Refinishing Cages / Removing Rust

Refinishing an Old Cage:

Wear and tear on pet cages is usually pretty high, as parrots often chew, scratch or wear the paint. They can ingest flakes of paint which can be harmful to their health. Pet birds can also be sensitive to fumes from new paint.

The following are tips for refinishing your pet’s cage:

  • Clean the cage: Scrub the wire / bars thoroughly with a wire brush to clean the cage and remove any rust and loose zinc flakes, and then sand smooth by hand. If your cage is rusty, please refer to the below for tips on how to remove rust.
  • Spray with some fish oil and wait for it to dry. Expect it to be tacky. The fish oil will stop the cage from rusting again.
  • Select the paint: Look for paints that do not contain lead, zinc or chromate, are “high adhesion”, formulated to bond with the metal surface, are hard-wearing, and are fast drying. Another suggestion is to look on the back of the paint can and see if it is safe for a human infant. There usually is a picture of a mom holding a child’s hand somewhere on the can.
    • Avianweb Visitor Sara Fischer (6/2009) contacted a couple of manufacturers of commonly available paints (Krylon and RustOleum) and got the following responses:
    • RustOleum: “Let me first assure you that our products are lead free and are completely non-toxic when fully dry. We do have a few zinc-rich products, but these are boldly stated on the can that they are a zinc compound. I’m certain that our products would be safe for use with birds, as people frequently will paint birdcages with our enamels. Just two concerns with the application:
      • First, in order to ensure that the paint has fully cured, I would wait at least a 7-10 days, in good drying conditions, before exposing the animal(s) to the paint. Washing down the surface after a week is also a good idea, just to ensure that all the solvents are off the surface.
      • Second, I would recommend that you do not use the metallic products. While they will be non-toxic as well, many of them have a leafing pigment in them, which can result in a metallic ruboff, even after the paint is dry. Thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate your confidence in Rust-Oleum products. If you need further assistance, please feel free to contact our Product Support Department at 1-800-782-3369 or through our web site, “
    • Krylon (DO NOT USE) responded as follows: ” We do not recommend the application of our Krylon paint to anything but “decorative” birdcages that will not be occupied.   After speaking with several veterinarians and other bird  experts, we were advised that birds are extremely sensitive to low levels of materials for a very long time. Since we do not have any data to determine when the cage would be safe to occupy after off-gassing is complete, and we do not know which paint is considered “safe,” we do not recommend our paints for application to birdcages after purchase.”   Eric, Krylon Product Support Also refer to this website for non-toxic, environmentally safe paints for use in bird rooms (not necessarily cages).
    • To be on the safe side, it’s best to contact the manufacturer of any paint you want to work with and ask for bird safety.
  • While painting, be sure to move bird to a separate room and work in a well-ventilated area. It’s best if you paint the cage outside, if possible.
  • Apply paint in a thin coat. If you’re using a spray paint, be sure to hold a large piece of paper or cardboard behind the cage, moving it as you go, to act as a backdrop which catches the excess paint.
  • After painting the cage, wait a week or longer before using it. Solvent-based paints take time after initial drying to release the solvent vapors. NEVER cover a bird in a freshly painted cage.

This tip to help minimize paint chewing by birds:

Birds love to climb, and paint damage often occurs from birds’ gripping the cage with their beak to assist them in climbing up the cage. Aviculturist Eb Cravens also once reported that, by wiring perches or appropriately-sized tree branches onto the inner sides of the wire enclosures, the birds will be encouraged to climb from place to place by gripping these with their beaks, so that they do not even touch the wire when climbing.

A recommendation from Palace Cages:

“Much of the cage industry today uses a “Powder Coat” system. They advertise it is easy to clean and super hard. It may be easier to clean but I don’t use powder coat on my cages. The chip problem gets much worse with a very hard material. Powder coat is not paint. It is a thermoplastic. Chips will not break up and be more likely to cause intestinal blockages. It is also difficult to repair. It is melted on to the cage at appromately 300 degrees. Powder Coat can be less of a threat with some birds, but I don’t recommend it for hook bills.”

