How to Make Galvanized Metal Look Old

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If rusty chic is the look you're going for on a few items on the outside of your shed or patio bar, new galvanized metal just doesn't look right. While you could wait for nature to do the work, it's just as easy to give the metal a makeunder with vinegar or salt water. Both liquids almost instantly age galvanized metal, creating a weather-worn look without much wait. To add to the aged look, bang up the piece a bit.

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Vinegar Ages Galvanized Metal

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Galvanized metal, which is usually iron or steel, has a zinc coating that offers more protection from the elements than the metal would otherwise have on its own. Over time, that coating oxidizes a bit naturally. Vinegar is one substance that speeds up the process, but it works even better if you scuff up the metal a bit first.

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Rub a fairly coarse bit of sandpaper or a sanding sponge over any parts of the galvanized metal you want to distress. A rough steel wool scrub pad also works. A wire brush is a bit too rough in most cases since it leaves obvious scratches, but if you prefer that look, feel free to use one.

If the item is small and flat enough to submerge in a shallow plastic tray of vinegar, pour some white vinegar into a container large enough to hold the metal item. For instance, if it's a 10 x 4-inch galvanized metal sign, a slightly larger plastic lid makes a great tray to hold the vinegar. Set the scuffed metal object in the vinegar for a while, checking it after 30 minutes. Remove it once it has the desired look.

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For objects too large to submerge, soak paper towels or absorbent white cloths in vinegar instead and then cover the metal object with the wet paper towels. Only put the vinegar-soaked towels on the areas you wish to age. For instance, if you want to keep the inside of a metal ice bucket as is, there's no need to put the vinegar towels on the inside. Check the metal beneath the wet paper towels after 30 minutes or so and set them back on or add more vinegar as needed. The longer the metal is exposed to vinegar, the more dulled and oxidized the finish will be.

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Salty Sea Water Effect

Salty sea water also ages galvanized metal, but you don't have to live near a body of salt water to achieve the worn-with-sea-spray look. Instead, mix 1/2 cup of salt into 1 quart of warm water, stirring until the salt dissolves. Set the galvanized metal item in a plastic tub or on a tarp to contain the liquid mess; outside is a good place to work.

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Spray the salt water liberally all over the outside of the galvanized metal and allow it to air-dry. If desired, spray it again in 20 to 30 minutes. If the item is small enough to submerge in the salt water, pour the solution directly over the metal instead and leave it for at least 30 minutes. Once you're happy with the look, rinse off the metal to remove the salt water.

Distressed Metal Effects

Another way to make galvanized metal look old is to distress it by hitting it with hammers or mallets, pounding on it with a large rock, or just banging around the piece a bit. The distressed look paired with the vinegar or saltwater treatment makes the metal piece look like it's well used and quite old.

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For added aging, brush just a little black, gray, white, or ruddy brown paint over the galvanized metal using only enough paint to barely wet the bristles. This dry brush effect allows a lot of the metal to show through. Another option is to brush on the paint and rub some of it off with a somewhat coarse rag. Splats of paint used in select locations and then partially sanded off once dry also make the metal look like it's been around for a while.

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