How to Refinish an Antique Metal Headboard

Time, dirt, humidity and rust all take their toll on a vintage steel headboard, even if it’s been properly stored. Unless it is falling apart from rust, however, the headboard can be solved to appear as good as it did on the day it was made. The work is well worth it to provide an antique treasure fresh life.


Rust is your headboard’s largest enemy and will need to be completely removed before refinishing or it’s going to continue to eat away in the bed. Light surface rust can be removed with sandpaper or steel wool. Use a steel brush to take off big flakes of rust if required before sanding. For heavily rusted pieces, a chemical rust remover can speed up the procedure. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully since fluid rust removers typically contain some form of acid.

Old Paint

If the metal headboard was previously painted, then the old paint will need to be stripped off unless it’s in very excellent condition with no flakes or chips. Old paint can be removed by sanding or by using a chemical paint stripper. Ensure the surface of the headboard is smooth and nice after the paint is removed. Any hanging chips of paint will show through the last finish. Begin with a coarse sandpaper, like 80 grit, and use it to remove the vast majority of the paint. After the paint is nearly off, switch to your fine-grit paper, like 200.


Following any rust or old paint is removed, sand the entire frame using a fine-grit sandpaper to even the surface and give the paint a roughened area to grasp. Give the entire headboard a good cleaning with mild detergent which does not contain any abrasives or bleach, such as liquid laundry or dish soap. Dilute the detergent with water in a spray bottle, and use it to eliminate any remaining dust from sanding. Wipe it dry using a lint-free rag.


Paint can be sprayed or brushed on to finish the metal headboard. Utilize an oil-based paint for brushing and place the headboard erect, flattening it between two boxes or heavy objects to keep it in place. Work in sections, employing several thin coats of paint to prevent drips and brush marks. Paint labeled for steel which includes a rust inhibitor works best for spraying the headboard. Shake the can well, and apply the paint in long even strokes. Keep a brush to catch any drips. Apply at least two coats of paint whether spraying or brushing.

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