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Cleaning and Painting Galvanized Steel
H ow many times have you seen paint
peeling from a galvanized surface?
Galvanized steel can be one of the easiest
This month’s column was written by Lloyd M. Smith,
Ph.D., of Corrosion Control Consultants and Labs, Inc.,
yet one of the most difficult surfaces to Herndon, Virginia, USA.
clean and paint properly. That’s because ✔
zinc, used to galvanize steel, is an active
metal. The surface starts changing about one day after the soluble and not very dense. They adhere loosely to the sur-
piece is removed from the galvanizing kettle, and it does not face, so painting over zinc oxide or zinc hydroxide does not
fully stabilise for about one year. Special procedures for clean- provide good adhesion of the coating to the surface. The prac-
ing and painting galvanized are needed in the first year. But af- tical problem is that zinc oxide, zinc hydroxide, and zinc car-
ter that time, most paints will adhere with just a power wash. bonate are all white. They give the galvanized surface a dull,
This month’s Applicator Training Bulletin will examine matte grey appearance, and there is no way to determine vi-
what happens on a galvanized surface. It will discuss sually what form of zinc compound is present. Knowing the
cleaning the surface of both new (less than one year old) compound is important because some forms are not suitable
and aged galvanizing, because the requirements differ. Fi- for painting over.
nally, it will present information on painting materials and The reactivity of zinc is well known to galvanizers. For in-
the painting of galvanized steel. stance, they know that if pieces are closely stacked for ship-
ment, there will be no access to carbon dioxide in free-flowing
The Galvanized Surface air to form the zinc carbonate. Only loose zinc oxide and zinc
Galvanizing is a process in which a coating of zinc is applied hydroxide will form, so consumption of the zinc will be rapid.
to a steel surface from a bath of molten zinc. This can occur Unpack closely spaced galvanized pieces and you will see
in several ways. Coil steel, such as steel used to make auto- loose, white deposits on the surface. If this reaction process is
mobile bodies, is commonly gal- allowed to continue, it can totally consume all the zinc by re-
vanized in a continuous roller action with the moisture caught between the pieces. (This con-
process. The sheet of steel is fed dition is, however, very rare.) Rusting of the unprotected steel
into a bath of liquid zinc where may then occur, resulting in red rust present underneath the de-
the zinc is deposited on the sur- posit. This white deposit is called “wet storage stain.” Galva-
face. Alternatively, structural nizers will apply a light coating of oil to prevent wet storage
pieces and hardware are galva- stain. The oil forms a barrier to prevent moisture from reaching
nized in a batch process by im- the zinc, thus preventing the zinc from being converted to the
mersing them in a bath of molten oxides and hydroxides. But paints don’t stick to oil, so painting
zinc. This is called hot-dip galva- this surface without first removing the oil is a disaster waiting
nizing. Chemical reactions occur to happen, no matter what type of coating is applied. Another
Paint peeling from galvanizing between the iron in the steel and process used to prevent wet storage stain is quenching or pas-
All photos courtesy of the the molten zinc. (See sidebar.) sivating with chromates or phosphates. Quenching, i.e., cool-
American Galvanizers Association
An outer layer of pure zinc cov- ing in a water bath, is not harmful in itself. But the quench bath
ers the surface as the piece is withdrawn from the bath. can have small amounts of oil and grease on the surface that
The corrosion protection of unpainted galvanizing comes will be picked up when the piece is removed. Paints also do not
from the formation of a thin, invisible layer of insoluble cor- stick to chromate-quenched galvanizing, but phosphating im-
rosion products. Zinc, being an active metal, reacts with oxy- proves adhesion. If the galvanizer does perform a post-treat-
gen in the air. Zinc oxide starts forming 24 to 48 hours after ment, you won’t know which one was used. It is always rec-
galvanizing. It takes about a year for the zinc oxide to cover ommended to consult with the galvanizer—preferably before
the entire surface. The zinc oxide converts to zinc hydroxide items are galvanized—if you know they are to be painted.
