How to Fix: Rusting Metal Outdoor Stair Steps.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

repainted metal steps

This, ugh, this set of steps, these metal outdoor stair units are a rusting maintenance time-suck hell, I tell you.  And this type of stair is ubiquitous around Chicago too with a vast majority of homes or apartment buildings using them front, back, or both.

I suppose in the long run, there aren't many light-on-maintenance outdoor stairs.  Wood needs painting or staining and it rots.  Metal rusts, welds rust through, the treads are slippery.  You can't salt either material as that speeds deterioration.

Concrete, that's pretty good if you've got a short run from the walk to the door but over time, the surface can pit or form cracks.

Hm.  Everything's got pluses and minuses.

Well anyway, if you've got the metal type and they just will.not.stop.rusting, I hear you.  And we're going to attempt to solve that dilemma, or at least attempt to drag out the unceasing maintenance, today.

rusting metal stair steps before
Rust rust go away.  Don't come back another day.
Every year since we've gotten here, I've done the same exact thing:  buy a can of oil-based Rustoleum in flat black and repaint the stair.  And we're well acquainted with that phrase, right, the definition of insanity?  Yeah.

And it never works.  Each spring after a ravaging winter, the treads are rusty yet again.  And the leftover paint dries out in the can.  Waste of time, money, and effort.

One year I tried Rustoleum's (oy it's a theme eh?) Rust Reformer* then the Rustoleum paint.  No go.

rustoleum rust reformer bottle
This is this year though.
Ok, so it was time to approach from an entirely new angle as I cannot take these damn rusty steps out front anymore.  Any. More.

Reading up online, I opted to try the alkyd paint route as it says, claims, it's like super glue to outdoor metal.  It does seem weird that a water-based paint is metal approved, but alkyd, which I ordered from Home Depot,* is a different kind of formula.

Alkyd is generally a resin-based paint, some are mineral spirits clean up while there are new formulations that are water-based.  It's like if oil paint and enamel had a baby paint and that baby paint received the best genes of both.  

This type of paint is not meant for walls per se but for things that have it rough, so like wood, metal, cabinets, things of that nature.  Here, you can read more via this link.

My fix it game plan was multifaceted as like I said, I've had it up to mmnnmph with this rusting metal outdoor steps crap.

First I ran over by the good ol' reliable second home Menards and picked up a knot wire wheel brush* for my corded drill.*  Oh, and prior to this, I had ordered some butch ear protection, the earmuff type,* 

So first, grind down and out the rust and chippy bits and whatever else old paint that was loose.  Absolutely slip on some good eye goggles,* the chippy bit sh*t flies everywhere.  It takes a while, it's tiring, and the noise annoys the neighbors, but you must get up everything that's loose.

grinding away rust and chipped paint with wire brush on drill
The top step is done, the step below it is still "before" so you can see the difference a bit.
With steps, especially front ones where mail and other deliveries are happening, plus the ability for us to get up and down if needed, I did this in parts as my wee legs aren't long enough to go from ground to porch.

Next came the Rust Reformer.  Slopped it on everywhere with a chip brush,* let that set and dry and do its curing whatever overnight.  Make sure you plot this adventure out when it's not super hot, you're out of direct sun, and rain is not forecasted.  Kinda important.

spreading rust reformer over stair steps
Eh, cover the whole step, why not.
Since I needed another bottle of the reformer stuff, of course because why can't I ever run out of things at the right moment and not need more, I picked up an alkyd primer* at Menards as well.  Yeah I ain't messin' around this time.

rust control alkyd metal primer can
You can see how the rust reformer converted the rust on the step before priming.
The primer was like glue, literally nearly like a paste, and I was a tad nervous using it as the can suggested it could react badly with anything on the surface prior…Flash forwards running through my head of trying to strip the steps or grind off the prim......  Ugh no.  

primer coating two steps complete
This primer was blinding, freakin' blinding in bright sunlight, oh my gosh.
But, turns out, all was fine.  Whew, no Murphy's Law for me today.  Finally.

Brush on a coat of the alkyd paint, let it dry and boy, ain’t nothin’ “satin” about this satin sheen.  Quite glossy which was disappointing.  The sheen, henceforth, doesn’t match anything else in its flat paint finish.

finished repainted metal outdoor steps
Voila!  Tada!  Repainted previously rusting outdoor metal steps ready for winter!
So it is. 

Lastly, repeat the process on the three remaining steps, give a second coat to everything, and now I hold my breath and hope.  Please no rust please no rust please no rust.

alkyd paint repainted metal outdoor steps

Fingers crossed this is finally a success. 

Granted, as I sit here typing this late summer teetering into fall, there will most definitely be an update on how it held up over this upcoming winter.   I'll come back and link to the post next spring, 2022 (?!?), so stay tuned!  

*The alkyd paint and primer links are Home Depot affiliate links.  The Rust Reformer, knot wire wheel brush, corded drills, ear protection, eye protection, and chip brushes are Amazon affiliate links.  Mwah, thanks!  Please see the "boring stuff" tab for more info.


  1. Dying to see steps in 2022...

    1. Great timing with your query! Coming very very soon!

    2. So where is part 2?

    3. Ah you're right, I forgot to add the update link at the bottom! So sorry! Scroll to the bottom of the post and the link to the spring update is there.


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