The Best way to Paint Metal Railings

Updated May 3, 2023 | Posted Nov 17, 2020 | Product Review | 12 comments

I have been a professional decorator for a lot of years and in that time, I’ve painted a hell of a lot of railings. I have used several products and methods, but always come back to the same system, not just because it looks brilliant, but also because I know it will last for years. I thought I’d put pen to paper so I can share what I think is the best way to paint metal railings. Maybe it will help you too.


The Preparation of Metal Railings


First things first, you’ve got to prep the railings. Assuming your railings are previously painted and looking very tired. The first thing you need to do is clean any heavy dirt off the surface using hot water, a cloth and a cleaning agent such as sugar soap. Any paint you apply over the top of dirt or mould will still look good for a period, but may not adhere very well to the metal and fail over time.

You also need to remove any flakey paint with a scraper or grinder, and then abrade the whole surface using sandpaper (aluminum oxide). This will give you a nice smooth surface to start with and also help with adhesion and longevity.

The next step is to prime any rust patches with oxi (or oxide) primer. This is more of a precaution more than anything because my chosen metal paint has a rust inhibitor within the product itself. That said, oxi primer definitely helps keep your metal railings rust free and looking fresh for a lot longer.

The science is nice and easy to understand; metal needs oxygen to rust. Oxide primer deprives metal of oxygen, thus stopping rust. Be generous when apply oxide primer. It’s there to do an important job.

The Best way to Paint Metal Railings

The Best Paint to use


In my honest opinion, the very best paint to use on metal railings is good old fashioned Hammerite and I’ll tell you why. You can apply Hammerite to bare metal without the need of a separate primer. On top of this, as mentioned above, Hammerite contains rust inhibitors, meaning rust will not reoccur for a long period after your railings have been painted.

The other reason I like Hammerite is its thick, creamy and rich. Everything you need to apply thick coats of paint. Opacity is bang on and the finish is brilliant too. You do get a few brush marks, but you can with any metal paint. Drying time is quick for an oil-based paint too and you can normally apply a second coat of the product in the same day. Click here to see latest prices.

My preference may be old-fashioned when it comes to metal paint, but paint technology is changing all the time, and there is an argument to go completely the other way. Bradite have a product called One Can, which is the polar opposite to Hammerite.

Bradite One Can is a fully water-based paint which can be used inside or out. Available online, It contains rust inhibitors and stain blocks. Plus, it will adhere to pretty much anything. These qualities make it the perfect material to use when painting metal railings. You’ll find it quicker and easier to use than Hammerite too. I just don’t know whether it will last as long.

I still prefer Hammerite, but Bradite gives you a great alternative.


Best way to Apply the Paint to the Railings


I have tried several methods over the years, but the best one I have found is by using a medium pile mini (emulsion roller) and a brush. Hammerite is thick and gloopy, as are most other metal paints, so applying it all by brush is difficult. The way to do it is simply touch blobs of paint anywhere you can’t get to with the mini roller. So normally inside any decorative swirls, top and bottom of each rail, underneath the handrail etc. This is called “cutting in”. Work on one section at a time, cut in the section, then go back and get all the larger areas with a mini roller full of paint.

Be generous with the paint too!! The more you get on, the better it will look and the longer it will last. Have plenty of dustsheets out to catch any stray drips from your roller.

I recommend Hamilton For ‘The Trade’ mini roller, which will hold plenty of paint and is thin enough to fit between the bars. Available online here. As for the brush, you need something stiff enough to work the paint into every little nook on the railings, but cheap enough to throw away after you’ve finished the job. Sometimes I use a sash brush, but most of the time I use Hamilton For The Trade, which is perfect for this type of painting. Available online here.

mini roller and paintbrush for restoring railings
the best paint to use when painting railings

Updated May 3, 2023 | Posted Nov 17, 2020 | 12 comments

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  1. richard

    Another great article and tips Mike.

    l personally prefer the excellent Rustolem metal paint, the spreading rate is twice as much as Hammerite metal paint. Price pretty similar.

    I found it lot easier to go on no runs and sags, and durability pretty similar l found. A nice product to apply.

  2. John

    Interesting, I have used Hammerite over many years on a lot of metal gates railings and garden furniture.

    One big failing I have found is if it is not black it fades badly in short order, so I have switched to Rust-Oleum, easier to apply but have not used long enough to see how it fades in comparison.

  3. William Byrd

    Best decision ever to share your expertise. This helped me and probably a lot more! Well done and thank you!

  4. Mike Shinoda

    I’m glad I found this, at least I could start somewhere. Thank you!

  5. Levi Armstrong

    It’s great that you mentioned that the first thing you need to do is clean any heavy dirt off the surface using hot water, a cloth, and a cleaning agent such as sugar soap. My sister will start renovating her home railings since she will remodel her entire home. I’ll share this with her later since it can help with the planning. Thanks!

  6. Yantob

    Those railings in you picture do look pukka

  7. james

    If the railings were previously galvanized does this make any difference in terms of considerations for re-painting them?

  8. btclod

    Thanks for sharing this information it’s very useful.

  9. Keith

    Is the Hammerite a one coat finish our does it require a base coat.? We have a run of railings outside our church, which I thought I could wire brush and then jet spray ready for painting.

  10. Mike Neale

    We have new railings being fitted in sections. Should there be any gaps in the handrail or should the joints be flush

  11. jim

    interesting! Thanks for sharing, Im using the same method as you describe which gives me confidence Im on the right path! 🙂


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