How to clean wrought iron – 5 steps for perfectly maintained metal

From furniture to fencing to decor, this simple approach to cleaning wrought iron removes and prevents rust

(Image credit: Susie Watson)

Wrought iron is an incredible study, a long-lasting option when it comes to home decor, fencing, and outdoor furniture. If maintained correctly, it can last you upwards of a decade or more.

As with any metal, however, wrought iron is susceptible to weathering and rust – even if it takes longer to show than cast iron or steel, for example. This is only made worse if your wrought iron is not cleaned and dried properly, cleaning experts warn.

Here, professional cleaners have shared their top cleaning tips for wrought iron to keep your pieces in top condition for longer and prevent the need to scrub away rust.

How to clean wrought iron

‘Wrought iron can add character to both the inside and outside of your home, and it generally lasts longer than alternative materials. However, due to its slightly coarse texture, wrought iron can sometimes catch and hold extra dust and dirt, and it will inevitably rust,’ warns Daniel Brown, cleaning expert and CEO of Handy Cleaners. ‘It’s important to regularly clean and care for your wrought iron to preserve it and keep it looking its best.’

1. Remove any soft furnishings

cottage patio ideas susie watson designs wrought iron garden furniture

(Image credit: Susie Watson Designs)

Before you start cleaning wrought iron, you will need to remove anything non-metal from it where you can, begins Daniel Brown, cleaning expert. ‘You want your piece to be completely bare so that nothing stands in the way of the cleaning process. Take off all cushions, pillows, and coverings.

‘If your wrought iron item is made out of multiple materials, such as a bench with a wooden seat and iron sides, you may not be able to isolate the wrought iron. If this is the case, clean carefully in the places where the two materials meet. You can also try wrapping the non-wrought iron parts of your piece in plastic wrap,’ he suggests.

2. Use a wire brush to remove loose dirt

cottage patio ideas leigh house Kasia Fiszer walled patio with wrought iron furniture

(Image credit: Future/Kasia Fiszer)

Like cleaning cast iron, before you start scrubbing it is helpful to remove any loose debris from the surface first, to avoid muddying your water unnecessarily, adds Vanessa Terra Bossart, professional cleaner and owner of Green Terra Cleaning. ‘This prepares the surface for more thorough cleaning,’ she says. The easiest way to do this is to use a stiff bristled brush to scrub at the surface and in any nooks and crannies. Working outside or on a drop cloth will make the clean-up afterward easier, Vanessa explains.

‘For rust spots, soak a cloth in white vinegar and place it on the rusted area for an hour. Scrub with a wire brush, rinse with water, and dry thoroughly,’ she adds.

3. Scrub with warm soapy water

A metal bucket with wooden mop in it next to a stool with a glass bottle and brush

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

Wrought iron is relatively easy to clean insomuch as you only need warm soapy water in most cases, says Daniel Brown, cleaning expert:

‘Fill two buckets or spray bottles with warm water. You’ll need to both wash and rinse your wrought iron. One of your buckets or spray bottles will be reserved for just rinsing, and this one will be filled with only water. Be sure that the water isn’t too hot. You don’t want it to burn your hands when you begin cleaning your item.

‘You’ll want to use a mild cleanser such as dish soap or a household cleaner to one of them to gently clean the wrought iron without damaging it. Be sure to avoid antibacterial soaps or cleansers that contain bleach,’ he warns. This could damage the surface or discolor the iron.

‘When cleaning, don’t worry about squeezing the excess water from your sponge,’ Daniel continues. ‘You’ll want plenty of soapy water to ensure that you reach every nook and cranny of your wrought iron item. If you are using a spray bottle, spray the sponge or cloth with your cleaning solution until it’s thoroughly dampened. Wipe the wrought iron in a circular motion, working in small sections at a time, in order to fully clean the item. Re-dampen the sponge or cloth as necessary.

‘Finish by rinsing the soap away with the plain water,’ Daniel says.

4. Dry completely to avoid rust

Henry iron bed from the Period Living collection at Wrought Iron & Brass Bed Co

(Image credit: Wrought Iron & Brass Bed Co x Period Living)

With the wrought iron clean, it is vital that you dry it completely to avoid sitting water creating rust. If you can, work on a hot, sunny day where the iron can be left to dry thoroughly. Otherwise, use a clean, dry towel to dry off the surface, and place in a warm, well-ventilated spot to let any smaller areas dry quickly.

It might help to use a dehumidifier to draw excess water away and encourage the flow of dry air around the item.

5. Remove rust immediately

‘If rust does appear, it's important to address it immediately,’ urges Eliana Coca, expert cleaner and owner of E.C. House Cleaning. To remove rust from metal garden furniture, decor, and fences, ‘sand the affected area with fine-grit sandpaper until the rust is removed,’ Eliana suggests. ‘Clean the area with a damp cloth, allow it to dry, and then apply a rust-inhibiting primer followed by touch-up paint.

‘I find products like Hammerite, available at Amazon, to be highly effective, as they seal the metal and prevent moisture, ensuring the longevity of the repair. Regular inspections and timely treatments are key to keeping wrought iron in pristine condition.’


Can you use vinegar to clean wrought iron?

Wrought iron is one of many things you can clean with vinegar, and it can be especially effective if you have not cleaned your wrought iron in a long time as it helps to break down grime and remove rust spots. To clean wrought iron with vinegar, mix two parts water to one part white vinegar and clean as normal.

Can you pressure wash wrought iron?

Given its tough nature, you can use a pressure washer to clean wrought iron and blast away first grime, and even some rust. Use a pressure washer with a rotary nozzle for the best results, and remember to dry thoroughly afterward to avoid rust forming.

If you want to ward off rust completely from your wrought iron, it is a good idea to prime and paint it with rust-preventing paint, concludes Vanessa Terra Bossart, professional cleaner. ‘Apply a rust-inhibiting primer followed by a coat of outdoor metal paint. This provides a protective barrier against moisture and rust. Products like Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Clean Metal Primer, at Walmart and Rust-Oleum Protective Enamel Paint are excellent choices,’ she shares.

‘Regularly inspect outdoor wrought iron for signs of rust or damage. Address any issues immediately to prevent them from worsening.’

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.