How to Paint Your Porch Railings

  • Active Time: 4 hours
  • Total Time: 3 days to allow for dry time
  • Cost: $50 if you have some of the tools, closer to $100 if you need to buy everything
  • Help Needed?: Nope. This is an easy solo task.
  • Difficulty: Beginner (just need the right tools and some elbow grease)

Today on A Girl’s Guide to Home DIY we’re sharing how to paint your iron porch railings for beginner DIYers. This is a super easy project that will transform your front porch with a little (ok, a lot of) elbow grease. I did this project while 10 weeks pregnant and battling morning sickness, so I promise it’s good for beginners 😁

Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. The links are products I’ve used and loved in the past (or something very similar). 

Our Not-So-Pretty Front Porch

Updating our front porch was one of the big projects I tackled last Spring. In previous posts I talked about hanging new house numbers and removing a tree that was blocking our door. But, I’ve yet to address the biggest eyesore of them all: our rusty front porch railings.

how-to-paint-your-porch-railings
Before Pic. Just ignore the porch steps that needs to be power washed please 🙂

When we moved in 2 years prior, the previous owner had freshly painted our porch railings white, and they looked great. But, within 6 months, rust started to show through and paint started peeling. Turns out, he had just painted over the peeling and rusting paint to make things look pretty right before selling the house. Lame.

how-to-paint-your-porch-railings
Not so pretty close up.

Since we had other, more glamorous projects to focus on (i.e. the kitchen and upstairs bath), I ignored the front porch railings for another year until I couldn’t anymore. I did a bunch of research on how to best paint the railings, so it would last for years, and then dove in.

Before You Get Started

If you’re planning on tackling your own porch railings, it’s a good weekend project (Friday-Sunday or Saturday-Monday) since you’ll putting on 3 coats of paint. You’ll need about 2 hours the first day and 1 hour for 2 days after. Check the weather too, because you’ll want it to be dry all 3 days to let the paint dry well. And, you don’t want it to be too hot (>85℉) or too cold (<40℉); otherwise, the paint won’t dry properly.

how-to-paint-your-porch-railings

Supplies Needed

Here’s where research was important for me in how to paint your porch railings–I had no idea what kind of paint to use for metal or iron railings, especially ones that were rusted. The product I found recommended the most was Rust-oleum’s Stops Rust Rusty Paint Primer (not a sponsored post–I just really love the product!). It’s a primer coat to cover rusty metal that works to stop rust and prevent further corrosion.

primer for painting your metal porch railings
I’m not gonna lie–when I opened the primer I was a little surprised at the color. I honestly thought I got a contaminated can.

I truly believe this is why our railings still look great 18 months later! I got mine at our local hardware store, but Amazon and other online retailers also carry it.

Here’s a full list of what you’ll need for this project:

Let’s Get Started-Day 1!

Time to dive into how to paint your porch railings! Today is definitely the hardest of the 3–you can skip your arm workout if you had one planned! It took me 2-3 hours with lots of breaks (morning sickness was oh-so-kind to me during my first trimester 🤢 ).

Step 1 : Prep Your Space

Today you’ll need everything but the paint for your porch railings, so I laid everything out on the front walk for easy access.

Apply painters tape around the base of the railings to keep your porch protected and around where your railing inserts into the wall.

You can lay your down drop cloths if you want to help collect the paint chips you’re about to scrape off. Otherwise, you can wait til Step 4 to put them down.

Step 2: Scrape Off Old Paint

Here’s the hardest part of the whole project–you need to scrape off any peeling paint and as much of the rusty paint as you can. This step allows your new paint to have a clean, smooth surface to stick to. Otherwise, all the hardwork you put in will peel off whenever that old paint decides to come off.

Depending on how much old paint you have, this may be a quick step, or it may take an hour or so (like it did me). All the research I read said to use a wire brush to get the chipping paint and rust off. While the wire brush was very useful for me in the detail areas, the putty knife worked quickest for me for the larger areas. I wore my gardening gloves (I don’t have work gloves) to keep my hands from getting blistered.

I didn’t scrape all the paint off–just the parts that were peeling. If you have to scrape all the paint off, I would factor in more time.

