How Do You Protect And Maintain Outdoor Metal Art?

Nothing beats a beautiful metal art piece when it comes to enhancing the appearance of your garden or backyard. These unique decor pieces can elevate any outdoor living space. However, no matter how strong metal is, it can’t always withstand the changing weather conditions throughout the year. But do not worry – There are plenty of methods you can use to protect and maintain your outdoor metal art!

By utilising a combination of mineral spirits and polyurethane, you can preserve your metal outdoor art for years at a time. Using acetone to clean your metal art sculptures before powder coating, painting, and clear coating them is another great way to ensure your outdoor metal art will stay in top condition for years to come.

Whether it’s a sculpture, abstract art, sign, or some other creative art piece, an outdoor metal installation is always an eye-catcher. That’s why it’s more and more popular to invest in metal art for your business or home. Using the information provided here, you will no longer need to worry about the deterioration of your art, as it endures the harsh outdoor conditions. 

This article describes the simple maintenance steps you should take to make sure your outdoor metal artwork continues to shine for a long time.

Do I Need To Protect Outdoor Metal Art? 

Protecting your outdoor metal art is very important if you want to enjoy it for years to come.The chemical composition of metal means it can be vulnerable to rust, tarnishing, and corrosion if not maintained. 

The elements outside, such as the sun, rain, wind, dust, and pollution, can take their toll on metal fixtures if it’s neglected. But don’t worry, it is actually very simple to protect your metal art from deterioration. 

Luckily, metal is a very physically strong material, which makes it perfect for outdoor use. But nothing is perfect. Your metal art will take some maintenance to ensure it stays in its best condition. 

When you invest in a great art piece, you want to make sure you can keep it as close to its original condition as possible. So while you will need to take some time to keep your metal art protected, it will be worth it to enjoy its presence in your backyard and garden for a long time. Of course, you should also be sure you hang your metal wall art securely to avoid damage.

How Do You Keep Metal Art from Rusting Outside

The worst enemy of metal is rust. Fortunately, you can do some steps in order to keep metal artwork from rusting. Here are some strategies for preserving metal art and sculptures outdoors.

1. Choose The Best Metal For Outdoor Sculptures

One of the best strategies to avoid outdoor art rusting is to choose the right material for the environment. Choosing the right metal for outdoor metal art is the best investment to make sure it truly lasts.

Aluminium is the best metal for outdoor art if you want to avoid rusting and wear. For an added layer of protection, we recommend powder coating for garden sculptures and other outdoor metal art. As a bonus, this allows you to customise the look and colour of the finished artwork. 

On the other hand, corten steel or weathering steel is another great metal for outdoor art. Corten steel has a fantastic rustic look that actually hinges on rusting, and develops a beautiful patina. This outer layer protects the rest of the metal and ensures it stays strong and durable. 

2. Powder Coat Your Metal Outdoor Art

Properly cured, powder-coated finishes are tougher, thicker, and more durable than conventional paint. However, the way it works differs from standard liquid paints, which are delivered via a binder and evaporating solvent. 

Powder coating is a kind of process where a free-flowing, dry pigment powder (whether a thermoplastic or thermoset polymer) is applied to the metal. The pigment, which is applied using a powder coating gun, sticks to the metal via static electricity. It is then cured using heat (often baked in an oven) or static electricity. 

As long as you apply primer first (also powder coated), your powder-coated metal can effectively resist oxidation and corrosion for a long time.

3. Keep It Covered And Out Of The Rain 

The cycle of rain and sun exposure can contribute to rusting. Water droplets can seep into areas that are unprotected and not primed, causing oxidation.

In addition, droplets that stay on the surface can act as lenses, focusing the sun’s light on a point on the surface. That intense light can bore through a hole into the paint, allow the water to seep through, and can corrode the metal under the paint.

You can solve this problem by erecting a roof over your metal artwork or placing it under a roofed area. Doing so protects your piece from rain or harsh sunshine. If this is impractical, you can cover the artwork with a canvas tarp when it rains, although this isn’t exactly a convenient solution.

4. Use Grease To Keep Metal Art From Rusting

Another simple way to prevent water seepage is to apply grease, especially on moving or mechanical parts, if your artwork has them. Grease is oil based, and since oil repels water, a thin layer of grease should be enough to protect your artwork. Of course, grease lubricates moving parts and shields them from water damage.

However, that grease easily attracts dust and dirt. So if you want to use this method of protection, be prepared to regularly clean your artwork. Strong detergent can break the oil, but you have to reapply the grease again.

5. Apply Paste Wax To Your Metal Art

You can use paste wax to protect your metal art, and it has been used for centuries to protect outdoor metal from the weather. However, it lacks the durability of modern polyurethane or lacquer-based products.

You can use a brush, paper towel or cloth to apply paste wax to metal art. Depending on the brand of paste wax you purchase, it can even colour the sculpture.

6. Use A UV Protective Spray On Your Outdoor Metal Art

You can prevent paint deterioration by using a UV protective spray on your metal artwork. The substance works by absorbing most UV rays. Through UV absorption, your paintwork is preserved for a much longer time.

Metal itself is unaffected by the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UV) because of the availability of free electrons to absorb light without being affected by bond dissociation or energy transition. However, the paint that covers the surface can be affected by UV rays. Over time, the paint can fade and bleach, making your metal artwork less vivid and bland-looking.

