Introduction

This is an offshoot of a more general article on how to care for and restore gym equipment.

On older weights you got at a garage sale, the paint might be flaking off, likely with rust growing underneath. If that’s the case, don’t try to just brush off the flaking areas. You’ll just get more flaking, and rust only gets worse if any is left. You don’t want rusty flakes of paint stabbing into your hands.

Classic old Ivanko or York plates, or other rare ones, can be worth restoring for the nostalgia appeal.

Here’s how to fix your weights up and make them look like new.

First, Deal With the Rust

Option 1: Brush The Rust Off

Your plates are iron. Nylon and brass are softer than iron, while steel is harder than iron.

That means you’re going to scratch up your plates with a stainless steel brush. Try one of these:

Drill mounted brass brush to get the rust off weights
Brass Drill Mounted Brush
brass hand brush to clean the rust off weight plates
Brass Hand Brush
nylon brush for brushing rust off weight plates
Stiff Bristle Nylon Brush

A nice stiff-bristle nylon brush might get some minimal rust off, and by the way, you’ll want a nylon brush to keep your olympic bar knurling clean anyway.

Option 2: Convert the Rust

You don’t have to actually brush off all that rust. You can spray on rust converter, a chemical that turns iron oxide (rust) into a stable compound that will inhibit rusting. Science!

how to restore weight plates with rust converter
They use rust converter sprays for all kinds of applications

If you have flaking paint from severe rust underneath, you’ll need to brush the paint off first, using the brushing method as above. Repainting doesn’t work good if the paint underneath is no longer bonded to the iron.

There are chemical products to convert the rust that you can get at Home Depot or Amazon. It might be called a rust converter, rust neutralizer, or rust reformer (the rust reformer is the most popular spray with our readers).

Just follow the instructions on the spray can or the jug. Typically you’ll just spray it on, let it dry, and that’s it. It’s ready for painting. Some of them include primer in the mix, with the foresight that most people using it are intending to repaint the surface like we are.

Option 3: Phosphoric Acid

Anything with phosphoric acid will convert the rust. Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper have it. This is a good non-toxic way to remove rust. Well, arguably all that sugar is toxic, but only if you gobble it up.

Option 4: Citric Acid Powder (CAP)

Another good acid that’s not toxic to work with, and without Coke’s sticky sugar getting in the way.

Mix 3oz of CAP per gallon water. Soak for 24 hours.

Thanks to Steve for sharing this method! Here’s his result:

citric acid powder rust removal on weight plates
Before and after rust removal with citric acid powder. This is before he painted it, only soaking and wiping it off.

Repainting

Before painting, be sure you have dealt with the rust first as instructed above. You don’t want any rust underneath the paint.

Secondly, paint sticks best to clean surfaces. If you didn’t already treat the surface with a rust converter, get rid of any oil or dirt on them. Wipe the plates down with a rag soaked in a very light solution of dish soap, and dry well with a lint-free cloth.

Put down some drop cloths or cardboard. You will make a mess. Do it in a well-ventilated area.

If your rust removal chemical above doesn’t include primer, think about spraying on universal bonding primer before the paint itself. The manufacturer probably didn’t do it originally, but look where that got it. And they almost certainly baked on the paint too for maximum hardening, which you won’t be doing (Please don’t cook your painted plates in your food oven).

Now, spray paint it! Do one side, wait a day, flip and do the other side. Go with a nice metallic color, anything that the can indicates is good for metal surfaces.

Here’s what you can expect if you do a good job:

refinished weight plate
When done well, you can get them looking like new!
source: Accutron on bodybuilding.com

Video

Joshua Land has a popular video on restoring a collection of weights, including plates, bars and collars:

Try out one of these methods, and post a link to your results in the comments below!