While this is definitely the hardest step, it’s very satisfying to see all the old paint coming off! And, once you’re done, it’s all down hill from here!

Step 3: Clean off Porch Railings

Now that you’re done with the hard part, make sure you take the time to clean off the railings and your work space. Wipe down the railings to get any dirt or tiny paint chips off–I used some tack cloth I had from a previous project which worked perfectly. And, I used our shop vac to vacuum up all the paint chips.

Once you’re done cleaning up, if you haven’t applied your painters tape or put your drop cloths down, now’s the time to do that–painting is next up!

Step 4: Apply Primer to Porch Railings

porch railings primed
I promise this isn’t the final product–it’s primer time!

Equally important as chipping off the old paint is applying a primer. Even if your rails aren’t as rusty as mine, I’d still use a rust-blocking primer, since it not only covers the rust so it doesn’t leach through, but it also prevents rusting in the future (maybe if the previous owner had done that, I wouldn’t have had to repaint them so soon!)

Make sure the primer is mixed real well before you apply it. And, you’ll need your foam roller set and a few foam brushes to apply the primer to your porch railings.

You want to use foam rollers and brushes for this project because the foam will give you a smoother finish, without any brush strokes.

priming front porch railings

Once you’ve got everything set, use your roller to apply the primer to all the longer pieces of railing and the brush to use the more detailed work. Make sure you get all the nooks and crannies, so your new paint has something to adhere to tomorrow!

how-to-paint-your-porch-railings
You can thank my husband for the super flattering pic of me lol. I’m just going to blame it on the morning sickness.

Once everything is primed, you’re done for the day (your primer needs to dry for 24 hours)! Clean up is pretty easy for today–toss the roller cover and foam brush, close up your primer, and pick up the drop cloths, and you’re set! Put your feet up and enjoy an early glass of wine for all your hard work!

Day 2

Step 5: Apply First Coat of Enamel to your Porch Railings

how-to-paint-your-porch-railings
Love the glossy black I chose!

Ok, time to kick off Day 2! This is gonna be a pretty easy day–all you’re gonna do is apply your first coat of enamel. You’ll need to put your drop cloths out and have your new foam brush ready and your foam roller ready with a new roller cover. And, it doesn’t hurt to wipe the rails down with tack cloth again, since they’re outside and plenty of things could have gotten on them overnight.

Once you’re ready, open your new enamel for your porch railings and make sure it’s well mixed. Then start applying! Just like the primer, use the foam brush for the smaller details and the roller for the longer straight places. Make sure everything is covered and all your drips are smoothed over.

After your first coat is on–clean up and you’re done for the day! Easy peasy!

Day 3

Step 6: Apply Second Coat of Enamel to your Porch Railings

painted porch railings
Looking pretty good after Day 2’s first coat of paint!

Ok, last day–I’m sure you’re ready to be done with the project. I hate multiday projects when I’m just waiting for something to dry–why can’t we just be done already? But, the drying time is important for the enamel to cure properly, so I suck it up so the project’s done right.

Today is just a repeat of yesterday. Apply a second coat of enamel to the porch railings. And, then clean up! Allow another 24 hours of drying time. If after 24 hours, you think you need a third coat–go for it. My black covered really well, so two coats were all my porch railings needed.

Voila!

And, we’re done! Look how much better it looks for just a few hours of work!

painted porch railings
Here’s a close up so you can see better. I forgot to take the painters tape off first. Sorry!

And, we’re 18 months past this project and still don’t have a single chip of paint or sign of rust coming through!

Ready to dive into how to paint your porch railings? Or, do you have any front porch projects you need to tackle? Let me know in the Comments!

And, if you need some inspiration for outdoor projects to complete, check out a few of our favorite outdoor projects, like Changing Your Screen in Your Storm Door, Replacing an Outdoor Light Fixture, and Changing Your Address Numbers. And then, head to our homepage for a full list of all our step-by-step guides.

~Lauren

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this informative article! All the information provided by you is really very helpful for all. I agreed that tack cloth is the best cleaning tool. It is helpful for removing tiny dust particles from the surface and gives you a perfect finishing. Keep posting! Keep sharing!

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback! I love tack cloth—and once I found it for one project, now use it on any project I need to pick up saw dust or paint chips

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