How to Clean and Paint Black Iron Pipe

If you have been on Pinterest at all looking at DIY projects, you have probably seen shelving made out of black iron pipe.  When I cam across the idea, I knew I had to try it for my bedroom-to-dressing room makeover.  The project looks so easy, but let me tell you… it seems daunting to get all of the parts together and then realize that you still need to figure out how to clean and paint black iron pipe.  My first attempt at cleaning black iron pipe was frustrating and discouraging.  I had read online that I could just scrub them down with dish soap, so I hauled a few pieces into my guest bathroom tub and scrubbed away.  It hurt my knees and my soul.  I scrubbed and scrubbed, but they still were not that clean.  Talk about discouraging!  Not surprising that the project lost steam and was set aside for a few months.  After talking with my dad (and REALLY wanting to get the project done), I decided that I needed to use acetone to clean the pipe and get them ready to spray paint.  The process that I used to clean and spray paint iron pipe is below and it wasn’t that bad!  I completed the process in two stages (mostly dodging the rain and work schedule), the cleaning stage and the painting stage.

Materials Needed:
– Cardboard (for cleaning and spraying)
– Acetone
– 1 or 2 Old White T-Shirts (a stole a few from my husband that he didn’t want anymore).  Old tees work well because they are mostly lint free.
– LOTS of gloves (or solvent resistant gloves)
– Box Knife
– Sand paper (optional before spray painting… to be honest, I got lazy and skipped this step)
– Spray Paint (I used about 6 cans)


Cleaning Procedure:
1.  Lay out all of the materials and put on your gloves.  I just used the nitrile gloves from Costco that I clean with, so I put on three layers.  If I would have put on less layers I would have had to watch for the acetone eating through the gloves more than I did.


2.  Put a bit of acetone on the t-shirt and wipe down the pipe.  The Acetone dries quickly.  Move to a clean part of the tee and get more acetone as needed.


3.  If there are stickers, I first wiped the pipe down with acetone and then I used a box knife to scrap off the sticker.  I used the knife to scrap in a downward motion while rotating the pipe slowly to take the sticker off in little strips.

4.  Once the sticker is gone, I wiped down the “sticky” area with Acetone.


Handy Tip!  You can tell that all of the sticker is gone when the darker sticky spots are gone.  If there are still some dark spots, scrap them again and use the acetone on that area.


4.  Keep an eye on your gloves and change out the tope layer as needed.

When you are done, you have clean, beautiful Iron Pipe that is ready to spray paint.  You could use sand paper here to smooth out any rough spots, but I was lazy and skipped this part.


Painting Procedure:
1.  Use the cardboard to build a little painting box (I used an old box, so I just cut down one side and left the others intact.

2.  Lay out the pipe on the cardboard with enough room in between each pipe so that you can get it from all angles.

3.  Make sure to follow the directions on the back of the spray paint!  Most importantly, shake that can!

4.  Even though it is tempting to really coat the pipe with the spray paint, start with a light coat that covers all exposed angles.  This way, you won’t have drips or streaks.

5.  I only needed two coats to cover the pipe.  I would let it sit for about an hour in between the first and second coat.  When I flipped for the other sides, I was able to make sure that all parts of the pipe were painted.


This process was made SO much easier with the use of the acetone.  The spray painting was a breeze (once it stopped raining long enough to spray outside!).  I thought that this was going to be the most difficult part of the project, but once I got into a groove it went really quickly.

For this particular project I wanted the pipe to look a bit industrial, but also chic so I used a Satin Nickel Paint to dress it up a bit (and to match the other metal accents in the room).  It went really well with the white shelving that I did on the Shoe Rack and Dressing Room Shelves.

Do you need to clean and paint black iron pipe for a project?  Tell me about it!


15 thoughts on “How to Clean and Paint Black Iron Pipe”

  • Thanks for the tip on acetone. I have tried washing them (made them rusty) and just leaving them alone (super dirty). Acetone made super quick work of the cleanup. The pipe parts I bought off Amazon actually came with a sheet of pros/cons of various cleanup methods…I guess they’re expecting people to not be doing actual plumbing, LOL. Acetone was their top choice, which made me feel better about using chemicals based on the advice from some rando on the internet. Thanks!

  • Looks great! Did you really need SIX cans of spray paint for two coats for this job? Seems like a lot. Also, did you have any difficulties screwing the pieces together after painting, assuming that much of the threads were painted as well? Thanks!

    • Hi John! Thanks for the comment!
      I only needed about one or one and a half cans of spray paint for the pipes that were shown in the photos, but the project was painted in stages and used more pipe than was shown in the photos (these pipes were used in my shoe rack project). I had also worried about being able to screw the pieces together after painting them, but I found that I didn’t have any difficulty and the paint actually helped the pipes to have a bit more stability if they were not screwed all the way in. When I was painting the pipes I made sure to get the color on the threads, but not too thick so that they would still screw together. Hope that helps!

    • Hi Dan! Thanks for the comment! You are totally right… You can spray paint after assembly for smaller projects. The project that I was painting these pieces for was a large shoe rack, so it would not fit through the bedroom door after it was assembled. If I was completing a smaller project I would totally paint after assembly. Hope you found the post helpful!

  • I’ve had luck using mineral spirits and steel wool. I feel comfortable doing that bare-handed, but if gloves are used mineral spirits will eat them far more slowly than acetone, I’d think.

    • Hi and thank you.
      I just have one question. What type of paint did you use? Does it has to be a specific brand or specific for metals? I want to paint mine black.

      • Hi Mariano! I used Rustoleum Universal Metallics Paint and Primer in One (spray can). They have lots of colors and it has held up really well since I cleaned the pipes really well. I think they have shiny and matte black, but you would have to check your local store.

  • All the tips I find Discuss cleaning and removing stickers but no one addresses the stamped/painted wording on pipes. Does acetone remove that??

    • Hi Angela! Anything that the pipe has stamped or embossed (any texture) will show through the paint. The acetone won’t take off texture (it just cleans the pipe so that the paint sticks well). Hope that answers your questions!

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