How to Clean Galvanized Metal

zinc bucket
  • 1-2 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-20
What You'll Need
Hot Water
Soft brush
Metal polish
Soft rags
Garden hose

Uses for galvanized metals vary wildly, from large sheet metal pieces to small screws that are used in wood projects. Galvanized metal is a specially made material that provides added protection against corrosion and oxidation, characterized by an outer coating of zinc oxide. The zinc acts both as a physical barrier for the metal and as a chemical one. Since zinc is more reactive from an electrochemical perspective, it also acts as a sacrificial anode, meaning that it will draw all corrosive effects onto itself to spare the metal beneath.

While the protective coating is effective, it can and will eventually cease to be. Properly cleaning galvanized metal not only keeps it looking new, but also keeps the zinc oxide barrier strong and intact. Here are a few steps to use to effectively clean galvanized metal.

Step 1 - Rinse With Water

Before you wash the galvanized metal, simply rinse it off with a hose or some clean water. This will get rid of the large debris and most of the smaller rocks, sand, or other pieces of particulate that can scratch the metal.

Step 2 - Hot Water Wash

Warm a gallon of water until it reaches a level you would consider hot, then mix in 1/4 cup of dish washing liquid.

Dip a soft bristle brush into the cleaning solution and begin washing by making small circles with the brush. Begin at one edge of the metal and work across to the other side. Repeat this process down the entire metal surface until the piece is completed.

  • Tip: If your cleaning efforts reveal any hard water stains on the metal, try a solution of water and white distilled vinegar. Apply it to the metal with a soft cloth and scrub the hard water stain.

Step 3 - Neutralize Alkaline Deposits

To combat any alkaline deposits that may be present on the galvanized metal, mix a solution of 1 part baby powder and 2 parts milk together. Take a toothbrush, or other small brush, and scrub the surface of the metal.

Step 4 - Rinse Thoroughly

Once you have washed your metal, removed old water stains, and scrubbed off any alkaline deposits, rinse it with some warm, clean water. Rinse it thoroughly so that none of the soapy residue is left. It may take more than one round of rinsing to be thorough enough.

Step 5 - Dry with Soft Cloth

Completely dry the metal with a soft cloth. This is an important step, so don't skimp. Go over your work a few times, using two cloths if you need to. You just put effort into removing dirt and water spots. Leaving behind moisture invites them back.

Step 6 - Apply Wax

When trying to keep galvanized metal shining throughout the years, the occasional coat of metal polish or paste wax is welcome. Apply directly to the metal with a soft cloth and begin rubbing in tight circles. Start in one corner and work in sections, completing one small area at a time.

Let the polish dry to a filmy finish, and then buff with another clean, soft, lint-free cloth. Repeat the process until the entire metal is polished.

  • Tip: Wax and polishes also have the added affect of making some of the smaller scratches on the metal appear filled in or like they've disappeared altogether.