How to paint a rusty oil tank

Written by cody sorensen | 13/05/2017
How to paint a rusty oil tank
Large oil tanks require the use of a boom lift for painting. (oil tank image by Arman Zhenikeyev from

Metal oil tanks rust when left unpainted. Over time, this rust can eat through the metal container and cause an oil spill. Oil spills harm the environment and are very expensive to clean up. The first sign of rust is a definite indicator that repainting is required; however, rather than waiting for a problem to escalate, oil tanks should be painted periodically for protection from the elements. Small oil tanks can be painted using a ladder to reach the high areas; a boom lift works best for larger tanks. A rust-encapsulating paint should be used that can be rolled onto the tank. A primer should precede the finish coat.

Sanding and rinsing

Insert the bit shaft of the twist knot cup wire grinding wheel into the pneumatic grinder and tighten it down with the tightening chuck. Insert the tip of the chuck into the hole in the grinder head, align the slots in the chuck with the slots in the head and then twist the chuck clockwise to tighten the wheel in place.

Grind away the rust from tank, working from top to bottom. Work around the tank in circles until you reach the bottom of the tank. Move the grinder back and forth over the surface to be most effective.

Dust the tank off with a dusting brush and then rinse it off by fastening a spray nozzle to a garden hose and spraying the tank from top to bottom. Wait 24 hours for the tank to dry.

Priming and painting

Pour 4.5 litres (1 gallon) of rust-encapsulating primer paint into a 22.5 litre (5 gallon) bucket. Hang a metal paint screen from the inside rim of the bucket.

Slide the 1.2 cm (1/2 inch) nap paint roller onto the roller frame and screw the extension pole into the handle. Roll the roller down the metal screen and dip the nap fibres about 1.2 cm (1/2 inch) into the paint. Roll up and down the screen and back into the paint until the roller is soaked with primer.

Roll the tank, working a 4-square-foot section at a time. Use an up and down zigzag pattern. Roll out the roller lap lines to smooth out the primer and ensure proper coverage. Use a paintbrush or mini-roller to reach odd-shaped parts of the oil tank if needed. Prime from the top of the tank to the bottom. Wait 24 hours for the primer to dry. Then, apply a coat of rust-inhibiting finish paint. Wait 24 hours and then apply a second coat.


A safety harness should be worn and properly fastened to the boom lift basket if a boom lift is used. Never stand on the top rang of a ladder as instability may cause a fall. Wear gloves, eye goggles, ear plugs and a dust mask when using the pneumatic sander.

Things you need

  • Angled pneumatic grinder
  • Twist knot cup wire grinding wheel
  • Dust brush
  • Spray nozzle
  • Garden hose
  • 1.2 m (1/2 inch) nap roller cover
  • 22.5 cm (9 inch) roller frame
  • Extension pole
  • Rust encapsulating primer paint
  • Rust inhibiting finish paint
  • 22.5 litre (5 gallon) bucket
  • Metal paint roller screen

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