Wrought iron is a tough material, which makes it easy to care for. But it does have a slightly coarse texture which can hold extra dirt and dust, and when used for outdoor gates or furniture, this leads to rust.
Thankfully, with regular cleaning and maintenance, your wrought iron masterpieces will last forever. It doesn’t matter what kind of wrought iron you’re working with—regular cleaning ensures that everything from gorgeous wrought iron tables to small wrought iron brackets will remain strong and vibrant for decades.
Here’s a full rundown on how to clean wrought iron.
Equipment you’ll need
To properly clean your wrought iron, you’re going to need the following:
- Two buckets or spray bottles
- A mild cleanser
- A file
- Steel wool
- Spray paint (optional)
There’s also a few optional tools that can make the job a bit easier. For example, you can substitute the file and steel wool for a brass wire wheel and power drill. You can also throw a hairdryer into the mix, to dry your wrought iron dry more quickly and thoroughly. And if these items seem like a weird mix, all will become clear soon!
If you’re looking to clean wrought iron furniture, clear a space outside that can handle a bit of water and dirt. If you’re cleaning inside, lay a tarp or some plastic to contain the mess.
Step 1 – Fill buckets or spray bottles
If you’re cleaning larger items such as railings or outdoor furniture, fill two buckets with warm water—one for cleaning, and one for rinsing. If you’re cleaning smaller items, spray bottles are easier.
If you have access to a hose, you can just fill up the one bucket (or spray bottle), and use this for rinsing instead.
Step 2 – Make the cleaning solution
Make the cleaning solution by adding soap to one of the buckets of water. A mild cleanser like liquid soap, dish soap, or a gentle household cleaner will work fine, but be sure to avoid antibacterial soaps or cleansers that contain bleach as they can damage the wrought iron.
Vinegar can be used too, but it probably won’t be strong enough to remove dirt from outdoor items such as gates or fences. Here are the ratios for the various cleansers:
- Liquid soap: add 1 tablespoon to around 950mL of water
- Household cleaner: add ¼ cup to around 1900mL of water
- White vinegar: add ½ cup to around 1900mL of water
Step 3 – Remove non-wrought iron material
Depending on what you’re cleaning, it may have some timber, upholstered, or steel components. If possible, remove those materials before cleaning. If that isn’t possible, you’ll need to clean carefully where the two materials meet.
You can also keep non-wrought iron sections dry by covering them in cling wrap. In certain circumstances, wrought iron may be bolted to another material like timber, and if that’s the case we would suggest gently unbolting the wrought iron components so they can be cleaned separately.
Step 4 – Clean
Remove dust and dirt by cleaning the wrought iron in a circular motion, working on small sections at a time. Re-dampen your cloth or sponge if necessary. There is usually no need to be too vigorous at this stage, unless there’s particularly thick or tarry grime adhering to your wrought iron fixtures. If that’s the case, you may need to apply some elbow grease, but be careful not to abrade the surface of the wrought iron as it can expose it to rust.
Step 5 – Rinse
If you’re using a hose, use this to rinse your wrought iron thoroughly. If not, with a clean sponge, use your second bucket of water or spray bottle to rinse, making sure to go over the wrought-iron thoroughly.
When you’re done, it’s important that no grime or debris remains on the surface of your wrought iron. As a general rule, you will know you’re finished when you’re able to wring out your sponge and only clear water appears. Refill your bucket if the water becomes too dirty, and keep going.
Step 6 – Dry
Allow the wrought iron to dry completely. Outdoor items can be left to dry in the sun and indoor items should be wiped with another clean cloth until all excess moisture is removed. If you’re pressed for time, or if you just want to do a perfect job, then we would recommend using a hairdryer, portable fan, or battery-powered heat gun.
If you’re able to get your wrought iron bone dry, you’ll have a good working surface for the next step.
Step 7 – File down the rust
Rust is the natural enemy of wrought iron, and in a climate such as Queensland’s, it’s bound to rear its head sooner or later. Luckily, it’s easy to address. Immediately after cleaning your item, file down any rust with sandpaper, a coarse wire brush, or a piece of steel wool.
Generally, a brass wire wheel and power drill combo is the most effective tool for this job. Once you’ve dislodged all the rust and exposed the clean wrought iron underneath, just brush away the excess flakes and then re-clean the item following the steps above, to ensure that any tiny remnants of rust are removed.
If you have an outdoor item that has a damaged, flaking paint finish, you can start the restoration process by sandpapering the piece all over, or consider renting a portable sand blaster that will do the job quickly and easily.
Protecting wrought iron from rust is important in an outdoor setting, and the best way to do so is by addressing any developing rust as soon as you see it.
Step 8 – Restore damaged paintwork
When the rust is gone, prepare the surface for refinishing by removing any dust or debris that’s appeared as a result of the sanding process. Rinse off and dry all of the surfaces, then paint on a rust-resistant primer, making sure evenly coat them.
Refinishing the iron surface is the next step, and this can be done with an acrylic latex paint or an oil-based paint that is specifically made for outdoor metal items. This will ensure your item has the ultimate protection from the elements.
Paint once, allow to dry thoroughly, and then apply a second coat. If spray painting, make sure there is adequate ventilation and you use a drop cloth to prevent paint staining any surfaces.
Step 9 – Repeat as needed!
If you’re wondering how to look after wrought iron in the long-term, you should start with dusting your items on a regular basis, using a feather duster or a lint-free microfiber cloth at least once a week.
To buff your wrought iron pieces to a shiny finish, you can use a specially formulated wax product and use a soft cloth to apply it with small circular motions. Allow to dry completely and then use the reverse of the cloth to polish the wrought iron. This will protect it from wear, and in the case of outdoor items, it will also protect it from the harsh Australian elements.