upon exposure to moisture in the form of rain, dew, or high
humidity. The final step is the reaction of zinc oxide and zinc Surface Preparation of New Galvanizing
hydroxide with carbon dioxide in the air to form zinc carbon- New galvanizing, for the purposes of this article, means galva-
ate. This requires free-flowing air. Zinc carbonate is the dense, nized steel that is between one or two days old and one or two
insoluble material that forms the protective layer (sometimes years old. (It was noted above that a stable galvanized surface
called the patina). Zinc oxide and zinc hydroxide are water- Continued

Copyright ©2001, Technology Publishing Company JPCL • April 2001 • PCE 51

nizer to see if the pieces will be treated with phosphate. may be consulted. or soft bris- layers. this is accomplished by fects or handling damage. surface to prevent wet storage stain is to contact the galva. nizer. because zinc will dissolve in edge. The workpiece is er is also affected by how quickly the molten zinc can drain from the placed in a phosphating bath after galvanizing.) examine it for zinc ash. and sweep blasting. The process slightly and the molten zinc take etches the surface and blocks the formation of zinc oxides. phosphate-containing solution that forms a non-reactive tween the iron in the steel zinc phosphate layer on the surface. appearance due to the presence of an iron alloy. Technology Publishing Company . if present.) Water-based emulsifiers or alkaline down the edges as the galvanized piece is withdrawn from cleaners work best. spangled surface. Change ucts and the method of surface preparation required. High spots occur when excess zinc runs monly used in Europe. es. Guide 14. Guide for Repair of Imperfections in Galvanized or One way to determine if oil was applied to the galvanized Inorganic Zinc-Coated Steel Using Organic Zinc-Rich Coating. and they can The overall thickness of the galvanizing is determined primarily by be re-treated. Thoroughly rinse the specified minimum. or brushing with soft bristle brushes. contact the galva- Galvanizing is known for its bright. not to remove so much zinc that the thickness is below the pecially when dipping or spraying. Exposing the zeta layer will result in a brown tent compared to field phosphating. Severe cases of wet storage stain will require a ing bath. Place a The unstable zinc oxide or zinc hydroxide may not have drop of water on the surface. acid with a warm water rinse. zeta (94% zinc). The best advice is that when in doubt. provided the workpiece has remained in Phosphating can also be done at the galvanizing plant in the bath for a sufficient length of time. A are usually ground off with power tools. forming four distinct The solution is applied by immersion. and the quality will be more consis- This is an aesthetic issue and does not affect the corrosion protec- tion of the galvanizing. will be less expensive. tle brush. (This standard is not com. It bath chemistry can affect the appearance and a dull finish can occur. acrylic passivation. SSPC- them often so as not to cover the surface with fibres. If it beads. ther. that were missed will be visible after washing. This is followed by the delta (90% zinc). Droplets form at edges where zinc drains from the highly alkaline solutions. The thickness of the eta lay. However. High spots dipping. as shown at left. This can be done by brushing the stain cles of oxidized zinc that float with a 1–2% ammonia solution such as diluted household on the surface in the galvaniz- ammonia. Phosphating is not recommended if a zinc-rich primer is going to be applied. spray. The common methods for treating the surface in the field are phosphating. give a black colouration to the surface. volved with a new construction project. Remove the ammonia or 1–2% ammonia solution. and the zinc runs into a protrusion or irregular a pH of less than 12 or 13. The next step in surface preparation is to repair any de- grease. In Damaged galvanizing can be repaired with organic zinc-rich countries where organic solvents can also be used for paints. The first step in surface preparation is to wash off oil. layer and weather conditions may actually extend the time. It should be left on the surface for 3 to 6 minutes The gamma layer closest and then washed off with clean water. In North America. spraying. use of wash primers. mor- fusion of the zinc to the steel. must be removed before ash residue consists of parti- surface preparation. but care is needed temperature range of 60–85 C (140–185 F) works best. or T-Wash) is accomplished by applying a Chemical reactions be. dant solution. a process called phosphate quenching. and dirt. clean the en. the chemistry of the steel. any areas and eta (100% zinc) layers. Droplets are knocked off with hand tools. Consult the coating manufacturer about specific prod- cleaning purposes. surface with hot water after cleaning and allow it to dry. place. so the surface must be further treated. Galvanizing can leave high spots solvent cleaning (SSPC-SP 1). oil probably is pre. sent. The Galvanizing Process Hot-dip galvanizing is a batch process in which the coating is applied in a molten bath of zinc at about 450 C (840 F) after the Phosphating workpiece has been cleaned and a flux has been applied to promote Phosphating (use of acidic zinc phosphate solution. and zinc droplets. Zinc-rich primers require intimate con- 52 JPCL • April 2001 • PCE Copyright ©2001. been entirely removed during the initial cleaning process. There is no simple method for identifying the presence of ei- tire surface as described above. It can be removed by mild acid solution such as one part of acetic or citric acid washing the surface with a Zinc ash residue on galvanized item diluted with 25 parts of water. The treatment will to the steel is 75% zinc and 25% iron. but the possible presence of a light oil After washing the surface. Apply the cleaning solution by piece. Zinc Wet storage stain. Therefore. If you’re in- surface when the item is removed from the bath. Thoroughly rinse the surface with hot water and let it dry. Another way is to perform a water bead test. Make sure that an alkaline cleaner has the bath. ApplicatorTrainingBulletin is formed in one year. Allow the surface to dry before painting. lint-free rags should be used.

