Getting The Rust Out

Squeezing the last drops out of a budget is essential to making the most of any fiscal year.

This includes improving the equipment on the property -- even the rusty stuff. One way to grind a few more years of life from common-area items -- metal waste receptacles and benches -- is to have them restored rather than replaced.

The old way of restoring this equipment might have included a seasonal intern, wire brush, store-bought rust-prohibiting paint, a summer and plenty of sweat equity. '

The downside -- besides manpower costs, paint splatter and flakes of rust staining the ground -- is that the rust left on the metal is still corroding the structure.

Modern restoration is more technologically involved and between 40 to 70 percent less expensive than replacing the piece. It also extends the life of the outdoor equipment by eight to 10 years and looks better than any job the seasonal intern can do, and that intern’s time can be freed up for backburner projects.

Getting Started

The first step in considering modern restoration is to determine whether an item can be restored. Outdoor pieces created with thin-walled, tubular steel typically will not withstand the process of paint removal and sand blasting to remove the rust. Usually, thin metal has rusted enough that by the time you consider restoring it, it is already too late.

The pieces that work the best have thick steel or cast frames because, with the heavier gauge metal, the rust typically hasn’t corroded through. Suitable pieces are strap metal benches and waste receptacles made from bar stock, which is bent to form the structure.


For steel pieces, the process begins with removal and disassembly. They are then taken to a facility to have the paint thermally removed.

“The burn-off oven heats to between 700 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit for three to four hours, which bakes the paint into ash,” says Alan Robbins, owner of Bright Idea Shops.

“The ovens that are capable of this type of work can be found in heavily industrialized areas, and are regulated by the EPA to remove volatiles from the emissions.”

The remaining material and rust are removed via sandblasting, and a rust inhibitor is applied to halt any rust from forming before the powder-coating process. If the structure has rust, some pitting will be evident because the rust has corroded the steel; this pitting will not be hidden by the powder coating.


Even though aluminum doesn’t have the problems with rust that steel does, after eight to 10 years in the elements the paint will be faded and chipped. For aluminum pieces, the coating cannot be baked off as the high temperatures will weaken the structure of the metal.

Paint is removed from the aluminum by dipping the pieces into a chemical bath two to four times. Each piece is then sandblasted to remove any residue before the powder-coating process.

Powder Coating

Polyester is the powder-coating material. Sherwin-Williams, Tiger and Cardinal Industrial Finishes are three of the major manufacturers of the powder coatings. The coatings can be purchased in standard colors and even metallic finishes with hammered metal textures. Unique colors can be matched via Pantone color matching; however, this matching requires a minimum quantity, which can make a project more expensive if the entire amount is not needed.

The polyester is used in compositions suitable for outdoor use, but ultraviolet (UV) stabilizers are a must for outdoor applications. Industry-recommended colors for outdoor pieces are natural tones of black, brown and hunter green. Finishes can range from high-gloss to matte.

The light stability and endurance of the pigment are important. UV stabilizers prevent the polyester from deteriorating and creating a chalky white film. Increase the longevity of the piece by spending the money on the higher-quality polyesters with the correct UV stabilizers for the location. Additionally, add rubber pads to the bottom of the legs to protect them from being scored by the concrete when the piece is reinstalled.

“The powder-coating method uses electricity to charge the piece of metal with the opposite charge of the polyester particle. The charges are attracted to each other, causing the polyester to adhere via electrical charge to the metal,” says Robbins.

“Depending on the materials involved, the powder-coated parts are then baked between 320 to 410 degrees for five to 15 minutes.” For pieces that are exposed to the elements, a zinc-rich primer coating will help to prevent rust from forming.

More Than Metal

Benches and waste receptacles with wooden elements also can be restored. Woods that are commonly used are clear and knot-free -- such as pine lumber, heart redwood and Douglas fir. A board with knots in it is more likely to splinter or break.

A different option is using recycled plastic lumber made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a.k.a. recycled milk containers. This works well on waste receptacles, but benches need to have structural support, or the recycled plastic lumber will eventually sag. The standard rule is a span of no more than 3 feet without support.

Field Applications

In some cases, replacement costs aren’t as much of an issue as finding the exact style of piece.

“Our ornamental waste receptacles and benches were purchased at least 10 years ago as part of a streetscape project, and over time the paint had deteriorated and the metal rusted,” says Dave Merleno, public service director for the city of Ravenna, Ohio.

“We had them professionally restored to nearly new condition, and we expect the pieces to hold up much better than if we had painted them ourselves.”

In other areas, not only was the metal deteriorated, but the wood elements were weathered and broken.

“The wood in the benches was dry, and the metal was rusting. The benches were usable but they had seen better days,” says Mollie O’Donnell, planning administrator for the city of Columbus Parks Department in Ohio.

“The restored pieces look great. Even the waste receptacle that had wooden slats falling out of it was restored to like-new condition, including new wooden slats.”

Inside Equipment

Restoration can also be completed on indoor pieces as well. Of course, unless the benches or waste receptacles are used in an aquatic facility, the zinc-rich primer is not necessary. Restoration works on other types of steel and aluminum pieces, such as fitness equipment.

In a fitness center, the equipment can take a pounding--especially the free weights where the potential for the paint to chip is high. With normal humidity, the unprotected steel will rust. If the rust is not professionally removed, it continues to corrode the metal and look unsightly.

Over the course of 10 years, the free-weight equipment at the Health and Wellness Center in Akron, Ohio, had faded with more than a few nicks, dings and scratches.

By opting for restoration, the facility was able to update the equipment for a fraction of the cost of replacement.

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC which specializes in media and public relations for outdoor recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati is available online and in bookstores. You can reach her at

Bryan BuchkoComment