How to Paint a Metal Railing

A set of metal railings lining concrete steps.
What You'll Need
Dust mask
Wire brush
Grinding sander
Medium-grade sanding sponge or sandpaper
Masking tape
Tack rag
Rust-inhibiting primer
Paint brush, one inch
Wet/dry fine grade sandpaper
Rust-inhibiting enamel paint

A metal railing is a safety measure that quickly becomes an integral part of your interior or exterior decor. It's safe to say that you'll want to keep such a fixture looking neat, and a great way to do that is to give it a new coat of paint. However, before you begin, there is some advice you need to keep in mind.

Prepare the Metal Surface

Some older paints can be lead-based, so it is important that you take precautions before handling anything you may be unsure about. Wearing a dust mask will prevent dangerous dust particles from getting into your lungs, and gloves will protect your hands until you can contact a professional to get rid of the problem.

To prepare the surface, take a wire brush and clear away any surface rust. Make sure that rougher areas are scrubbed enough to bring the affected surface level with the undamaged parts of the railing. Rust has a tendency to make the old paint bubble as well, so use a grinding sander to smooth down excess rust beneath painted areas.

Use a medium-grade sanding sponge or sandpaper to smooth the rest of the metal and clear off any remaining old paint. Mask off any areas that you do not want to be painted accidentally.

Prepare to Paint

Take a tack rag and wipe down the railings. The rag is slightly sticky and any remnants of dust will adhere to it as you wipe. It will leave your railing surface clean and free of any debris so you can prime and paint.

Apply Primer

You will need to primer the metal railing first; the best type is to use a rust-inhibiting variety. Using spray paint is normally preferred as well. It will leave no brush marks and will cover the area fast and more effectively.

Spray the paint in a motion that follows the line of the railing, keeping the nozzle approximately six inches from the surface. Getting too close will cause the primer to drip. Also, keep your rhythm consistent until the surface is completely covered. You can use a paintbrush on any areas where the rust was particularly harsh, or to ensure that the primer gets into every nook and cranny. Leave it to dry thoroughly when you're sure you've covered the surface completely.


When the primer is dry, wipe down the surface with a tack cloth again. Then, take the wet/dry, fine-grade sandpaper and wet it in a bucket of water. Give the primed railing a very light rub down. Don’t be too heavy-handed, as you don’t want to sand off the primer. All you need to do here is very slightly roughen the surface so that the enamel paint will have a good texture to cling to.

Shake your enamel paint can for about 30 seconds, and apply the color in the same way as you applied the primer. Once you have completed the first coat, leave to dry thoroughly. It is always advisable to apply two coats for extra protection and coverage. Use the wet/dry paper again between coats to provide a freshly keyed area for the second coat of enamel paint, and then use the tack rag to clean any excess dust off. The second coat can then be applied to complete the task.