Can You Paint Over Rust?

How To Paint Over Rust


Yes, you can paint over rust as long as you use a high quality paint or primer that is specifically designed to encapsulate rust.  There are many lower cost (lower quality) consumer grade rust paints on the market that are designed to have you buy them over again in a relatively short period of time.  These should be avoided for projects that need long term performance or are exposed to harsher environments such as in coastal areas.  Rust converters can also be cheap shorter-term solutions but they just don’t have the durability of higher quality paints/coatings.  City/state government agencies never use them for painting bridges or other infrastructure projects.  Preparation is key to long lasting results for any project.  Generally speaking, the better the preparation, the more successful the application.

Preparation of the Metal is Important

At the minimum, you need to remove any loose paint chips, pack rust (heavy rust that can pop off with a hammer and chisel), and mil scale.  You can do this with wire brushes, angle grinders (with flap discs/cup brushes work well), needle guns, or basic scraping tools.  Also, remove any grease, oil or dirt as it will interfere with the adhesion of any paint/coating.  You can use standard degreasers, citrus cleaners, or by power washing.

The Importance of Salt Removal

As salt will accelerate the corrosion process under any new coat of paint, you need to remove it.  It also damages the resins of most paint.  Salt will be present on car/truck frames (road salt), or any metal exposed to exhaust or fertilizers.  It’s also present in the air near coastal/marine areas.  Removing salt can easily be done by adding a chloride bond breaker like Chlor-rid while power washing.  (Salt can’t be removed by high pressure power washing alone or even by sand blasting).   Therefore, when you remove salts prior to application, you will significantly extend the life cycle of any paint or coating that you use.

What is the Best Paint for Rusted Metal?

There are a lot of options on the market but there are some key specs to look for when selecting a paint or coating for steel.  Just look on the product data sheet.

  • Salt Fog Test (ASTM B117): This indicates corrosion resistance.  Most good coatings fall within the 2,000-4,000 hour range or better.  Higher numbers are better.  Some coatings like Rust Grip® are rated as high as 15,000 hours and are designed to be applied directly over rust and used in the harshest environments.
  • Adhesion (ASTM B4541): Should range from 600-1000 psi or higher.  More is better here.
  • Direct Impact Resistance (ASTM D2794): The range for this test is often between 100 in/lbs-150 in/lbs.  Higher numbers indicate greater strength and durability.
  • Abrasion Resistance (ASTM D4060): Measured as a weight loss per number of revolutions (usually 1,000) of a weighted wheel (500 or 1000 grams) on the coating.  The lower the weight loss in grams, the higher the abrasion resistance.

Aren’t Most Rust Preventive Coatings Basically the Same?

Like most things in life, you usually get what you pay for.  You can buy cheap “name brand” rust paint that may last 2-4 years (if you’re lucky).  Higher quality coatings can last 10-15 years or longer.  On a typical coating job, usually about 10% of the total cost is for the paint and about 90% is for the rest (labor, prep, cleanup, overhead, etc.).  So, for example, on a typical $5,000 job, about $500 pays for the paint and about $4,500 is for everything else.  And this all goes to your contractor.

Most contractors will use the cheapest materials they can find to cut costs.  Then they hope that they can do the whole job over for you again once the paint starts failing.  In conclusion, keep in mind, most contractors usually won’t recommend high quality paints since they don’t want to wait 10-15 years for your next call!

What Do We Recommend?

Rust Grip® is a 15+ year rust encapsulation coating that is designed to be applied directly onto rusted metal with minimal preparation.  It’s a 1-part coating that has been thoroughly tested and has been used in a wide range of industrial and commercial applications that demanded long-term performance under the harshest conditions.  As a 1-coating system, it doesn’t need any additional primers or top coats but it can be top coated if a specific color is desired. 

While Rust Grip was originally designed for energy companies to use on rusted oil rigs while in operation in the middle of the ocean, it can be used to encapsulate and protect any rusted metal in the toughest (ex. marine/coastal) environments.  From structural steel to wrought iron to metal roofs, it’s one of the easiest and best ways to stop rust.  To learn more about Rust Grip, click here…


Need more information?  We look forward to helping you get the best results for your project.

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