How to Remove Rust From Your Window Well (and Keep It Off!)

Scraping off rust is good, but addressing the underlying issue is key for prevention

Bry'Ana Arvie
Written by Bry'Ana Arvie
Updated June 3, 2022
Basement guest bedroom with a window
Photo: drewhadley / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images
Difficulty

Intermediate

Perfect for handy homeowners.

Time to complete

5 hours

2–5 hours, depending on your DIY skill.

Cost

$25–$50

Just a short shopping trip (or online order).

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Eyewear
  • Dust mask
  • Coarse brush
  • Auger drill bit
  • Power drill

SUPPLIES

  • Acrylic latex paint
  • 4-inch drainage tube/pipe
  • Drainage pipe cover

They come in a variety of styles and designs, but all basement window wells serve the same purposes: to protect the window from soil pressure, provide ventilation, and let in natural light.

Because they’re made of steel, it’s pretty common for your basement window wells to develop rust over time. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean you should let it happen. Learn how to fix a rusty window well, prevent it from rusting in the future, and protect your home from moisture.

  1. Assess Your Drainage System

    Water seepage (and, therefore, a rusty window well) could actually be the result of something totally controllable and inexpensive to fix: your existing drainage system. If your home is newer, your window wells likely have a drainage tube buried underneath the gravel. Dig it out and see if the tube is blocked or damaged.

    Another area of your drainage system to check is your gutter downspouts. Well-laid downspouts are actually key to waterproofing your basement, as they help funnel water away from your home. You can reset these in a new direction or add a gutter downspout extension to bring water further from your window wells.

  2. Install Drains in Your Window Well

    If there isn’t a drain below your window well, it’s worth taking the time to install one (or hire a local landscaper to do it for you).

    To add drainage for your window well:

    • Auger a hole underneath your window well through the gravel

    • Add a drainage tube ($4–$12 depending on size) 

    • Add a cover to the pipe to prevent debris from getting in

    • Replace the gravel to cover the tube

    If you’re considering hiring a pro to install a window well, make sure their designs come with an adequate draining system. Most new ones will, but if your home is on flat land or prone to floods, the system needs to be adequate.

  3. Remove Rust or Corrosion from the Window Well

    With the underlying issue hopefully fixed, turn your attention to removing the rust. For surface-level rust, use a coarse brush or piece of steel wool to scrape it off. You might also spray a little white vinegar on it to help remove any long-standing buildup.

    Once done, cover the area with galvanized metal etching primer, which promotes adhesion and leaks in the future. Let it dry, then apply a layer of acrylic latex paint. This helps provide additional protection and give everything a uniform color.

  4. Decide if the Windows Need to Be Replaced

    In some cases, especially in older homes, corrosion could be bad enough that the windows have been compromised and need to be replaced. Remember, good windows are another key component to waterproofing your basement.

    Signs that the windows need to be replaced may include:

    • Regular basement flooding after snow or rain

    • Extreme difficulty opening or closing windows

    • Windows with broken pieces, holes, or cracks

    • Extreme rust 

    Look for a local window specialist that does basement or egress window installation.

  5. Install a Window Well Cover

    Whether you’ve just touched up your existing window well or installed new windows and frames, adding a cover can help keep moisture out going forward.

    Choose a translucent window well cover so that sunlight can enter your basement. Glass or plastic/polycarbonate are both popular options and start at around $160 per cover.

  6. Consider Installing Vinyl Window Wells

    Exterior view of an egress window in a basement
    Photo: Melissa Kopka / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

    One final option for rust prevention, though a tad more extensive in nature, is to install completely new vinyl window wells. Polycarbonate can be a particularly cost-effective solution for homes near the sea or with high moisture and humidity, as rust is more likely to develop on steel frames.

    Vinyl window wells cost $250 to $600 to install but require little maintenance afterward.

DIY vs. Hiring a Window Pro

Sometimes removing the rust just isn’t enough, and a window well replacement is necessary. With a bit of know-how, time, and effort, an experienced DIYer can tackle this project. Though it's worth mentioning that your window well might need to adhere to building codes like egress and security. And you’ll also need to check with your city to see if you’ll need a building permit to replace it. If you’re confident you can replace your window well according to code regulations, conduct proper measurements, and ensure it's stable, this project is DIY-able. But, if digging, measuring, anchoring, and leveling isn’t how you tend to spend your Saturday, this job is best left to the pros. 

Additional Questions

Why does my window well keep rusting?

One reason your water well is rusting is because water is leaking onto it. Another reason is electrolysis, which happens when an electrical current causes a decomposition. And this current happens when two metals that are not alike (your water well, which is made from galvanized metal, and rebar or steel window buck) are touching or in close contact. The first metal to decompose is your water well, which is why it’s rusting.

Can I paint over a window well?

If your window well is rusted, you can’t paint it. The rust will eventually eat through the paint, leading to discoloration and peeling. But if you’ve managed to fix your rusting problem, you’re can paint it with no worries. 

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