I'm working with a non-profit (little money) group the rust and
repaint a 1.5 story steel stairway on their building. Hasn't been
painted in ant least 30 years. We need to strip the rust before
Our first thought was to sandblast it, but it turns out that none of
the rental places rent sandblasters any more due to regulations
requiring self contained breathing apparatus to sandblast. So, we're
down to either hiring a commercial firm to come blast it (expensive
and they're short on money) or trying something else. We could buy a
sandblaster, but no one has a compressor with enough CFM to drive it
hard, so we'd probably have lame results.
We can wire wheel the large supports, but the treads themselves are a
grid like pattern of steel with too little space between the steel
grid to even fit in a wire brush, let alone a grinder & wire wheel.
We've tossed around the idea of using a pressure washer. Opinions vary
on whether or not a pressure washer would remove the rust, scale, and
loose paint to a level where we could paint it or perhaps use some of
that "extend" type sealant on it to convert the surface rust before
Buy a cheap sandblaster, like from Harbor Freight or someplace. Then rent
the compressor. Use ordinary sandbox sand, aka 'play sand', for the grit. I
assume this is an outside stairway? If most of the old paint has already
vanished, additional lead contamination should be minimal, but you probably
want to spread tarps anyway. In a non-enclosed space, SCBA is probably
overkill, but dust masks and bunny suits (or at least overalls) are
definitely needed. (It is filthy work.) Rental place probably is confusing
SCBA with a 'supplied air' system. Wearing an air bottle is tiring and
expensive- dragging a hose linked to an air handler running upwind of work
area is much less so.
Don't leave the metal bare, even overnight- the dew will restart the rust
before you can paint. Do an area, use the compressor to blow all the grit
and rust flakes away, and brush on some sort of anti-rust primer paint, like
Rustoleum or tractor paint. Short of truck-mounted industrial-grade
equipment, it'll take several days. Allow each painted spot to dry before
starting to sandblast near there again.
I doubt a pressure washer will do much of anything, other than remove loose
flakes and surface particles. It will also force water into any cracks and
crevices, which will take days to dry out. If you paint over trapped water,
it will cause the paint to bubble.
BTW, if this thing is a fire escape, their insurance company and possibly
the local building inspector/fire department inspector will likely need to
see it, before and after you work on it. Definitely want to call and ask.
They may have no choice but to have a 'licensed professional' do the work.
And if the rust has made any key parts of the metal too thin, those will
have to be replaced or repaired.
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