How to Clean Wrought Iron in 5 Easy Steps

Wrought iron outdoor furniture set.

Rikki Snyder

If you enjoy spending time in the kitchen, you've probably learned by now how to take care of and clean your cast iron pans. But what about the other kinds of iron in and around your home? Because it's used ornamentally or as furniture, wrought iron—cast iron that's been heated and worked on with tools—requires a bit of a different process than the cast iron you use to cook breakfast.

After it's shaped by an ironworker, wrought iron is commonly used ornamentally for gates, railings, and garden furniture. You may also see wrought iron used for candle holders, curtain rods, or even wine racks. While wrought iron is relatively corrosion-resistant compared to other metals, it can still become dusty, dirty, and rusty over time—so you'll need to clean it relatively frequently. Luckily, with the right tools and a bit of time, anyone can restore wrought iron.

Here's how to clean wrought iron like a pro.

How Often Should You Clean Wrought Iron?

How often you clean wrought iron depends on what you use it for and how likely it is to accumulate dirt and debris. For example, if you have wrought iron patio furniture, you'll want to clean it a few times per season (or as soon as you notice it's getting dirty). Because you're not sitting on them, you can get away with cleaning other types of wrought iron, like fences and gates, less frequently—potentially once or twice a year. If you have wrought iron accessories in your home, clean them once a season or as needed.

Wrought Iron Patio Set

John Keeble/Getty

Things You'll Need

  • Duster or vacuum with a brush attachment
  • Large bucket
  • Gentle liquid dish soap
  • Distilled white vinegar (optional)
  • Warm water
  • Cleaning brushes or a sturdy sponge
  • Microfiber cloth or rag
  • Pressure washer (optional)
  • Paint scraper (optional)
  • Phosphoric acid (optional)
  • Wire brush (optional)
  • Gloves, mask, and eye protection (optional)
  • Medium-weight sandpaper
  • Touch-up paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Automotive spray wax

Step 1: Remove the Dust

Like anything else in your home, wrought iron can collect dust over time. Make sure to remove all visible dust first so you can effectively clean your ironwork. If your wrought iron surface is small, you can simply use a duster or even a microfiber cloth to do the job. But if you're working on a larger surface like a railing or patio set, you may want to use your vacuum.

Simply attach the brush attachment on the hose, and work your way up and down the surface to get rid of any loose dust and debris.

Step 2: Wash The Wrought Iron

Next, it's time to remove pesky dirt and grime from your wrought iron. Start by adding a few drops of gentle liquid dish soap into a large bucket of warm water. In general, aim for one tablespoon of soap per quart of water.

If you're cleaning indoor ironwork that's not as dirty, you can also use a mild vinegar and water solution—just add about a half cup of distilled white vinegar per half gallon of water.

Then, dip a sponge or appropriately sized brush in the solution and use it to clean the surface. A medium- or large-sized brush works well for larger surfaces, while you may want to use a smaller one that can reach curves and crevices for detail work.

Step 3: Rinse With Clean Water

Once you've thoroughly cleaned the wrought iron surface, rinse away the soapy residue. If you're indoors, you can use a microfiber cloth or cleaning rag soaked in clean water to finish the job. When you're cleaning a larger, outdoor area, simply use your garden hose to spray away the remaining soap.

Wrought iron window in country house with flowers.

Rikki Snyder

Step 4: Remove the Rust

After cleaning the dirt from your ironwork, you may want to touch it up by removing rusty spots. A paint scraper or sandpaper may be enough to take care of it, but for particularly rusty spots, you may need the help of a chemical called phosphoric acid.

Phosphoric acid, which comes in gel and spray forms, works by converting rust into a hard, black crust that's easier to remove. Always use phosphoric acid outdoors or in a properly ventilated space. Before you apply it, put on gloves, eye protection, and a face mask. Allow the acid to sit on the surface for a full 24 hours before touching it again. Then, use a wire brush to get rid of the flakes.

Once you finish, you may want to repeat the cleaning process, especially if you plan to repaint your ironwork.

Step 5: Repaint as Needed

Painted ironwork, especially patio furniture, may be vulnerable to paint chips from daily use. Once your wrought iron is totally dry, you can use medium-weight sandpaper to smooth out any chipped areas. If your wrought iron has a lot of chipped paint and debris, a pressure washer may do a better job of stripping it before you paint. If you use this method, make sure to let the surface fully dry before attempting to paint.

Once the surface is dry, wipe away any remaining dust or debris with a dry, microfiber cloth. Then apply the matching touch-up paint with your brush and allow it to dry.

If you're repainting a large piece of wrought iron with intricate design, use spray paint instead of a brush.

How to Keep Wrought Iron Cleaner, Longer

Cleaning wrought iron requires a bit more time and energy than other household chores, so after you finish cleaning or repainting, protect it. Try spraying car or specialized-iron wax on the surface after the paint dries to add a protective coating that'll shield your wrought iron from pesky scratches and paint chips over time.

Cleaning your wrought iron as you go can also prolong the duration between deep cleans (and prevent unnecessary damage). For example, if you have a wrought iron patio set, always wipe away any splatters and spills when they happen. Pay attention, too, to sunscreen or bug spray residue, which can create discoloration on wrought iron.

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