Maintaining Handrails And Railings


If iron railings, fences and gates are properly cared for, you should get a lifetime of use. Usually rust or corrosion affects the base of the post where it is set in concrete. The most serious form of rusting occurs because the top of a post is not properly sealed and water leaks inside the post where it corrodes from the inside. Even worse, water inside the post will expand in freezing weather, which expands the steel causing the steel to bulge. In some cases this expanding or “bulging” at the base of the post can actually break the steel, allowing more water to enter. At this stage, a railing is unsafe for use and must be replaced or a new post must be welded to the existing railing.

To maximize the life of your railing or fence, do the following annually or biannually:

  1. Inspect the bottom of each post. If there is rust, scrape the area with a steel wire brush and sand it with rough grade sanding paper. Clean the area with a 50/50 vinegar/water solution and ensure it is thoroughly dry before applying a rust-inhibiting primer, followed by a finishing enamel coat.
  2. Pay special attention to bulging at the bottom of posts. If there is any bulging, you should call a local repairman or railing company to replace the post. Bulging is a sign that water has entered the post. If you contact a local railing company or repairman to replace the post, ensure you specify to the repairman that the top of the post should be properly sealed to prevent water from entering through the top of the post.
  3. Check the cement/mortar around the base of the post to ensure it is mounded around the post. If the cement is recessed in the hole where the post is set, water will continually settle in the recess causing rust. If you notice water is consistently settling around a post, add mortar or cement to create a convex mound around the post. Water continually settling around posts will drastically weaken a railing and shorten its lifespan. Regularly check your posts after it rains to ensure water is not settling around posts.

Materials Needed:

  • Vinegar
  • Sanding Paper
  • Steel or Brass Wire Brushes
  • Drop cloths
  • Dust mask
  • Rust-inhibiting primer (if you use a spray can, make sure you adequately protect the surrounding area, i.e. house, bricks, etc. Spraying may leave a haze on areas you did not intend, so take heed!)
  • Rust-inhibiting paint (see note on spray cans above)
  • Goggles
  • Paint Brush (preferably a foam brush – these are cheap and effective)
  • Painter’s hat and protective clothing