4 proven ways to remove rust from a metal swing set

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Boy swinging on a chain swing set

A swing set for your backyard is no small investment.

Expect to pay (for a good one, at least) somewhere upwards of $1,000 for a fully feature play set with swings, slides, a fort, and more.

Your basic metal swing set can cost a bit less depending on where you buy it.

In any case, you’ll want yours to last until your kids outgrow it — but that might not happen if the metal components on your swing set starts to get eaten away by rust.

How do you prevent rust on a play set, and what’s the best way to remove rust from a metal swing set?

A drop of prevention is worth an ocean of cure. Be sure to buy a high-grade swing set with galvanized metal components like chains and support beams. The special protective coating should mostly keep the rust at bay, at least for a while.

If your swing set is rusty or starting to rust, you’ll want to tackle it quickly to avoid damage to the metal. Scrape away at small patches of rust by hand, or for bigger problem areas, try a special chemical treatment like WD-40 or a all-natural rust remover.

Let’s dive deeper and explore some more ideas for getting your swing set looking brand new again.

3 ways to prevent rust on your play set

Rust doesn’t just look bad on a swing set — it can actually damage the metal components, making them significantly weaker over time.

And with your play set and swings exposed to the elements at all times outside (including moisture, a key component of rusting), rust is inevitable without proper prevention.

Removing rust once it forms can be messy and difficult, so your best bet is to prevent it before it starts!

Buy high-quality

It should go without saying, but the cheapest swing set you can buy might not be the best choice if you want it to last.

Really good playhouse brands like PlayNation, Gorilla, Backyard Discovery, and more might cost more than whatever’s on sale at Walmart, but they use higher quality materials and you can count on them for solid construction.

You’re specifically looking for chains, bolts, fasteners, and other metal components that are galvanized.

That just means there’s a thin protective coating of zinc applied to the metal to keep rust at bay.

In theory, the galvanized coating should protect the metal underneath for decades, even in extremely humid or wet conditions.

Seal or paint the metal yourself

If you’re willing to give up the crisp metal look of your set, you can paint it thoroughly in almost any color you want with a rust-preventing spray paint like this line from Rust-Oleum (Amazon link).

Look for brands that specifically mention corrosion resistance and are rated for outdoor use on metal. Double check if you’ll need to prime first with a rust-preventing primer — but most brands will feature paint and primer in one.

You can also use a similar product in a clear enamel finish (see on Amazon here)

Keep it clean and dry (as possible)

Moisture is a key driver of rust, but your swing set lives outdoors. Hmm…

You can’t keep mother nature from raining on your swing set repeatedly, and you can’t bring it inside during heavy storms!

It also doesn’t make much sense to run outside with a towel and dry it off after every rain.

But there is one big thing you CAN do to keep the metal as dry as possible:

Clean it regularly. Mud and dirt caked to the metal components can hold moisture and promote rust.

Storms, wind, and regular use will kick up a lot of debris onto the set. Make sure you get out there frequently to wipe or hose it down.

(Regular cleaning is a great way to keep pests away from your swing set, too. Click to read my full guide.)

A rusty swing with chain hanging against the sunset

Let’s jump into a few proven ways to remove rust from a metal swing set if it’s already there or your prevention methods start to fail.

1. Scrape away rust as it appears

The simplest way to get rid of rust is to manually scrape it off.

This, admittedly, isn’t a great solution for rehabbing an older play set that’s completely covered in rust — but it’s good in a pinch if your set is just starting to develop a few small problem areas.

Here are a few tools you can try for prying off flakes and patches of rust:

(Hit the links above to see some good options on Amazon)

After you’re removed the bulk of the rust, you’ll want to use a fine-grain sandpaper to buff out any scratch marks left on the metal.

Scratches in your metal play set left unaddressed can let moisture seep deeper into the metal and cause more rusting problems down the road.

2. Use a rust converter

If scraping off rust by hand doesn’t sound too appealing (or worse, it’s not working very well), you could consider using a rust converter in either spray or liquid form.

What’s a rust converter? Rust converter is a chemical compound that neutralizes the rust and turns it into “a stable, black protective polymeric coating that serves as an excellent primer for both oil and epoxy based paints,” according to The Rust Store.

So it doesn’t actually remove the rust, but it stops it from spreading, protects the metal underneath, and gives you a smooth surface to paint over.

This compound is easy to apply and doesn’t require any scrubbing — though you’ll likely want to paint over it at some point to preserve the appearance of your swing set.

You can grab rust converter in a spray form (Amazon link) or a paintable liquid form.

3. Try WD-40 (or another chemical rust remover) + a wire brush

For stubborn rust that won’t pry off easily, try applying some basic WD-40 — a great all around utility spray.

According to WD-40 themselves, you can simply spray rusty areas to weaken and loosen the rust and then scrape the area clean using a wire brush.

If you prefer something more specialized, there are tons of rust remover sprays available online or in any home improvement store. Just remember the difference between a rust remover and a rust converter or reformer:

Rust removers will break the rust down and then you’ll need to scrub the remains off! Reformers or converters create a smooth, stable surface to be painted over with no scrubbing.

Important note: Double check with your play set manufacturer if WD-40 or other chemical rust removers are OK to use on your set, if possible. If you’re not sure or can’t get a straight answer, do a small test patch before you spray down the whole set with WD-40.

4. Homemade & natural rust removers

If you don’t like the idea of using harsh chemicals where your children play (and I wouldn’t blame you), you can also try a few homemade remedies for removing stubborn rust spots.

There are tons of different recipes you can try, from the extremely simple to quite complex.

According to Hunker, here are a few ideas:

  • Carbonated water
  • Table salt plus lemon or lime juice
  • Baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and cream of tartar
  • White vinegar
  • Borax and lemon juice

It’s likely worth trying the carbonated water or simple lemon juice mixtures first, especially for new rust or smaller patches, before graduating to using harsher chemicals.

In almost all cases, you’ll want to apply the homemade rust remover, let it sit on the affected area for anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, and then scrape the area clean.

Wrapping Up

Each of the methods above can be achieved in a number of different ways.

Using a rust converter, for example, can be done with a spray (easy to apply) or a liquid (stronger, but difficult to apply). Store-bought rust removers can be as simple as WD-40 or can be highly-specialized chemical compounds.

Homemade rust removers can be as easy as sparkling water or lemon juice, all the way to borax and hydrogen peroxide mixtures.

The right method for you will depend on your swing set and how bad your particular rust problem is. In general, it’s best to work hard at preventing rust whenever possible, and then try to tackle problem areas early with manual removal and mild rust removers.

When things get really bad, you might need to apply rust converter to the whole set and paint over it to start fresh!

Do you have a good hack for preventing or removing rust? I’d love to hear it below!

Hope this helps

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