7. Apply A Clear Coat To Protect The Metal 

Clear coating your artwork is commonly recommended to protect outdoor sculptures, but it does have both pros and cons, and it isn’t suitable for all materials.Clear coating is best for metal surfaces that are already powder coated, providing an extra layer of protection from the elements. 

A clear coat is a transparent, non-pigmented coat of paint that is applied to your actual paintwork and the metal material beneath it. The clear coat acts as armour, shielding your  metals from UV rays, mildew, acid, rain and chlorine. Clear coats can either be solvent or water-based. 

However, clear coating mild steel artwork won’t be enough to keep it from rusting. Since the sun’s rays are a contributor to rusting, not just moisture exposure, steel can continue to rust underneath the polyurethane coating. This causes the clear coating to bubble over time, and re-application is time-consuming and messy.

How Do You Paint Outdoor Metal Art?

Unless your outdoor metal art is chemically plated or electroplated, painting (or repainting) your piece is highly recommended. Not only does the paint provide visual interest and character, it also protects the underlying metal from oxidation.

Here are a few steps on how to paint your outdoor metal art. 

1. Use A Wire Brush To Remove Any Rust 

Before painting your metal art, it’s important to remove every bit of rust on it. Rust not only affects paint adhesion, but it also clearly shows imperfections on the newly painted surface. In addition, the underlying rust will continue to corrode the metal underneath the paint layer.

Your first tool for rust removal is a simple wire brush. Scrub the rusted area until the bare metal shows.

2. Sand Off Any Remaining Rust 

Sand the surface until the bare metal shows. Remove the remaining rust using macro-grit or coarse sandpaper – you can use 24-grit sandpaper first and finish it with a finer 80-grit. If manual sanding is too tedious, you can use a machine sander to make the job faster and easier.

A better option is to use a sandblaster. Sandblasting, or abrasive blasting, is a rust-removal operation by forcibly propelling a high-pressure flow of abrasive material against a surface. 

3. Wipe It Down With A Lint-Free Cloth

After all bits of rust are sanded or blasted off, wipe the bare metal with a lint-free cloth to remove surface contaminants. If the cloth still has rust streaks, wipe the surface with a coarser cloth, followed by a lint-free cloth.

4. Use A Spray-On Rust Remover For Stubborn Or Delicate Areas 

There might be areas where rust may be difficult to remove – for example, the rust may have crusted through the metal. Perhaps there are rusted hard-to-reach areas in your artwork. Perhaps manual or machine sanding a certain delicate part may damage that area.

In this case, you can use a commercial spray-on rust remover to get rid of the rust. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for best results.

If the part can be detached and small enough to be placed in a container, use an acid rust remover mixed with distilled water. Leave the part for a few hours to allow the acid to eat away at the rust. Acid rust removers are quite strong, so do handle these materials with care.

5. Wipe It Down With Acetone

Once all rust is removed, wipe down the bare metal with acetone. This burns chemical impurities and prepares the surface for priming.

For small, detachable parts (or if your artwork is small enough) you can give it an electrolytic bath. An electric current is applied to the cleaning solution, the process of which generates tiny bubbles (this process is called cavitation). The force of the exploding bubbles removes dirt, dust, and other surface contaminants, leaving the bare metal surface clean and spotless.

6. Prime Your Piece For Painting 

Once the metal is clean and dry, it’s time to apply a rust-preventative primer. A primer is a preparatory coat that “bites” into the metal. It protects the metal surface from oxidation and gives the subsequent paint layers a surface to adhere to.

Applying primer also gives you a preview of how the painted artwork would look like before the actual paint is applied. If you see imperfections such as pitting or embedded debris, you can fix them before applying paint.

While brush painting or spray painting is fine, it’s highly recommended that you apply the primer via powder coating. This “cooks” the primer right into the metal, providing a sturdy, corrosion-resistant base. 

7. Paint Your Outdoor Metal Art

Once the primer has cured, it’s time to apply paint to your outdoor metal art; whether you hand-brush, airbrush, or use a spray can/gun is up to you. Use paint that is formulated for outdoor use.

Like the primer, we highly recommend powder coating your piece for a sturdier finish. Let the paint dry thoroughly before displaying your art piece.

8. Apply A Layer Of Clear Coat Or Sealer

It is highly recommended that you seal the entire paintwork with a clear coat or sealer. Whether you use flat, satin, or gloss coats depends on the final look that you desire. A clear coat, as mentioned above, protects your paintwork and the metal surface from oxidation, bleaching, contamination, and other forms of damage.

Just be aware that applying clear coats or sealers may slightly alter the final look of your art piece.

How Long Does Rust Proofing Last? 

Rustproofing metal can last for around two years if done correctly. With regular maintenance such as cleaning, waxing, sheltering, and so on, your rustproofing can extend even beyond those years.

It also depends on your rust proofing method. For example, a powder-coated piece would last longer than pieces that are hand-brushed or spray painted.

If you see the paint peeling off or if you see splotches of rust on your artwork, then it’s time for another rust proofing session.

Is Rusted Metal Weaker?

Yes, rusted metal is weaker than non-rusted bare metal. Rust is an oxidised metal, meaning the elements that once made the metal strong are now gone and corroded. What is left are the elements that make metal brittle and weak.

Disclaimer: This article is published in good faith and for general informational purposes only. Kanyana Engineering does not make any warranties about the ongoing completeness and reliability of this information. Always seek specific advice on your metal fabrication project to ensure all variables are taken into consideration.