There are many methods…this is how we do it at Parterre Garden Shop
Whether you like your garden ornaments, hitching posts or urns to be Rusty Crusty or Pristine, there are still some valuable hints to be them around and in service longer.
The first step is to identify the age, purpose and value of the items you want to restore. A new but rusty urn can take a good deal more abuse from cleaners and abrasives than you would subject a 17th C Italian urn to. 10,000 dollar garden sculptures should probably not be blasted. You get where I am going…
Brand new iron garden ornaments have an overly rusted appearance which can be fixed with a good clean and museum wax
Because in the end it all comes down to abrasives and chemicals when you want to clean. It also is important to know the function of the item. Urns that are on your porch, should not be allowed to rust through sending scarring stains down brick and cement that you cannot get out. Do you empty your urns each year or use urn caps ? If not you will want to clean, and treat those urns every two years so they can withstand the wet soil that will eventually erode them. A statue should be cleaned once a year and professionally restored. etc. My rule of thumb is easy- if its good- treat it well. If its temporary, do your best.
At Parterre Gardens Shop, we use any common detergent. If we are outside in the garden or driveway, we use Dawn as it is environmentally neutral. (You can also use vinegar and water). We scrub a new urn or hitching post with a rag and water with a good amount of detergent. We then rinse it and towel dry sitting it in the sun to dry completely. If the urn is made of parts-then we dry each separately to ensure we have no standing water in any crevices.
Note: This also applies to painted iron- urns, jockeys, even fences and trellises. You have to wash them because what is in the air and earth can be very chemically active.
Once you have removed pollutants, you can scrub with a wire brush for furniture and more meaty iron and a nylon brush for painted pieces, ornate urns and statuary. There should be no flaking paint or powdery rust when you finish. For furniture that is being repainted, you should now sand it down.
Repairs are now made at this point, handles soldered back on, chips repaired, holes puttied up etc.
Once you are clean, dry and non rusty–you can proceed to the Rust Inhibitor. There are many on the market. For furniture- you must prime coat with a rust inhibitor like Rustoleum. For intricate expensive ornamental items, we use a museum wax or Briwax (our choice).
Now dont think for a minute that I dont like that rusty look of old iron. I just dont want active deterioration. So cutting off oxygen to the item is essential. That means air and water. So at Parterre, we are a huge fan of Krylon matte finish- every two years on everything from garden gates to flower urns to soap dishes. Painted surfaces especially will last with the Krylon matte which you apply as soon as you are happy with your restoration.
Note: If you are looking to add that turquoise blue to a pair of urns or want to give a red hue to your hitching post, Briwax can be mixed with everyday paints (water based!). This will create a thin coat of color. The more you apply the heavier the color and it can be rubbed down for a subtle look and removed altogether with more clear Briwax.