How to Paint Wrought Iron Railings Step-by-Step

Revamp your wrought iron in a weekend with these straightforward steps

Leah Lopez Cardenas
Updated June 17, 2022
Wrought iron fence surrounding white house
Photo: Dolores Harvey / Adobe Stock
Difficulty

Simple

Flex your DIY muscles.

Time to complete

8 hours

4 to 8 hours (depending how much wrought iron you need to paint).

Cost

$100–$250

Doing the labor yourself goes a long way.

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Wire brush
  • Bucket
  • Washcloths or rags
  • Tape
  • Tarp
  • Drop cloths
  • Paintbrush
  • Car wax

SUPPLIES

  • Medium-grit sandpaper
  • Soapy water
  • Tape
  • Rust-inhibitive primer (aerosol or liquid)
  • Rust-inhibitive enamel paint (aerosol or liquid)
  • Car wax

Although wrought iron railings are beautiful and popular, they tend to rust, especially outside. Fortunately, it’s relatively simple and cost-effective to clean and repaint metal railings. In fact, newly painted wrought iron railings often look better than the original, especially if you know a few key tips for success.

5 Easy Steps to Paint Wrought Iron Railings

Wrought iron closeup
Photo: marcoventuriniautieri / E+ / Getty Images

A fresh coat of paint can turn a run-down iron railing into a beautiful accent fixture. Brush up on these tips for painting wrought iron railings to get them looking good as new again.

  1. Prep the Wrought Iron by Removing Rust

    Correctly preparing a surface before painting is always important, but it’s particularly vital when dealing with wrought iron railings. Failing to properly clean your railings before applying paint can cause bubbles and flaking due to underlying rust. So when you start your project, begin by scrubbing the fence with a wire brush, which will remove the larger pieces of rust and flaking paint. 

    Next, to remove the rest of the peeling paint, sand the railing with medium-grit sandpaper. This process also helps create a rough surface for the paint to adhere more easily. Afterward, sweep the area and wipe the railings down with soapy water. After drying the metal off with a clean, dry rag, you can begin setting up tarps and drop cloths and applying tape around the bottoms of the railing.

  2. Apply Primer

    Now that your surface is ready, apply a rust-inhibitive primer, which comes in both liquid and aerosol form. Aerosol primer can be applied quickly, more smoothly without brush marks, and works better for more intricate wrought iron designs. However, the spray also uses up more primer, so you’ll have to buy more cans of it.

    After laying on an even layer of the primer, let it dry for between one and three hours, or whatever the directions on the can indicate.

  3. Apply Wrought Iron Paint

    When the surface is completely dry, start applying exterior rust-inhibitive enamel paint. Again, these types of paints come in both liquid and aerosol forms. One of the best ways to paint metal surfaces is using electrostatic painting, but you’ll need to hire the right painting contractor to complete this method. The best paint for metal railings if you DIY is aerosol paint, which makes the process go much faster. Keep in mind that it’s also messier and usually requires more paint than the liquid kind. If you’re working inside, you may want to stick to liquid paint for safety reasons, but be sure to cover all the detailed work with a foam tip brush. 

    No matter the type of paint you use, try to refrain from laying on one thick coat of paint. Instead, apply multiple lighter coats, waiting for the paint to dry in between coats before applying another. This creates a more even finish and helps avoid bubbling and subsequent flaking.

    Basic black paint is a more traditional color choice, but brighter metallic colors can add an interesting contrast to the surroundings. Most people use a semi-gloss or gloss finish, but you can also apply a flat or satin finish.

  4. Seal the Wrought Iron With Wax

    After the wrought iron paint dries, you can use a coat of car wax to help seal the railings against moisture. This material will help them stay looking beautiful and lengthen the amount of time you can go in between touch-ups.

  5. Maintain and Care for Your Wrought Iron Long Term

    Metallic surfaces are always going to be more prone to rusting and chipping, especially when located outdoors. Fortunately, you can take preventive steps to minimize the damage. Wash wrought iron fences with soapy water twice a year. Wipe the railings down with a mixture of lemon juice and white vinegar, and then buff any scratches or signs of rust with steel wool at least once a year to help neutralize any damage.

    You may also need to touch up the exterior paint in a few areas as imperfections arise. If regularly maintained, iron railings don’t usually need to be sanded and repainted more than once every six years. However, this timeframe also depends on the amount of exposure to moisture and direct sunlight.

How Much Does It Cost to Paint Wrought Iron Yourself vs. Hire a Pro?

You may be looking at all of these steps and wondering if you can hire someone to take it off of your hands. It costs less to DIY, but there are pros and cons for doing it yourself versus hiring a professional painter.

DIY

A 15-ounce can of spray-on rust-inhibitive primer is around $5 to $10, and a gallon of anti-rust enamel wrought iron paint costs between $30 to $50 each. Depending on how many linear feet of wrought iron you have to paint and how many materials from the list above you’ll need to buy, your total cost could be several hundred dollars.

Hiring a Pro

Professional painters typically charge $2 to $6 per square foot. Some companies may have a per-hour pricing model and will likely charge $20 to $50 per hour. If you don’t want to do the project yourself, you can hire an exterior painting company near you.

FAQs

What are some tips for painting metal railings?

If you decide to paint your own wrought iron railings, do it slowly and evenly so you don’t end up with dripping paint. This can look unsightly once it dries and is not something you want to deal with after all the hard work you just did. With some careful precision and patience, though, you can do the painting yourself successfully with long-lasting results.

How much does it cost to replace wrought iron railings?

If your wrought iron railings are in pretty bad shape and you would rather replace them, you can hire a local wrought iron fence company to handle the project. Though the cost of installing new wrought iron railings is around $50 to $120 per linear foot plus $300 to $1,000 for labor, and replacing a rusted-out spindle can be $200 to $2,000. So if a quick sanding and paint touch-up would make a difference for your railings, you’ll save a lot of money going that route instead of replacing it with new wrought iron.

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Get quotes from top-rated pros.