DIY Décor: Refinishing Rusty Patio Furniture

Posted by: on May 2nd, 2012 | 6 Comments
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Refinished patio set with spray paint


As patio season swings into action, it’s the perfect time to jazz up your outdoor space. If 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!


Rusty patio table


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.

To get started, you’ll need:

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 electrical sander, consider renting one at your local Home Depot store).


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.

: 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.


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!


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.


Several layers of old paint revealed on rusty patio table


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.


Old patio set with rusty spots


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. 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.

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


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

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.

DIY Décor is a series about small, affordable design and décor projects for home and garden.

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Leave a Comment

  1. steve18042 says:

    a large flat surface and you sanded it by hand & 5 hours!! You should have used an orbital, be done in an hour or so and had the same results. & not work so hard

  2. sandy says:

    I refinished my outdoor metal bistro table and chairs. It looks great, but I’d like to soften the green a bit. Is there some dry brush method I can use with the spray enamel to soften the bright color just a bit?

  3. [...] patio furniture set restored and styled by Caroline from The Apron blog. You can check out her step-by-step makeover here on the [...]

  4. Do you know where I can get a restorer to paint my outdoor furniture. Like “American Restoration with Rick.” It is filled with rust on both the table and chairs.

  5. Joe Morris says:

    Might this same approach be used for aluminum garage doors? It is currently white and there is a wearing of paint on the edges of the raised panels (and much rust at top of door). Couple of additional questions, since this is a garage door (therefore outside) how long of drying time is necessary before any rain; and since door has to be painted in down position – can a spray be used or is a brush application necessary for finish coats to avoid drip runs (or just use a brush after last finish spray)?

  6. I am so inspired by your post. I have a lot of patio furniture that were tore down by excess cold and hot weather. This made me realize that I can still save them and reuse them again.