The with a Mohs’ scale hardness of 5 or less. Continued Copyright ©2001. Spot repairs of In essence. Follow the manufactur. power washing at about 97 bar (1.e. walnut Wash primers are coatings used to neutralise the surface ox.g. ApplicatorTrainingBulletin tact between the zinc particles in the paint and the zinc Sweep Blasting metal on the galvanized surface. Holding the These materials are applied very thin (i. Use a relatively low angle when blasting. Zinc phosphate acts as an Sweep blasting—a method of lightly blast cleaning—can insulator in the same way that iron oxide (rust) acts as an remove zinc oxides on the surface and roughen it without insulator on steel surfaces. Fully Weathered and Aged Galvanizing Fully weathered galvanizing (i.e. Acrylic ate. The galvanized surface should shadow on the surface.. The particle size most common wash primer is polyvinyl butyral (e. galvanizing layer rather than just the zinc oxide particles er’s instructions. shells. SSPC. resulting in paint disbondment. the wash primer is too thick. 7–13 microns nozzle perpendicular to the surface can quickly remove the [0. limestone..5 mil]) by brush or spray. acrylic passivation is a surface treatment. It any damage also would be necessary.3 to 0. All that is normally needed to prepare the surface is passivating materials are applied at 1 micron (0. significant removal of the galvanizing. should be in the range of 200–500 microns (8–20 mils). or some mineral sands. Use an abrasive ides or hydroxides and to etch the galvanized surface. The recommended ambient conditions for through the coating at this thickness. Sweep blasting should be performed with soft abrasives Wash Primers such as aluminium/magnesium silicate. galvanizing that has Acrylic Passivation been outdoors for at least one year and preferably two) Acrylic passivation is accomplished with an acidic acrylic should have a fully formed layer of protective zinc carbon- solution that passivates and roughens the surface. sweep blasting are a minimum temperature of 21 C (70 F) face is completely hidden.04 mils). If the galvanized sur. Paint 27). although other products are available..450 psi). Technology Publishing Company JPCL • April 2001 • PCE 53 . and relative humidity of 50% or less. must dry completely before the paint is applied. corn cobs. Wash primers have poor cohesive strength and will split apart if they are too thick.

on how the preferred. are easy to maintain. just below the from the zinc-iron alloy require only tion methods. for a number of vanizing involves cleaning any rusted are certain types of coatings that are years and is showing signs of failure in. The specified Coatings For Galvanizing Water-borne acrylic coatings are fast galvanizing thickness is related to the Many types of coatings can be applied drying. times depends. The choice some. red rust to remove as little galvanizing Epoxies come in many varieties. rosion protection. There may washing the entire surface. Usually some of the sheet for a particular product says it can film thickness gauge. especially oil-based troduces a different concern. red rust should be cleaned to bare met. or spray. aged galvanizing that has been Surface preparation of old. mulated for use over galvanizing. Sweep blasting would be needed for outdoor exposure. Technology Publishing Company . Acrylic latexes are range of 50–125 microns (2–5 mils). The most common coat- pure zinc on hot-dip galvanized steel hand or power tool cleaning. but telling the differ. so they vanizing. and be applied to galvanizing. uncoated. Epoxies gen- of galvanizing at any rusted or stained the intent is to add more zinc for cor. ers. However. ic. Make ence can be difficult. ApplicatorTrainingBulletin Old. in part. They make good topcoats and steel thickness and is usually in the over galvanizing. the gauge will measure it as if it were would be recommended prior to apply. Aliphatic urethanes give good appear- paint. roller. while rust. Those selected must be specifically for- ed steel is redder. or stained areas as well as power not recommended. What might must be taken when cleaning areas of epoxies and water-bornes. be visible is the staining from these lay. Since galvanizing is non-magnet. Most coatings can be applied be areas of reddish-brown staining. However. Check with which many people think is corrosion of al while areas with brown staining the coating manufacturer on applica- the base steel. ance and chemical resistance. Areas with alkyds. ing the primer to promote adhesion. there in service. Care ings applied directly to galvanizing are are zinc-iron alloy layers. If the gauge finds no layer of gal. Mark the area for repair. the area is most likely rusted. The best way to do rich primer when refurbishing old. so a topcoat areas. surface was prepared. Measure the layer galvanizing has been consumed. It is common to use an organic zinc. sure the manufacturer’s technical data this is with a magnetic or electronic dry aged galvanizing. are commonly used for this purpose. from the edges of the spot as possible. Zinc-iron alloy is brown. by brush. Other water-borne latexes 54 JPCL • April 2001 • PCE Copyright ©2001. erally chalk in sunlight. aged gal.

