Wrought iron is a tough, malleable, and corrosion-resistant metal that can also be easily welded into almost any design including fences and railings for your property.
When properly maintained it can last for 50 to 60 years, even when it’s left outdoors.
In this guide, I will discuss how you can prepare, paint and protect your old wrought iron fence to look like new.
The guide will also include the rust removal techniques, and a few prevention tips, along with the best paint for outdoor metal fences and railings which will help you choose the right type of products to accomplish your project fast.
So, without wasting any further time, let’s dive in…
Painting a Wrought Iron Fence
Admit it! You attempted to paint a wrought iron fence/railing, and you felt like this is the most challenging task you ever had to face.
And I know it is a difficult activity, which is why I’ve created the following step-by-step guide to help you clean and paint a wrought iron fence with little to no hassle.
Follow these simple yet best ways to paint wrought iron railings and I am sure you will have your cast iron fence and railings painted within no time.
Step 1. Get ready for the job
As is the case with almost anything, you should prepare for your job so that you get the desired results.
Be sure you check your local weather conditions and whether these are suitable for the paint job.
Ideally, the temperature should be between 50 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity levels should not be too high.
For better results avoid direct sunlight and work on cloudy days.
Then you should protect the areas around the fence (and plants) using newspaper, and tapes.
Step 2. Remove the rust
After you have prepared the area, you need to start by preparing the wrought iron surface.
This means that you need to make sure there is no rust or existing paint on your iron fence.
To remove the rust flakes and paint chips from wrought iron fences and railings, you can use a steel brush or high grit sandpaper.
Keep in mind that you may need to scrub hard and it might take some time before you manage to clear the entire surface, as rust tends to be hard to remove.
If there are rust stains (and no flakes) you can brush out the stains using a fine steel-wool pad dipped in kerosene.
Remember, if you need to remove the rust you should start with the rust removal process only after you put on the protective gears.
Our advice is to wear protective gear, including gloves and a mask, as the particles of rust can pose a health risk when removed from the railing fence.
Step 3. Clean the fence
Now that you removed all the rust possible, you need to clean the fence to make sure there is no debris left.
You can wash the fence with mineral spirits, as those will remove any stubborn paint that might be sticking to your iron fence.
As an alternative, you can use a solution prepared with liquid dish soap and warm water.
Using a sponge dipped in the solution, clean the iron fence to remove all the sanding dust, oil, grease, and debris on the metal.
Step 4. Rinse with water
And, of course, after spraying mineral spirits and cleaning, it is best to rinse the fence with water.
You can use a garden hose to ease the rinsing job.
Make sure you remove the substance entirely, as it can have a direct impact on how the paint adheres to your iron fence railing.
Once you have washed the iron railings, use a dry towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
This will ensure a better surface for primer and paint to adhere to.
Step 5. Apply a primer
After the fence dries, you can start applying a primer to the rusted metal.
Make sure you use only specially created priming material for metals like wrought iron, as it can make a lot of difference for your paint.
It can increase the lifespan of the paint as an excellent primer allows the paint to adhere adequately.
And, of course, will enable the primer to dry for at least 24 hours.
Step 6. Apply paint to metal surfaces
Follow the primer with a specially designed paint blend.
Make sure you use the specific paint that is designed for metal surfaces, as not all varnishes are the same.
For the application, it’s recommended that you use a high-quality paint brush and apply the paint in long even strokes very slowly.
Since you will be painting the thin metal railings, using a roller or a paint sprayer isn’t a good option.
If used it can create lots of oversprays and hence wasted paint material.
Step 7. Follow up with several coats of paint
After the initial coat of paint, you can follow up with several layers. This will ensure you will achieve a smooth and pleasant finish.
But at the same time, it can boost the lifespan of your paint job.
Applying several paint layers to your wrought iron railing and fence can increase its ability to withstand wear and tear in time.
And as a result, you won’t need to repaint it too often.
So, following these seven steps is the best way for you to paint a wrought iron fence. And we can tell you that it is rather simple.
All you have to do is be attentive to small details and make sure you apply the right paint to your fence.
How Easily Will Paint Stick to Iron Metal?
Remember, like oil and water, paint and metal do not tend to mix.
In other words, paint does not stick to shiny metal surfaces the same way that it sticks to wood.
That is why professional painters will use a substance that is not a type of paint – if they need to cover the surface of the shiny metals.
Before we come to those best paints, coatings, or substances that can be used for painting wrought iron railings, let us try to understand why metal resists paint in the first place?
The reason why paint tends to slide off most metal is pretty simple. The surface of metal consists of a crystalline structure.
This structure is what gives the metal its strength and why it is used for creating so many things such as skyscrapers.
It’s also why metal is better than wood for use outdoors as it resists penetration by water.
However, this same crystalline structure that makes metal so strong also does not give the paint the irregularities its needs to stick to the surface.
Paint sticks because, at a microscopic level, many materials such as wood for example have imperfections that allow the paint to take hold.
The rough surface, pits, and the like give the paint something to hold on to when it dries.
Metal has few such imperfections, so the paint tends to slide off fairly easily.
What imperfections metal does have tends to keep paint from sticking as well.
This is because the surface consists of small pits or dents along with long crevasses that provide little grab for the paint.
But will allow water and oils to become trapped underneath which over time will disrupt the paint on the surface.
However, while most metal may resist paint, it does not resist oxidation which leads to it rusting fairly quickly unless protected.
What is the Best Paint for Wrought Iron Fences and Railings?
For me, Rust-Oleum Protective Enamel Paint that comes in the black satin finish has worked fabulously in most cases.
