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How to Paint Over Rust Without Sanding

Cecilia Harsch
Paint rusty items to stop the damage and restore beauty.

Moisture, heat and exposure to the elements can cause paint to begin to bubble, crack and peel from metal surfaces. Once the metal becomes exposed to moisture and oxygen, rust begins to form on the exposed surface. Over time, rust can β€œeat” through and weaken the metal, damaging the integrity of an item, making those items unsafe for your home and family. You can paint over rust and stop the damage without having to sand all the rust from the surface of the metal.

Step 1

Move your item to a well-ventilated location. Protect the ground beneath the item with a drop-cloth, old sheet or newspapers.

Step 2

Scrub the entire surface of your rusted item with a wire brush. This removes any loose rust, debris and peeling paint, and roughens the surface to help the paint adhere to the item.

Step 3

Spray a heavy-duty cleaner and degreaser on the item. Scrub the surface with a nylon scrub brush to remove any stuck-on dirt and grime.

Step 4

Rinse your item with fresh water. Wipe the surface with a soft cloth or paper towels and allow it to dry.

Step 5

Shake a can of metal primer spray paint for at least a minute to mix the paint. Hold the can approximately 10 inches, but no more than 16 inches, away from the item. Pass the can over the item from left to right or up and down as you press the spray nozzle with your finger. Use a steady, even motion as you spray the primer onto the surface, slightly overlapping the prior pass of primer with the next.

Step 6

Wait 3 to 5 minutes and apply a second coat of primer to the surface. Wait an additional 3 to 5 minutes before apply the third and final coat of primer. Allow the primer coats to dry for at least an hour before applying paint.

Step 7

Pick a can of spray paint in the color and finish of your choice, making sure the paint is approved for use on metal. Shake the can for about a minute to thoroughly mix the paint.

Step 8

Hold the spray can approximately 6 inches, but no more than 8 inches, from the item. Pass the can over the item just as you did with the spray primer to apply a light base coat.

Step 9

Apply an additional light coat after waiting 3 to 5 minutes. Apply a third light coat of paint if necessary. Let the item dry for at least 20 minutes before touching or moving the item.


Make sure the ambient temperature is between 50 and 90 degrees and the relative humidity is no higher than 65 percent to ensure your paint dries properly.