After spending way too much time scouring the internet for exactly what I was looking for, with no luck, I decided that I would document and share my entire DIY process and the final results on how to rust & paint a bucket to use as a newborn prop. During my initial research I found several “faux painting” techniques, “how to age metal” tutorials, and “how to remove rust for painting”, but nothing that included starting with a brand new shiny bucket and aging it to look like something found in an antique shop. So here we are…a little bit of time & elbow grease + about $65 total = 3 perfectly aged buckets.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

  • Bucket
  • Vinegar
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Salt
  • 5 gallon pail
  • Rubber gloves
  • Spray bottle
  • Sandpaper
  • Spray paint
  • Matte poly finish spray paint

The buckets I used were 8-qt. Galvanized Dairy Pails with approximate dimensions ofย 9-1/2″ H x 10-1/4″ dia. I think they are the perfect size, however, you can find the 12-qt. size (10-7/8″ H x 11-1/2″ dia.) HERE. The buckets will arrive shiny and new with a galvanized coating specifically to prevent rust.

DIY painted bucket tutorial

The first step to aging the bucket will be to remove the galvanized coating so your chemicals can penetrate the metal. Soaking the buckets in 100% vinegar will strip the galvanized coating. You will need enough vinegar to completely submerge the buckets, I purchased 5 gallons of vinegar for my 3 buckets. Next, stack the buckets inside each other, set them in your 5 gallon pail, and pour enough vinegar in your pail to cover the buckets. Once the pail is full, with rubber gloves on, slightly separate the buckets to make sure each bucket is exposed to the vinegar inside and out. Let the buckets soak, checking on them about every 30 mins. You will notice tiny bubbles covering the surface while the vinegar works it’s magic. I left my buckets soak for about 3-4 hours, checking on them every 30 mins and occasionally swapping their placement (move middle to bottom, bottom to top, etc.). Note: I was doing this in my garage when it was about 10 degrees, if you live in a warm climate or sit your soaking pail outside in the sun, I believe you will have quicker results.

rusty bucket tutorial

The above image shows my buckets soaking on the left and the bucket with the galvanized coating stripped off on the right. As you check on your buckets, you will notice some areas start to turn a darker gray – this is good! If you’re soaking more than one bucket, even with swapping the placement, there is a good chance they won’t all be aged evenly, that is okay, it makes each on unique. In the above image you can see that even on a single bucket it may not be uniform. The dark gray area along the top and bottom is where the bucket will rust the most, the “mottled” area will end up with a nice patina. Once you are satisfied with how your buckets look, remove them from the vinegar and rinse them. In the image below, the front 2 buckets were left in vinegar the same amount of time and you can see that the left one was stripped more evenly than the right.

how to rust a metal bucket

Now the fun part…grab your empty spray bottle and mix your rusting solution. Be sure to wear rubber gloves! Mix approximately 1 part vinegar with 6 parts hydrogen peroxide. It doesn’t have to be exact (I poured about an inch of vinegar in my bottle + 1 16 oz. bottle of hydrogen peroxide). Then add approx. 3 tablespoons of salt and mix/shake until the salt is dissolved. Next, make sure you are in an area free of anything that might rust! I used the deep utility sink in my laundry room, outdoors would be better, but it was 10 degrees so I opted for inside! Start spraying the mixture on your bucket and after a few seconds you should start to see the chemical reaction take place especially in the dark gray areas. If nothing happens, you either need to soak your bucket in the vinegar longer or try adding more salt to your spray bottle mix. The actual rusting process is kind of trial and error. Leave your bucket sit with the solution on it for 10-15 mins. Rinse with warm water and check out the progress. Spray again. Leave sit. Check progress. Do this as many times as you need to until you have the results you desire. The longer it sits and dries on, the more it will rust. Applying it in “layers” will result in a more natural uneven look. In the left image below, I sprayed the bucket and then experimented by rubbing salt on the outside as well.

how to rust metal diy

The rusting process…


Once you have achieved your desired result, rinse away any solution from the bucket and let the bucket dry. At this point the rust will be very powdery so be sure not to rub or scrub the bucket as you rinse it. Once the bucket is completely dried out, if you prefer the rusted look, you can use it as is (make sure to seal with matte poly spray) or paint and further distress it. The next image shows the final results of my 3 buckets. I love the different variations.

how to rust galvanized bucket

My end goal was rusty painted buckets, so I grabbed my spray paint, headed outside, and added a very light, somewhat uneven coat of paint. My intention was for the buckets to look aged and not perfect. Once the paint was mostly dry, I set the bucket in my sink and distressed it with sandpaper to reveal some of the aged rusted areas and then took it back outside, added a second light layer of paint, and repeated the previous step but distressing different areas. At this point the cream color still seemed a little bright so I experimented by spraying a bit more rust solution on the painted bucket and let it sit and completely dry in the sink. Left image: After first coat of paint & distressing. Right image: Final results after second coat of paint, distressing, and dried rust solution.

rust and paint metal bucket diy

The final step, once the bucket is completely dry, is to coat both the inside and outside with a matte poly finish to prevent any exposed rust from rubbing off on any fabrics, etc. Viola! Now you have a brand new bucket that looks like it’s been around for years for half the price that you could buy one at an antique shop.

rusty painted bucket tutorial for photographers

The above image shows the process described above with my second bucket and navy blue spray paint. And a final image below with my new prop in use! I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

painted bucket newborn prop