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How to Remove Rust and Refinish That Old Propane Tank

How to Remove Rust and Refinish That Old Propane Tank

If you use propane gas to heat your home or for other appliances, you most likely have it stored in a tank. I mean, where else would it go?

Your tank might also have been sitting there a while. And you know what that means — rust.

Rust on the propane tank can be an eyesore and look more like an obstacle, but this shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. So, how can you remove the rust and refinish your propane tank?

To remove rust from a propane tank, you can use abrasives, chemicals such as baking soda and vinegar, chemical treatments for resealing, or electrolysis. If the rust has not eaten deep into the tank, you can refinish it by painting the tank once you get rid of it.

The rest of this article will elaborate more on the negative effects of rust on a propane tank and how to remove and refinish it.

Negative Effects of Rust on a Propane Tank

Rust doesn’t necessarily mean there is a cause for alarm. There are strict guidelines that are followed during the design of propane fuel tanks. However, large patches of rust that go deeper and appear to dent the tank may call for replacement. Some of the negative effects caused by rust are:

  • Gas leakage
  • Allowance of moisture into the tank
  • Compromises the propane tank surface and causes absorption of heat
  • The inconsistent inflow of fuel
  • Limited amount of air to mix with the fuel due to rust circulation, especially in engines
  • Plugging of fuel lines and filters that cause a buildup of pressure or worse

Removing rust from a propane tank is the best way to maintain it and avoid buying a new one, especially if you’re not financially feasible. Various factors contribute to rusting, especially in environments like a salt-water marina. A stationary propane tank requires to be recertified after twelve years.

Propane delivery companies will refuse to refill when it is rusty, in poor condition, or when there is a lack of certification. It is necessary to clean it off before refinishing it with paint. To remove the rust, you can do the following:

Brush Off the Rust

This is among the easiest ways of removing rust from the propane tank’s surface. You can use a wire brush or heavy sandpaper to scrub off the rust, with the additional use of a garden hose. 

With this method, you will not only get rid of rust but also tree sap, grime, and dirt. However, it requires a lot of muscle. Alternatively, you can use a pressure washer instead of a garden hose.

Use Abrasives

These are materials commonly used in rust removal in propane tanks. They include any rough materials that can potentially scrub off the rust effectively. Some common ones include:

  • Plain gravel
  • Loose bolts and nuts
  • Aquarium gravel or pea

For more effectiveness, use a liquid with the gravel, for example, a combination of water and soap. This will help in swishing the gravel and ensuring that none of it is left inside.

Use Electrolysis

As a rust removal method, electrolysis involves the separation of materials by passing an electrical current through an ionic element. You will require sodium carbonate and equipment like a ferrous metal, such as Iron, and a 12V battery.

When using this method, create a sodium carbonate solution from a small amount of sodium carbonate and pour it inside the propane tank.

Here is a video showing how to remove rust through electrolysis:

Use Chemicals

Chemicals for rust include isopropyl alcohol or muriatic acid. Acetone, phosphoric, or hydrochloric acid can act as abrasives. However, you can also use baking soda and vinegar to loosen the rust, although they are not heavy-duty like the rest. You can mix the chemicals and abrasives but ensure they are compatible to avoid further damage.

One of the safe methods is mixing baking soda and vinegar then filling it in the propane tank. Allow the mixture to settle until there is a change in color with the rust, and bubbles start forming. Another alternative method is the use of heavy-duty chemicals by safely diluting them to clean off the rust.

Carefully go through the instructions regarding dilution and handling of the solution. Follow the direction given on timing because leaving the solution to sit for long can eat through the propane tank walls.

Perform Resealing Chemical Treatments

For severe rust problems, resealing and rust treatments may not be very effective. Their advantage is that some are incompatible with fuels like ethanol that is a great contributor to rust. You can seek them in local supply stores where they are inexpensive. Perform these treatments regularly to prevent rusting.

How to Refinish a Propane Tank

A propane tank, apart from providing fuel for heating, can also serve as an accessory. It doesn’t have to be an eyesore. It requires regular maintenance, and you can also refinish it by painting it. However, you must understand the set standards by your local fire protection association.

Some of the restrictions are regarding the type of paint and color. Depending on your residential area, there are state and federal laws that should be followed. This will ensure its serviceability and safety. The paint should be light in color to reflect heat and designed for use on metal surfaces. The colors can be white, light gray, beige, or silver.

Do not use dark colors as they absorb heat and, in turn, affect the propane gas. Propane is a compressed gas, therefore affected by contraction and expansion depending on the temperature. 

Heat absorption will lead to an expansion that will increase pressure. This pressure can result in the opening of the safety valve where gas will escape. With propane’s combustibility, absorption of heat through dark colors sometimes poses a combustion risk.

When giving your propane tank a facelift, use paint that has a rust inhibitor. This way, the propane tank will be rust-free for a long time, boosting its structural integrity, longevity, and safety. Follow the steps below when removing rust and refinishing a propane tank.

  1. Remove any flaking paint and rust properly to avoid a peeling or flaky paint job. Use a wire brush or sandpaper to smoothen rough areas, then remove the sanding dust off the surface with a cloth.
  2. Get rid of residue and grease by washing the tank using water and detergent. Afterward, use clean water for rinsing and allow it to dry.
  3. Lay some drop cloths around larger tanks on the ground and place small tanks on them. Use a painter’s tape to cover areas on the propane tank where you don’t want to paint. Tape the data tag to prevent it from being concealed by the paint; otherwise, you may be denied a refill service.
  4. Before applying the rust-inhibiting metal primer, shake it properly for the time indicated on it. Apply a coat steadily, sweeping it in a side-to-side motion. Let it dry for the period recommended before applying a second coat, then leave it to dry thoroughly.
  5. Shake the can of metal paint for the period indicated before applying a light coat on the propane tank. Steadily apply it in a sweeping side-to-side motion and let it dry. Apply as many light coats as possible in the same way until you achieve adequate coverage and cure for a full day.

If you would like to create predefined shapes or letters, use stencils. Use sponges or brushes to paint color variations and designs. Rollers and sprayers will help you achieve full coverage on large tanks fast. You can transfer images to the propane tank by use of carbon paper before painting.

Bottom Line

Propane tanks provide heating to many homes but require maintenance to enhance safety, durability, and curb appeal. When a propane tank is rusty, it has many negative impacts that can lead to its damage. Brush off the rust and clean the tank by using abrasives, electrolysis, chemicals, and resealing agents to remove the rust.

You can refinish the tank by painting it with rust-inhibitor paint, but ensure you follow the set standards regarding paint type and color. This way, your tank can be recertified after inspection, which will enhance safety and longevity.


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