used for preventing metal rusting on cars, campers, trucks, trailers, bikes, boat trailers, outdoor metal railings, steel doors, rebar, tools & more. And it does what you expect a primer to do, such as restore, preserve, and stop metal from rusting further.

Unlike the other products on the list, we actually have no complaints about this best metal primer for rust. This comes in a nice big gallon that can cover a large amount of surface area and it’s simply great at what it is made for!

• Highly versatile
• Water-thin formula
• Can cover over 500 sq. ft. per gallon
• Converts rust into an inert substance
• Can be hard to clean
• Too thin and dripping

3. Corroseal Water-Based Rust Metal Primer

Corroseal Water-Based Rust Converter Metal Primer, Rust...
  • Paint, prime and convert rust in one step - water based rust converter...
  • Restore metal surfaces, extend life of metal equipment by protecting...
  • Non-flammable and non-corrosive, water-based formula cleans up with...

*Last update on 2024-03-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Corroseal Water-Based Rust Metal Primer is a very special product due to the fact it can paint, and prime in one step. It is almost as easy to use as the famed Rust-Oleum.

This primer is known for its ability to convert rust back into its original metal form. This means that it can increase the lifespan and prevent any rust from happening in the future.

Corroseal’s rust converter product can get around 250 square feet a gallon and can be used on nearly everything, from marine and automotive to the household. However, some reviews say that this product can be a little inconsistent. It affects different types of rust in different ways, even if it is on the same piece of metal.

So if you need something more consistent, consider some other products. But if you just need something to restore metal, this could be it.

• Easy to use
• Water-based formula
• Non-corrosive and non-flammable
• 200-250 sq ft per gallon coverage
• Cleans up easily with just soap and water
• Inconsistent
• Temporary fix

4. FDC Rust Converter Ultra Primer

FDC Rust Converter Ultra, Highly Effective Professional...
  • CONVERT RUST: Convert rust to an inert coating that seals out moisture...
  • SAFE TIME & MONEY: Eliminates the need for sandblasting, grinding or...
  • EFFICIENT: 1 Gallon Covers 500 square of smooth, nonporous surface –...

*Last update on 2024-03-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The whole idea behind this specific primer is that it makes the rust inert and then seals out moisture, preventing further corrosion.

This means the user of this interesting product doesn’t have to deal with sanding or scraping away all the tough rust. All you have to do is apply some of this primer on the metal, and it should just fall off.

Even better is that it can work in all weather conditions and can cover a lot of surface area compared to its competitors.

• Multi-use
• Covers 500 sq ft per gallon
• Needs no scraping or sandblasting
• Needs multiple coats

5. Krylon Rust Protector Primer

Krylon K06903700 Rust Protector Primers, Rusty Metal...
  • The product is 12 OZ, Rusty Metal Primer, Dry To A Smooth, Durable,...
  • Elegant and smooth finish
  • The product is manufactured in United States

*Last update on 2024-03-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Krylon Primer is also interesting, but not for what you would imagine. This product is not about preventing rust, but rather preventing the rust from corroding the metal and increasing paint adherence.

If you have ever tried to paint metal before, you will know that this can be a tricky task, so a primer specifically made to help your ability to paint the metal is great.

However, the reviews for this product aren’t the best. Many users claim that the can that it comes out with is very inconsistent. Even though this is something to consider, the results are good enough to balance that downside out.

• Fast-drying
• Dries to a smooth finish
• Provides better paint adhesion
• Sprayer issue

Considerations When Buying the Metal Primer

Choosing the right primer for rusted metal is a hard choice because there are so many different factors to consider based on your specific project.

Although we have some good suggestions if you don’t know too much and just want to pick some up immediately, you may go wrong.

So, if you are a person who cares about everything they are doing, you may want to consider the factors of the primer you are using such as…

1- What’s Your Use?

Different primers are made for different things. For example, TotalBoat primer was designed specifically for boats, however, it happens to work for a lot of different applications.

You should find a primer that was designed specifically for your use case.

Some primers are designed so that there has to be rust already present to be effective. This obviously will be a problem if you are working with a new piece of metal. But a general idea is that the rustier your metal is, the more heavy-duty your primer should be.

2- How Much Do You Need?

Well, this totally depends on your project. You should first find the surface area you will need to cover and research how much a gallon of a particular primer can cover.

For example, the Rust Primer from TotalBoat can cover 500 square feet per gallon. So, you can do some basic math to calculate how much you will need.

Spray bottles are a little trickier since a lot of the primer will be wasted. But it’s a good option to pick if you have a smaller project like refinishing a metal bird feeder in your garden.

I think it is a good idea to buy too much rather than too little. If you buy too little, you will have to go all the way back to the store and they might not even have it in stock anymore.

3- How Effective is The Primer?

Each primer is a little different. Some claim that only one coat is needed, while others say multiple coats are needed. This doesn’t make one better than the other though.

To find out how effective it is at fighting rust you have to trust the reviews. The buyer’s reviews will be the only way for you to get a rough estimate of how effective the primer is.

Or I guess you could just buy a lot of different types and try out which is the most effective for your project.

4- Does the Primer Need the Prepping?

This is a major factor in my choice of primer. Some primers require you to have a perfectly smooth piece of metal – meaning you have to scrub down the rusted metal surface and remove all of the rust possible.

This tends to cause multiple hours of sanding, and we all know sanding metal is not the most fun. But luckily, there are some primers that require no prep. These are a godsend when you are in a rush.

