From priming to painting tips, here's what a professional restorer says to do.

By Caroline Biggs
June 17, 2020
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Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

Your old metal garden furniture is teeming with restoration potential, it just takes a little work. That's why when you find that your favorite piece of outdoor furniture is beginning to rust, chip, or show signs of aging, it pays to know what to do to help bring it back to its original integrity. "At a certain point, if left unattended to, rust can eventually compromise the structural stability of the furniture," explains Jane Henry of Jane Henry Studios, a full-service antique conservation and restoration shop based in New York City. "This is most often caught on the underside of furniture, where the moisture can collect in the nuts or rivets that hold the furniture together."

Looking for advice on how to restore (and maintain) your aluminum and wrought iron garden furniture, so you won't have to ever bid it adieu? We asked Henry to take us through the step-by-step process, and here's what she had to say.

Plan for prep work.

Henry says the first step to successfully restoring metal garden furniture is to handle all of the prep work ahead of time. "Scraping off any loose paint, going over the whole surface, as you can't always see what is loose," she says. "Follow scraping with a wire brush and applying a lot of elbow grease will ensure that you get into all of the crevices, and lift any rust out of the pits and divots. Next, use sandpaper to level out the chips and remove any extra loose paint. Once done, wipe with a tack cloth, and either clean with a solvent, such as acetone or wash with a degreaser or detergent, rinse, and let dry overnight."

Don't skip the priming step.

Once you've prepped your metal outdoor furniture, Henry says to prime the piece with a high-quality rust preventive spray primer, such as Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Spray Paint Primer ($4.27, amazon.com). "Choose a white primer for lighter colors and a dark primer for darker ones," she says. "Spray slowly at an 8-to-12-inch distance, in a consistent spray pattern, lengthwise along each section, to avoid drips and overspray. Remember to treat the back and underside since outdoor furniture can collect moisture and condensation in the crannies." After applying two to three light coats of primer, allowing the primer to dry between each coat, she suggests lightly sanding the piece with very fine sandpaper and wiping it off with a non-wax tack cloth to remove the dust.

Apply the right kind of paint.

When it comes time to paint your metal furniture, Henry recommends choosing an exterior-grade latex or oil-based paint for brushing, or an exterior grade spray paint specific to metal, such as Krylon Fusion All-In-One Spray Paint ($9.14, amazon.com) and Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Metallic Spray Paint ($6, amazon.com). "My advice is to stay clear of high gloss paints unless you are prepared to do sanding in between each coat," she says. "Don't forget to follow recommended re-coat times on each product, as times vary widely between products."

Add a protective coat.

If you aren't applying a protective enamel finish to your painted metal furniture, Henry says you're doing it wrong. "A final clear coat of oil-based urethane will provide added durability and help prevent future damage to the furniture," she says. She recommends sticking with an oil-based enamel, versus a water-based one, since they last longer and often create a brighter finish.

Maintenance matters.

No matter how well you restore it, Henry says proper maintenance is key to extending the life of your metal outdoor furniture. "Use plastic covers on your wrought iron furniture when you're not using it to protect it from the elements or bring your furniture inside to prevent rust buildup," she says. She also suggests keeping paint on hand for quick and easy touch-ups. "When you see something, take care of it immediately before it becomes a bigger problem," she advises.

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