Refinishing Rusty Patio Furniture

Article Posted By: Caroline Inge

of The Home Depot

Refinished patio set with spray paint

If you’d like to jazz up your outdoor space, but a brand new patio set isn’t in your budget, consider refinishing your rusty patio furniture (or a set you found at the thrift store!) with spray paint. It’s a weekend project that yields beautiful results!

I started with this folding bistro table. It still functioned perfectly, but the paint had worn off in spots, leaving the metal frame underneath rusted in a few places and exposed to the elements. In order to refinish the piece so that it will last many years to come, you’ll need to remove as much of the rust from the frame as possible.

Rusty patio table

To get started, you’ll need:

Tip: When I first began this project, I was using sandpaper blocks, no electric sander, but within a couple of minutes, it was clear that the sandpaper blocks weren’t going to get the job done. Just know that if your goal is to sand off most of the rust, an electric sander is the only option. (If you don’t own an electric sander, consider renting one at your local Home Depot store).

Step 1

When trying to decide which grit of sandpaper to use, remember that the lowest grit means that it’s the most coarse, so 60 is going to remove the most finish. The higher the grit, the finer the sandpaper, so you won’t really be removing much debris, just smoothing out the surface. When you see the term ‘going through the grit,’ that just means that they’re beginning with the lowest grit sandpaper, taking off the most debris, and gradually getting finer and finer, therefore smoothing out the surface for a really clean finish.

I sanded this tabletop for several hours, probably about 5 in total, as I wanted to really scuff off as much rust as possible, and reveal the shiny metal frame underneath. By getting down to the original frame, the chance of rust coming back is much lower, and also the finish will be much smoother once the spray paint dries.

Sanding a patio table with sandpaper

While the sanding block in a 60 grit was getting off a good bit of the old paint job, it wasn’t getting down to the metal and removing any rust. After 30 minutes of sanding by hand, I decided to ditch the block and use an electric sander.

Using an electric sander to take an old, rusty paint job off of a metal outdoor table

An electric sander is the best tool for this job, but know that you will probably spend several hours removing the old paint job. Don’t start this project unless your endurance levels are at their peak!

Here, you can see where several layers of paint had been applied to this table, one much darker than the other. I wanted to remove as much of the paint as possible, and I focused most of my sanding on the patches that you can see along the edge of the table and just inside.

Several layers of old paint revealed on rusty patio table

 You can see that after a while, I started to get down to the bottom layer, where the rust first started. I eventually removed all of the rust from this patch (and all the patches like it on the edges and table top), revealing the shiny metal frame underneath.

Old patio set with rusty spots

Step 2

Once I finally reached that metal frame and the edges were smooth, it was time to apply primer. Rust-Oleum’s primers are specifically designed to fight rust and prepare bare metal for spray paint. When spraying, coat the furniture in very, very light coats. The first few coats should appear almost patchy, like a mist. You shouldn’t have full coverage until you’re at about the third coat.

Below, you can see the first of many coats of spray paint on the table. See how it appears almost splotchy? That’s good!

Tip: If you’re painting outside, there’s a chance that some kind of debris could fall on your wet surface, leaving marks in your paint job. If this happens, remove the material and use wet sanding paper to smooth out the surface. Wet sanding paper uses water to create the smoothest possible finish, and it’s perfect for small imperfections.

Spray painting a metal outdoor table

Step 3

Once the final coats are spray painted, you should let the table cure for a full 24 hours, just to be safe, before putting any hard objects on it. Leave the table underneath a covered surface over night so nothing can fall on top of it and ruin the paint job.

Refinished rusted outdoor dining table, using spray paint

Refinishing rusty patio furniture takes a little elbow grease, as they say. But once your piece has finally cured and is beautifully refinished, your patio table should last for many, many more glasses of lemonade, casual dinners, and relaxed sunny afternoons.