A quick guide to gate and railing maintenance.

Railings, gates and other exterior metalwork need regular care and attention as just like anything else outside, they are exposed to the wear and tear of the elements all year long.

So that you can try to have the best approach, it’s a good idea to try and identify the type of metal used. Metals containing iron that are often used in railings or gates are not always easy to distinguish, particularly if they’re covered in coats of paint.

There’s a good reason why iron is so commonly used – it’s durable and will last for years if it’s well maintained and cared for. But where paint has worn away, exposure to water and air can quickly result in weaknesses and rust – and rusty iron can expand up to 10 times causing distortion and fissures.

Obviously, you need to be able to spot any problems before you can take the appropriate action. Look out for: sagging hinges, rust staining, streaking or cracking on attached or nearby masonry, missing or damaged sections, damaged paintwork, blistered or pitted surfaces, corrosion and weak joints, plant growth, moisture or dirt.

Once you know that maintenance is required, the sooner you do it the better:

1) Remove any loose or flaky paint
Using a steel brush, remove loose and old flaky layers of paint. If you don’t, the new paint won’t bond with the existing paint. Then brush off any algae growth and treat the area with a sterilising solution.

2) Clear moss and weeds
Scrape away any moss and clear away weeds the bottom of the railings. Sometimes there’s a gap between the brick plinth and the iron bar at the bottom where rubbish collects. If this traps moisture and the metal can’t dry out properly it may cause corrosion, so remove any rubbish and clean up the iron bar.

3) Prepare the metalwork for painting
Roughen (‘key’) the metal with medium grade sandpaper. This creates the best surface for the new paint to stick to. Wet and dry paper used with water is a good technique as it lessens clogging and reduces the dust.

4) Remove any grease or dirt
With a clean cloth, wash the railings thoroughly with a sugar soap solution. This will get rid of all the accumulated grime and grease. Once they’re completely clean, rinse carefully with water.

5) Prune nearby plants and test the paint
Cut back all plant-life that has contact with the railings. If you’re painting over existing paint, cover a trial section and leave overnight. If you’re using gloss paint, the metal must be rust-free and covered with two coats of zinc-based primer first. (However, Hammerite can be painted directly on to the metal without a primer.)

Finally, use masking tape and newspaper to protect brickwork and paths, pick a slightly overcast but warm day (but not between November and February when it’ll be too cold for the paint to cure satisfactorily) and not when it’s going to rain or be windy.

Apply two coats, making sure that you leave the appropriate length of time in between, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If the second coat is applied too soon the first one can become pitted, so two thin coats are better.

Once your gates and railings are beautifully painted, remember to cut back overgrown plants, deal with patches of rust quickly and repaint chipped and peeling paintwork as you notice it to avoid trouble in the future.

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