It offers excellent coverage and dries to the touch in about 2-4 hours.
Moreover, with its excellent rust prevention abilities, it can help keep the wrought iron fence just like new for very long.
For metal fencing, personally, I prefer using satin rather than flat paint because it helps in keeping some natural shine of the metal intact.
What Type of Paint to Use and How to Prevent Wrought Iron Fence from Rusting?
Before you go and pick the best type of paint for wrought iron fences and railings, be sure that you choose the right primer.
Priming your cast iron fence using a correct base coat (a rust-inhibiting primer base) is very important since this will decide how hard the top finish coat will adhere when you paint the railings.
For most of the bare wrought iron surfaces, acid-based metal-etching primer provides the lasting base that can help you provide a better-painted finish.
Make sure that you do not choose latex or acrylic primers as they will not bond very well to the wrought iron surface due to their smooth and nonporous qualities.
Now when you have picked the right primer, it’s time to choose the best paint for the surface.
The types of paints and coatings that are well-suited for outdoor wrought iron fencing are:
Being highly durable, exterior-grade enamel is best for fences that are exposed to exterior conditions.
Painting your wrought iron railings with enamel will help them keep off rust, corrosion, and various other environmental conditions.
Plus, an exterior-grade enamel paint will provide an attractive finish to your railings as well.
2- Acrylic Based Latex Paint
Unlike ordinary latex paint that does not suit the exterior metal surfaces, acrylic latex paint provides better protection to the iron fencing because of its ability to expand and contract at high and low temperatures.
These types of paints might be an excellent rust-proofing material as it resists moisture.
Acrylic paints also work well on aluminum fences and railings but keep in mind that they might not stick to the bare wrought iron surface very well.
If you need to paint bare wrought iron, there are two other types of coatings (I discussed right below) that can help metal resist the oxidation process and stay sound.
You should definitely consider these options if you want to keep your railings in good condition for a long.
In this method, a thin coating of zinc is applied to the metal fencing surface.
It is the most effective coating that can be applied to metals such as iron and aluminum which keeps it from oxidizing or rusting.
You can paint on a metal or wrought iron gate that is covered in zinc, but there are certain types of latex or oil-based paints that will not last very long.
This is because the zinc will react to the paint which causes a process known as saponification.
In other words, it creates a soapy substance that will have the paint slide off the surface in a short time.
4- Mill or Grease
This is a layer of grease that is placed on the surface of the steel.
This is used to prevent the metal from rusting when it is transported or stored before use.
The grease is well-suited to the task because it remains on top of the surface and does not seep inside.
Plus, once the temperature changes the grease can easily be removed from the metal surface.
You can heat treat or simply burn away the grease from the metal without damaging the surface when the protection is no longer needed.
However, depending on the size of the metal, it may be difficult to find a facility that can heat treat such large pieces.
That is why the pre-galvanizing process is more popular.
However, for small pieces that can easily be heat-treated in some manner, the mill coating tends to be better because it is easy to remove and is cheaper compared to pre-galvanization.
Welders for example can simply burn away the grease as they are doing their work.
Conversely, trying to burn off the layer of zinc may cause fumes that are a threat to those nearby.
In either case, the protection provided by the mill and pre-galvanization is now gone once the layer has been removed.
For welding, there may be other issues that need to be addressed.
What color to paint wrought iron railings and fence?
Wrought iron fence materials are usually pre-painted black in color.
But you can get them repainted in many other colors of your choice in glossy or semi-gloss finishes.
Brown, bronze, grey, dark green, or even red are among the best colors for painting wrought iron.
But you should steer clear of lighter colors (like white, yellow, etc) as rust stains can show through them and can become more visible than they would in darker paint colors.
How to Keep the Welds of Iron Railing from Rusting and Corroding?
For metal that has been welded, the use of grease or zinc as a coating does not tend to work very well.
This is because the grease tends to create holds in the welds themselves that can penetrate the metal.
The same is true of zinc, so neither substance is recommended to cover an area that has been welded.
In addition, while traditional paint now has a rougher surface to stick, it is usually too deep to be any good.
This is because moisture can now form underneath the paint which causes it to slide off and creates areas for the rusting process to begin.
There are two methods that can keep the welded metal from rusting.
The first is dipping the welded area into a bath consisting of molten zinc.
While this can create a rust-proof coating for the metal, it often does not fill in all the rough areas.
This means that there will be some spots where rust can form even if the wrought iron metal itself has been fully coated.
Another way to protect the welded railings from rust and corrosion is by applying powder coating.
Powder coating as the name implies is a powdery substance that can coat metal effectively without the downsides of grease or pre-galvanization.
It sticks to the surface thanks to an electrical charge which causes the powder to bond effectively.
Plus, it can be applied in an even coat and when baked into the metal it will become smooth and resilient to the weathering process.
Overall, there are several advantages that powder coating has over traditional paints thanks to its flexibility which resists cracking.
While it is difficult to touch up if imperfections appear, that does not happen with the high-quality applications of powder coating.
The Bottom Line
Wrought iron is manufactured by repeatedly heating and reworking cast iron which transforms the metal into a higher tensile strength product that is more flexible, durable as well as expensive.
Although the wrought iron is naturally protected against rusting (due to its higher carbon content than pure iron), it needs cleaning and maintenance every two to three years.
Choosing the right paint is a key to success when you want to paint your outdoor wrought iron fence, handrailings, palisade, gates, grilles, or paling.
No matter whether you are painting them in your backyard garden or near your driveway, you should also know how to start the painting, what other products to use and what are the exact steps you will need to follow.
The above guide will hopefully help you out – the next time you want to refinish them to make them look new.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.