Some variants are not as effective, but you will be surprised by how good they can be even if you don’t remove the rust. So, if you have time and don’t mind, you can scrub the rust off your metal and get a standard primer. Or you can use a no-prep primer if you don’t have the time or if you don’t want to.

5- Will You Be Painting the Rusted Metal?

You should also consider which primer you want to use if you are planning to paint the metal.

Some primers have ugly colors that are hard to hide, and some of them leave blotches that are visible even after you paint them. The more heavy-duty primer, again, in general, leaves the most consistent paint job on top.

Rust Converter vs. Rust Remover: What’s the Difference?

It may sound at first like a rust converter and rust remover is close to the same things. But there are important differences between them that you should know before making a purchase.

This also means when you have a rusty surface that needs to be treated, knowing whether to use a rust converter or remover will save you time, effort, and money.

What is a Rust Converter?

As the name implies, this product will convert a rusty surface into one where paint can stick. This means that the rust does not go away, but it is instead converted to an inert substance that stops oxidation and allows you to paint over it.

You can apply a rust converter fairly quickly after removing the loose materials. The products used for the conversion are normally plant-based acids which makes them non-toxic.

In addition, many converters are also primers that allow for the paint to stick right away. You may find that metal fences or sheds are the best places to use these special primers.

What is a Rust Remover?

Unlike a converter, a rust remover strips the rust away from the metal.

This product uses concentrated acid that is quite corrosive, so be sure to wear the proper protection before using it. There are some less-toxic products available in this category, but protection is needed even if you choose a non-toxic rust remover.

To be fully effective, the surface will need to be coated with the rust remover and covered so that the acid does not evaporate. In addition, it may take time for the acid to fully eat away at the rust itself.

You may need multiple treatments to fully remove the rust depending on how extensive it is in the metal. A special rinse will be required when the remover has done all it can. Such rinses will include an ingredient that prevents flash rusting from occurring.

When to Use Each Product?

Rust converters are best for items that you will eventually paint, such as the body parts of an automobile, fence railings, or storage tanks to name a few.

Rust removers are best for surfaces that need the rust fully removed from the area. These are items that you do not want to apply paint such as tools or the inside of a gas tank.

If you need it to be bare metal, then a remover is the right product. Also, if you get a rust remover that includes primer, then you will only need to apply one coat.

paint primer for covering metal rust

How to Restore the Rusty Metal Correctly Before Painting?

Painting over rusted metal is not recommended. Just in case you do not remove rust from metal before painting, the rust will eventually remove the paint. As a result, you will be seeing peeling paint film on the metal surface very soon.

If you have metal tools or parts that have rust on them, getting rid of them can, however, be a laborious process. You can save time, effort, and energy by prepping the areas of rust before you paint over them which will create a long-lasting solution.

What follows are the tools, supplies, and techniques you will need to kill metal rust the right way.


  • Angle Grinder
  • Corded Drill
  • Wire Brush & Wire Wheel


  • Rust-Inhibitive Primer
  • Rust-Oleum Reformer

In certain situations when the corrosion is too tough to remove, you’ll also need some eye protection and gloves to do the work properly.

Getting Started

  1. The first step is to clean away the loose rust and any flaking paint before you apply the rust-killing primer.
  2. You do not need to clean all the way down to the metal. Just remove all the loose materials so that the primer and the paint will stick.
  3. If the area is particularly rusty, then you may need a special primer and more work to do the job. The wire brush will be handy in this case as you can clean away the loose particles easily.
  4. Go over the area a few times and then brush with your gloved hands to see if there are any loose particles.
  5. Once all the loose particles are gone, add the primer to the surface. The primer should be a rust-inhibitor which will stop the oxidation process.
  6. Once the primer is dry, you can paint over the area and restore it to a like-new condition.
  7. You can even use spray paint if you want as long as it is designed to be used on metal surfaces.

Dealing with Fully Rusted Areas

What if the area you want to cover is so rusted that the surface is pitted? In that case, your wire brush will not be enough.

This is where a drill connected to a wire wheel will help you smooth out the surface as best as possible.

Once you have removed all the loose particles and smoothed out the surface as much as possible, add the primer. You’ll want to choose a primer that will stick to a rusted surface, so be sure you get the right product for your needs.

A product such as Rust-Oleum Rust Reformer can penetrate rusty areas to not only stop oxidation but to turn the surfaces that will accept paint.

Rust-Oleum 215215 Stops Rust Rust Reformer Spray, 10.25...
For use on exterior or interior rusted metal surfaces only; Dries to touch in 20-40 minutes and covers up to 12 sq ft

*Last update on 2024-03-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Can You Use Rusted Metal Primer on Non-Rusted Metal Surface?

If you pick a high-quality metal primer for a rusty surface, most probably it can also be used on other metal surfaces, irrespective of whether it is rusty or clean.

While the rust-fighting properties that come with it will offer protection against any future rust problems, the primer will still do its job by creating a surface to get the paint to adhere better.

Rust-Oleum rusty primer metal is one good example that can be used for rusty as well as clean metal surfaces.

There are various household products like vinegar, bleach, coke, ketchup, baking soda, WD-40, and many others known to eat through rust and corrosion.

Although I do not prefer using them, if there are only minor rust issues, you can use them for sure and later scrub the rust off with an abrasive pad before priming and painting.

The Bottom Line

As you can see there are lots of different primers and factors that you can look for making it hard to choose the best primer for your job.

However, hopefully, this article points you in the right direction, especially the Rust-Oleum which I prefer most of the time to prime rusted metal items. It may not be perfect for your project, but the other ones might be effective at keeping your metal rust-free for the foreseeable future.

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