Getting The Rust Out

Squeezing the last drops out of a budget is essential to making the most of any fiscal year.

Restore instead of replace.

This includes improving the equipment on the property — even the rusty stuff. One way to grind a few more years of life from common-area items — metal waste receptacles and benches — is to have them restored rather than replaced.

The old way of restoring this equipment might have included a seasonal intern, wire brush, store-bought rust-prohibiting paint, a summer and plenty of sweat equity. ‘

The downside — besides manpower costs, paint splatter and flakes of rust staining the ground — is that the rust left on the metal is still corroding the structure.

Modern restoration is more technologically involved and between 40 to 70 percent less expensive than replacing the piece. It also extends the life of the outdoor equipment by eight to 10 years and looks better than any job the seasonal intern can do, and that intern’s time can be freed up for backburner projects.

Getting Started

The first step in considering modern restoration is to determine whether an item can be restored. Outdoor pieces created with thin-walled, tubular steel typically will not withstand the process of paint removal and sand blasting to remove the rust. Usually, thin metal has rusted enough that by the time you consider restoring it, it is already too late.

The pieces that work the best have thick steel or cast frames because, with the heavier gauge metal, the rust typically hasn’t corroded through. Suitable pieces are strap metal benches and waste receptacles made from bar stock, which is bent to form the structure.


For steel pieces, the process begins with removal and disassembly. They are then taken to a facility to have the paint thermally removed.

“The burn-off oven heats to between 700 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit for three to four hours, which bakes the paint into ash,” says Alan Robbins, owner of Bright Idea Shops.

“The ovens that are capable of this type of work can be found in heavily industrialized areas, and are regulated by the EPA to remove volatiles from the emissions.”

The remaining material and rust are removed via sandblasting, and a rust inhibitor is applied to halt any rust from forming before the powder-coating process. If the structure has rust, some pitting will be evident because the rust has corroded the steel; this pitting will not be hidden by the powder coating.


Even though aluminum doesn’t have the problems with rust that steel does, after eight to 10 years in the elements the paint will be faded and chipped. For aluminum pieces, the coating cannot be baked off as the high temperatures will weaken the structure of the metal.

Paint is removed from the aluminum by dipping the pieces into a chemical bath two to four times. Each piece is then sandblasted to remove any residue before the powder-coating process.

Powder Coating

Polyester is the powder-coating material. Sherwin-Williams, Tiger and Cardinal Industrial Finishes are three of the major manufacturers of the powder coatings. The coatings can be purchased in standard colors and even metallic finishes with hammered metal textures. Unique colors can be matched via Pantone color matching; however, this matching requires a minimum quantity, which can make a project more expensive if the entire amount is not needed.

The polyester is used in compositions suitable for outdoor use, but ultraviolet (UV) stabilizers are a must for outdoor applications. Industry-recommended colors for outdoor pieces are natural tones of black, brown and hunter green. Finishes can range from high-gloss to matte.

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