How to Clean Wrought Iron

Wrought iron furniture

Hamilton Knight: Martine / Getty Images

Wrought iron is a beautiful and durable material when used for outdoor furniture, railings, and ornamental accessories, as well as for indoor accents, such as shelves, brackets, and fixtures. Because the texture is somewhat rough, wrought iron tends to collect dust and grime a little more readily than smooth surfaces, but when painted and maintained properly, cleaning is quite easy.

Wrought iron is a metal with a very low carbon content when compared to steel, which makes it very malleable and easy to shape and weld into decorative pieces with intricate shapes that can collect dust and dirt. In addition, all iron-based metals will eventually rust and corrode; wrought iron is especially susceptible to this if the surface paint coat is allowed to peel or chip away. Especially in outdoor locations, cleaning wrought iron can involve sanding or grinding away loose paint and rust in order to thoroughly clean the metal before repainting. 

Here are some basic supplies you should have on hand to clean wrought iron: 

  • Vacuum cleaner with attachment brush
  • Bucket
  • Mild dish soap
  • Cleaning rag
  • Small nylon detail brush
  • Pressure sprayer or garden hose (optional)
  • Paint scraper
  • Sandpaper
  • Dust mask
  • Eye protection
  • Drill with wire brushes and sanding discs
  • Touch-up paint

General Cleaning

Routine cleaning of wrought iron is really not much different than cleaning any household surface.

  1. Wrought iron surfaces can be quite dusty, so begin by using a vacuum with a brush attachment to remove as much of the loose dust and grime as you can.
  2. Use a mild mixture of water and dish soap to clean all surfaces. On intricate pieces, dip a small nylon scrubbing brush (a toothbrush will work) in soapy water and use it to scrub crevices and tight curves. 
  3. Rinse with clear water. On outdoor furniture or railings, you can spray the wrought iron with a garden hose. 

Cleaning Prior to Touch-Up Painting

A more thorough cleaning is necessary if your wrought iron pieces have chipped paint or rust. 

  1. Use a paint scraper to remove any loose paint. Make sure to sweep up and dispose of paint chips. 
  2. Use a drill with a wire brush to remove peeling paint from small crevices and to remove most of the rust from bare iron surfaces. This can be a messy job, so wear eye protection and a dust mask. 
  3. Once all loose paint is removed, use sandpaper to remove any remaining rust on exposed metal surfaces. 
  4. Do a thorough cleaning of the entire piece to remove any loose dust. 

Pressure-sprayer Option

A high-pressure sprayer may be an option on wrought iron pieces with a lot of chipped, peeling paint. A pressure sprayer can make short work of stripping loose paint from metal surfaces, provided they are in good shape. A pressure sprayer is a powerful, serious tool, so use it with caution, and be careful not to damage adjoining surfaces. 

Tips on Repainting

Once all loose paint, rust, and grime is removed, proceed as soon as possible to painting the wrought iron. Left exposed, the iron will quickly develop more rust. For best results, use a rust-proofing primer on all bare metal, then apply at least two coats of durable enamel paint. Spray paints are the best choice when painting ironwork with intricate detailing. Applying several light coats provide better results than attempting to cover with a single heavy coat.

Tip: Painted wrought iron surfaces can be periodically polished with automotive wax to protect them and maintain their luster. After the wax has dried, buff the iron with a soft cloth to create an attractive shine. Waxed surfaces are also less likely to collect dust and dirt, and less likely to rust.