The Best Rust Armor: Powder Coated Aluminum or Steel with E-Coat/Topcoat?

Metal fabricators deal with rust every day. Not surprising when you consider how easily rust destroys nearly all unprotected metals it touches.

Fortunately, there are several options fabricators can choose from. We’ll cover a couple in this article.

The Problem with Rust

Rust is a type of corrosion occurring when exposing iron or steel to moisture and other chemical agents. Rust occurs in fresh, saltwater, or industrial atmospheres, such as chlorine or sulfuric acid. Here in central Wisconsin, our vehicles are bathed in road salt, whether kicked up by snowplows or simply sprayed on by other cars.

It’s not just a cosmetic problem: it causes structural damage, blocks electrical currents, and contaminates other materials. People mistakenly believe painting an object with paint or another coating protects it from rust. In fact, many coatings trap moisture and create an ideal environment for rust. The proper solution to the problem of rust is to prevent it from happening.

What’s the Difference Between E-Coating and Powder Coating?

E-coating and powder coating are both electrostatic coating processes in which metal or plastic products are coated with a conductive layer of paint or another electrostatic dust-free coating. The major difference between the two processes is that electro-coating also includes a chemical bath at the beginning of the process that etches the metal to provide a clear surface for the coating to adhere to. Powder coating involves only the application of the coating material to the surface. Electro-coating is often used to repair or refurbish an existing surface, such as a machine or part finish. In contrast, powder coating, sometimes called electrostatic painting, produces a decorative finish on a new part that is often thinner than electro-coating can achieve.

What Is Powder Coating?

Powder coating involves spraying electrostatically charged paint powder on a substrate. Powder coating is a tougher, more durable, and longer-lasting coating than paint, and it is suitable for items that require weather-resistant or long-lasting performance.

Manufacturers normally use powder coating to create exceptional durability and resistance by applying dry powder electrostatically with a spray gun and curing it in a curing oven or under ultraviolet light. We can also use powder coating with various materials beyond traditional metals, including carbon fiber, composites, fibreboard, and plastics, as well as fibreboard.

Powders used for coating materials fall into two categories: thermoplastics and thermosets.

  • Thermoplastics, such as nylon and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), can be reheated, shaped, and cured many times. They are easy to alter post-curing, and their coats are easy to remove. Thermoplastics are ductile and chemically resistant.
  • Thermosets, such as epoxy and phenolic resins, can only be cured once. They have higher heat resistance and are suitable for high-temperature applications once cured.

Powder Coating Benefits

Powder coating is available in many colors and finishes and offers the longevity and corrosion resistance of powder coating, along with steel’s innate toughness and durability. It is suitable for:

  •  Outdoor furniture
  • Indoor furniture frames
  • Metal canopy frames
  • Metallic roofs
  • Windows and doors
  • Scaffolding
  • Cranes
  • Trailers

Is Powder-Coated Steel Rustproof?

It is up to a point. In most cases, powder-coated steel is highly resistant to rust, so it won’t develop unsightly rust patches or leave red streaks on a patio or structure façade. However, if damaged, small cracks in the coating may appear, allowing moisture and rust.

Powder-coated steel provides the following advantages:

  • Strength: Powder-coated steel is extra secure and durable when used in many applications.
  • Longevity: The efficient coating seals the steel to keep out contaminants and extends its lifespan.
  • Thick, consistent finish: Powder coating offers a thick and even finish for more consistent protection.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: The coating of powder-coated metals includes different colors and styles.
  • Corrosion Protection: A powder coat is an impenetrable barrier to prevent moisture and contaminants from entering the metal. 

Powder Coating Aluminum

Powder-coated aluminum combines the durability and longevity of powder coating with the lightweight and weather-resistant properties of aluminum. It is easy to transport and withstand harsh weather without rusting. It is suitable for various applications, including metal patio furniture, railings, door handles, and window frames.

Here are some benefits of powder coating aluminum:

  • Weight: Powder-coated aluminum is light and simple to move.
  • Durability: Powder-coated aluminum is both beautiful and durable. 
  • Elegance: Despite its strength and reliability, powder-coated aluminum is also elegant. Items made of powder-coated aluminum are appealing as furniture and decor because of the range of colors and styles.
  • Corrosion Protection: Because of its corrosion resistance, powder-coated aluminum keeps products corrosion-free. It keeps moisture and other contaminants out to ensure that products remain corrosion-free. 


What Is E-Coating?

E-coating is a corrosion-resistant coating on metal parts produced using electroplating. The process deposits a coating onto the surface of a metal part using an electrical current, similar to electroplating but using different chemicals.

How Is E-Coating Applied?

An electrochemical water-based coating process coats metal surfaces by immersing the part in an electrolyte solution, an acidic salt solution containing water and other minerals. It applies the coating as a thin film that doesn’t penetrate the metal by coating the outside surfaces.

E-Coating’s Role in Manufacturing?

E-coating protects any part at risk of rust or corrosion. It is crucial to realize that e-coating doesn’t remove rust from an existing part; it prevents rust by creating a barrier preventing water and oxygen from contacting the metal substrate.

E-coating makes items more durable and longer lasting than untreated ones, especially in wet and harsh environments.

E-Coat’s Durability

E-coated parts are much less susceptible to damage because the barrier created by the e-coating process prevents water and other harmful substances from coming into contact with the metal beneath. This extra durability and flexibility create a protective barrier, allowing e-coated parts to be used in more places and under more conditions.

E-Coating’s Advantages

We can gain several benefits from e-coating, including:

  • A powerful barrier to protection
  • Longer life means a longer lifespan.
  • A more attractive appearance
  • Being able to do many things.
  • It is economical.
  • It’s less of a hassle to maintain.

In Sum

What’s Best?

As the kids like to say, YMMV. There’s obviously nothing wrong with powder coating aluminum, and it has several advantages. 

The method with the most options may be the e-coat/topcoat combination. This method provides a greater choice in substrates, such as a stronger metal, and you still have the benefit of using one of many colors.

However, there are situations where a heavier metal may not work, leaving aluminum as the choice.

This is an obvious statement, but do your due diligence and work with your protective metal coating provider to decide the best option for you.

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