Rust Prevention:

Prevent indoor metal items from rusting by keeping their surfaces dry, dusting regularly and wiping down occasionally with a damp cloth. Dry immediately after wiping down.

Tips for Removing Rust:

  • Thoroughly clean the cage.
  • Rust needs to be removed as it is toxic to birds. To remove rust stains, choose one of the following instructions, per your preference and applicability:
    • Aluminum Foil: Lori Baratta suggested the following: “”[A] great way to remove rust from chrome in birdcages without doing them any harm is to dip small pieces of aluminum foil into water. The aluminum foil is softer than steel, so it will not scratch the surface. A byproduct of the process is that it produces a fine metal polishing compound that smoothes the chrome surface to a bright shine!”
    • Tea Bags: To remove rust from steel parts (whether it be cages or toy parts, the secret are ordinary tea bags. Boil about 1/2 liter of water and add about 4 or 5 tea bags. It should be a strong mix of tea. Stir well and let this brew for about 5 minutes and remove the bags. If you used tea leaves, strain the liquid. Let it cool down and then add the rusty steel parts fully submerging them in the liquid. The rust should come off after about 1 to 8 hours – depending on the amount of rust. Keep an eye on them and remove once the rust has dissolved. You will find that the steel parts have taken on a blue-greyish color after the soaking. It is easily rubbed off with very fine wire wool and oil. After this procedure, clean using your usual procedure. You will find that this procedure will not harm the item in any way; it doesn’t affect brass and it actually delays further rusting.
    • Hairspray (pump style, not aerosol) will also remove rust. Spray – let soak for a moment, wipe off. Repeat if necessary. Do remove any birds from the cage and, in fact, the room while spraying and wash off any traces of hairspray before placing your bird back into the cage.
    • Wire Brillo Pad: Scrubbing the rust lightly with a wire brush or a wire brillo pad. Scrub hard enough to remove any rust flakes, but be careful not to scratch the paint (unless the rust is so bad that you’ll have to repaint the cage). (Please use non-toxic paint!) Dipping the pad or brush in white vinegar might make this process easier.
    • Rusted Joints: If rust has developed in the cage joints, you may find it easier to disassemble the cage and work with smaller pieces.
    • Toxic Method that Work: The following tips work well, but care should be taken around birds! This is toxic stuff. It should be applied away from any pets or even family members and cleaned off carefully afterwards, before allowing yours pets anywhere near it:
      • Lysol toilet bowl cleaner removes rust oftentimes on contact. All you need to do is wipe it off with a wet rag.Kerosene: If you see rust stains but no flakes, dip a very fine steel-wool pad into kerosene, and brush out the stains. Wear safety glasses and rubber gloves when handling kerosene, and work well away from open flames. Severe rust problems can be treated with naval jelly, which dissolves rust. Some products convert the rust into a primer so the metal can be painted later. (Please use non-toxic paint!)
    • To remove rust from carpets or other like material, use rubbing alcohol and a clean paper towel. Mix 1 part alcohol with 3 parts water. Put in a spray bottle. Spray the area and blot with paper towels. Repeat until the rust is gone. If no rubbing alcohol is available, you can saturate the spot with lemon juice, using a spray bottle, allow to remain for 5 minutes. To remove the lemon juice, mix one-third cup of white household vinegar with two-thirds cup of water and apply to stain. Blot with white towels. If this does not work, and it may not, call a professional. Most rust removers contain a very strong acid and are, therefore, not recommended for use by homeowners.
  • PLEASE NOTE: HEATED vinegar emits toxic fumes similar to carbon dioxide. Bird owners have lost their pets by adding vinegar to their dishwashing cycle, or used it to clean coffee machines.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Every attempt has been made to ensure accuracy of the provided information. However, a listing on this, or connected, pages should not be construed as a recommendation or endorsement

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Team Beauty of Birds's team of experts includes veterinarians, biologists, environmentalists and active bird watchers. All put together, we have over half a century of experience in the birding space.

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