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I just bought a used powder-coated steel rack that has some signs of wear and oxidation. I was wondering how best to clean/restore it, without damaging the coating. Is using water/vinegar potentially harmful? Any advice or product recommendations are welcome.

Here are some photos, if that's helpful

Click for full size
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  • Have it re-powder-coated, and then don't scratch it up. As is, it's "partly powder coated" and "partly scratched and rusty exposed steel"
    – Ecnerwal
    Feb 9, 2022 at 0:48
  • @Ecnerwal Thanks for the reply -- I updated the post and added more photos. I'm not sure if I can afford getting it all powder coated at the moment. Also, since it's for weightlifting, will repeated usage chip away the powder coating again? Do you have any advice for initial DIY steps? I was thinking of cleaning it off with wire bristle brush, and then wiping it down with Simple Green, and perhaps trying Textured Black Rust-o-Leum. Feb 9, 2022 at 2:47
  • Would a quick CLR or diluted vinegar solution damage the powder coating? Feb 9, 2022 at 4:39
  • Prime and paint it.
    – gnicko
    Feb 9, 2022 at 16:03
  • Comments are not intended for answers. If you have an answer, please post it as an answer. Thanks! Jul 25, 2022 at 10:10

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It does not look like powder coat, looks like zinc rich primer; very common in industry. The flat grey surface looks exactly like zinc rich industrial primer. Vinegar is one of the worst things you could do, it will increase corrosion unless well neutralized and rinsed. I would leave it alone. The only "very good" choice is sand blast and reapply zinc rich ( 2 or 3 component, not premixed).

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  • Tips on getting the inside of the pipes thoroughly cleaned and coated? If that's not done, it will continue to rust from the inside out.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 9, 2022 at 17:14
  • Would Navel Jelly damage the existing coating? Feb 9, 2022 at 18:44
  • @RichardYoung Navel Jelly will remove paint! Careful application of masking tape will protect painted surfaces, though.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 9, 2022 at 19:19
  • I only used conversion coating on bare steel ; it would likely not be good on zinc rich primer ; I will change my answer. Feb 10, 2022 at 17:03
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I note that there is rust inside the tubing. The only way to really get that out is to soak the whole piece of tubing in a tub of chemicals that will eat the rust from the inside. Even media blasting won't get the inside very clean.

The only way to protect it is to soak it in a tub of coating (like galvanizing) or have it powder coated again (the electrical charge will attract the powder to the inside, too). If you want the repairs to last, pro work is likely to be your best bet.

From your comment:

I'm not sure if I can afford getting it all powder coated at the moment.

I would recommend making some phone calls to your local metal working places. You might be surprised - it might cost far less than you're expecting it to (though likely more than you want it to). You may have to wait a while as everyone seems to be backlogged these days, but it may be more affordable than you think. You certainly won't know if you don't ask.

Also, be sure to give galvanizing a thought, too. If it's good enough for the body work on your car, it's surely good enough for your weight lifting rack. I believe that if you galvanize you can then do a spray paint coating of your choice at home. If the paint fails, you can gently sand it back (don't go through the galvanizing layer) and repaint. Even if you don't paint at all the galvanizing will still protect the metal. The paint, though, acts as a protective layer for the galvanizing.

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  • Yeah, anything done to the outside is merely cosmetic. This stuff will rust and eventually fail from the inside. That's the primary concern. It should probably only be used indoors.
    – isherwood
    Feb 9, 2022 at 14:28
  • Thanks for the detailed explanation. I'll ask around about powder coating. Is galvanizing usually cheaper than powder coating? Will all powder coating eventually rub off in common use areas? Feb 9, 2022 at 18:46
  • I haven't a clue on either of your questions, though I think galvanizing will be more wear resistant. Again, I point to your car's body - you can sand (with care) the paint off it leaving the galvanized protection behind, then repaint. Too much sanding, though, and you'll go right through to bare metal.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 9, 2022 at 19:17
  • Technically, galvanization is bare metal. It's just metal that's less prone to rust. :)
    – isherwood
    Feb 10, 2022 at 17:13
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That's a very, very thin powder-coating, not exactly built to be weather-proof.
I'd be inclined to treat it as bare metal. Either get it shot-blasted & re-coated [properly] or use a rust-eater type product then paint - this won't be as wear-resistant as powder-coat.

A late thought - watch out that the holes will still be large enough after it's been properly coated. I've had many a job where the designers forgot that & we had to ream them out again on site.

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