although a wash thickness on sheet steel is lower. or it can be com. check the product data sheet or with the ence has shown that it takes six months manufacturer to determine if the coating to a year in outdoor exposure before the is appropriate for galvanizing. Always pletely removed in large sheets. The the surface as appropriate. However. Zinc is lather by adding a little water to this very active and takes one to two years to soap. they can take two cation to galvanizing. grams of zinc per square metre materials or coal tar epoxy.g. give you more time to apply the paint. peeling occurs. paints intended for galvanizing. Don’t forget that galva- been used in the past. nizing is non-magnetic. such as microns (1 oz/sq ft equals 1. although the water-borne Some alkyds are formulated for appli- latexes dry quickly. not prepare the surface. resistance will initially be low. Use only coating then falls off. you can actually form nized steel surfaces to be painted. their adhesion and abrasion ment to the coating as a pigment. It is during this period that gal- saponification. breaks the bond between vanizing is usually painted on new con- the galvanizing and the paint. However. These epoxies are best applied over a sweep correspond to galvanizing thicknesses. Wash with the manufacturer. the total coating thickness general- because of possible handling damage. ApplicatorTrainingBulletin have properties similar to acrylic latex.7 mils). causing the ing thickness measured after each coat- paint to peel. so it occurs in a nizer. and if the measured before any paint is applied so pH of the paint is high. if possible. The how much more time you have. Technology Publishing Company JPCL • April 2001 • PCE 55 . fications for structural steel generally re- nizing that has been prepared by quire the galvanizing to be 50–125 sweep blasting or with a wash primer. fication. Copyright ©2001.. depending on the Acrylics can be applied directly to a thickness of the steel. es. This can No matter what coating material is present a problem for new construction used. it should be paint- all organic zinc-rich primers are for. Check with the galva- cation requires moisture. ed within 24 hours because the blast- mulated for application to galvanizing. if sweep blasting is used to directly to galvanizing. They are best used on galva. to determine how the well-adhered coating film only after pieces have been treated. which is called stabilise. Speci- and use. (Sometimes. Experi. an epoxy zinc-rich. However. manufacturers add portland ce- Therefore. but environ. ing exposes fresh zinc that will start so check the product data sheet or converting to zinc oxides. so the thickness mental regulations concerning volatile of the galvanizing will be included in the organic compound (VOC) content paint thickness measurement when us- have severely limited their availability ing magnetic or electronic gauges. problem is that zinc is an alkaline mater- ial. Coal tar (ounces of zinc per square foot). ly should be no greater than 100–150 mi- Chlorinated rubbers and vinyls have crons (4–6 mils). ing layer is applied. microns (2–5 mils). primers and acrylic passivators will Oil-based and alkyd paints are not rec. ommended unless they are specifically but check with the coating supplier on formulated for use on galvanizing. To prevent saponi- to four weeks to thoroughly cure.) This process. The zinc and the binder react in the Conclusion presence of alkalinity to form a metal Surface preparation is critical for galva- soap.) The primer is preferred. can also be applied Finally. Saponifi. the ammonia it can be subtracted from the overall coat- may react with the zinc. The conversion is 250 g/sq m equals 43 Organic zinc-rich primers. is typically painted with bituminous e. Then prepare moisture starts permeating the film. blasted surface or a wash primer. struction projects. (The galvanizing galvanized surface. some thickness of the galvanizing should be acrylics contain ammonia. Galvanizing is often Galvanized steel that is to be buried specified by weight of zinc per unit area.

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