How to Paint a Metal Fence

An ornamental metal fence painted black.
What You'll Need
Work gloves
Protective glasses
Face mask
Steel wool or wire brush
Mineral spirits
Oil-free liquid soap
Scrubbing brush
Oil-based primer with rust inhibitor
Oil-based latex metal paint
Painted metal sealant

If you want to paint a metal fence, you will be in for a lot of work. This type is prone to holding excess water, attracting grime, and rusting, which all make it much harder to create a clean, professional finish that endures. However, if you follow the advice and the steps below, you can get a great, lasting paint job for all to see.

Remove All Rust Deposits

When you set out to paint metal, you need to make sure that it is ready to accept the primer and metal paint first. Metal, especially outdoors, is subjected to many elements that can damage it. As mentioned previously, metal fences often become rusty, retain water, and attract oil or grime. So, the first thing you need to do is inspect the surface for rust deposits and clean the ones you might find. Put on your work gloves, glasses, and mask, grab a wire brush or piece of steel wool, and get to work. Vigorously scrub the rusted area to remove the loose particles. If you find that you're having trouble, use the wire brush for the bulk of the job and slowly progress down to steel wool to smooth what is left. This will be hard work and take time to finish.

Dampen a rag with mineral spirits once the large deposits are gone and begin removing the remaining rust. Replace the rag whenever it becomes too dirty, and dispose of the rags at a proper facility when you're finished. It is important to note that you will not be able to remove all of the rust; the idea here is to get the metal surface as smooth and level as possible for painting.

Wash the Surface

Oil, grime, and the mineral spirits you've just used can inhibit certain metal paint, so it's always necessary to wash the fence prior to applying primer and paint to it. Fill a bucket with hot water and soap. Soak a rag or a scrubbing brush and thoroughly scrub all the nooks and crannies of the fence. Rinse the soap off with a hose, and then dry the fence with a rag or allow it to dry overnight.

Paint the Metal Fence

You will first start with a metal primer before you paint to create the most durable, lasting finish possible. The primer gives the top coat something to adhere to. If the primer is too thick to properly apply, add a little bit of the mineral spirits to it. Add it in very small amounts, stirring after each addition and only adding more if it's still too thick. Dip your brush into the primer when it reaches the desired consistency, and begin applying it along the surface. Work quickly, using even strokes to prevent primer from pooling anywhere. Pay special attention to streaks, bubbles, and any other imperfections, and in tight areas, use a smaller paintbrush to dab until the entire surface is covered.

After the primer has had a chance to dry - this can take at least one entire day- you can paint the metal fence with the topcoat. Choose a clean brush, dip it into your paint, and begin spreading it across the surface. Apply the topcoat the same way as you applied the primer, looking out for missed spots, streaking, and pooling paint. Dab the hard to reach areas thoroughly as well. Wait for the paint to dry and apply a second coat if needed.

Apply Sealant

Since your fence is regularly battered by the elements, it's a good idea to finish the job with a sealant to keep your paint looking great. Look for a sealant that is designed to adhere specifically to painted metal. This information will be found under the product's performance properties, but if you're still unsure about what to buy, consult a store associate.

Check your product's directions for when you should apply the sealant during the painting process. Many sealants come in spray form, so they're very easy to apply. Make sure you hold the nozzle at least six inches away from the fence as you spray, and move along the surface in slow, even passes for the best finish.