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Painting the Eiffel Tower


The repainting campaign is an important event in the life of the monument and takes on a truly mythical nature, as with everything linked to the Eiffel Tower. It represents the lasting quality of a work of art known all over the world, the colour of the monument that is symbolic of the Parisian cityscape, the technical prowess of painters unaffected by vertigo, and the importance of the methods implemented.

The Tower’s Protection

The Tower’s Colours masque photo
The Tower’s Colours

Constructed using puddle iron, the Tower is protected from oxidation by several coats of paint to ensure that it lives forever.

In 1900 in his book " The 300-Meter Tower ", Gustave Eiffel wrote, "We will most likely never realize the full importance of painting the Tower, that it is the essential element in the conservation of metal works and the more meticulous the paint job, the longer the Tower shall endure."

The Tower has been re-painted 18 times since its initial construction, an average of once every seven years. It has changed colour several times, passing from red-brown to yellow-ochre, then to chestnut brown and finally to the bronze of today, slightly shaded off towards the top to ensure that the colour is perceived to be the same all the way up as it stands against the Paris sky. Sixty tons of paint are necessary to cover the Tower's surface, as well as 50 kilometers of security cords, 5 acres of protection netting, 1500 brushes, 5000 sanding disks, 1500 sets of work clothes…and more than a year for a team of 25 painters to paint the Tower from top to bottom.

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A FEW FIGURES for a Repainting Campaign :

  • 250,000 m2 of surface to paint ;
  • 25 painters – all of them specialists in work on metallic structures at great heights and on towers, and completely unaffected by vertigo ;
  • 60 tonnes of paint ;
  • the weight of eroded paint between two painting campaigns is estimated at 15 tonnes ;
  • 50 kilometres of safety lines ;
  • 2 hectares of safety nets ;
  • 1,500 brushes ;
  • 1,500 overalls ;
  • 5,000 sanding disks ;
  • 1,000 "scrub planes" (scrapers) ;
  • 1,000 pairs of leather gloves ;
  • Budget : around 4 million Euros
  • Duration : around 18 months, without ever closing the monument to the public
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The Eiffel tower paintingAn Enormous Amount of Work to Ensure the Tower’s Longevity

The Eiffel Tower is built using puddle iron, a material with a practically eternal lifespan if it is just regularly repainted! Indeed, there are various factors that can threaten this metal such as rust, the unavoidable pollution in a city, and bird droppings.

25 painters strip, clean, apply rust-proofing and the final coat of paint to the whole 300 metres.

It should be mentioned that even today the painters still work using traditional methods dating back to Gustave Eiffel’s day – the painting of the Eiffel Tower is done only by hand! All “remote” work is forbidden, and so the painters must have the brush in their hand. Paint guns are of course ruled out.

The Opportunity for a Complete Check-Up and to Test Even More Environmentally Friendly Paints

Each painting campaign is an opportunity to check the state of the structure in detail, and if need be to replace any small corroded metallic parts.

The paint applied in 2002 and 2009 is a formula with no lead pigments, having been replaced by a zinc phosphate anticorrosion agent, which is also more resistant to atmospheric pollution.

Additionally, tests on paint containing volatile organic compounds almost completely devoid of solvents were carried out during the 2009 campaign in preparation for the world environment norms, which will come into effect after 2012.

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  • 1887/88 : "Venetian red" paint, applied in the workshop before the parts were assembled.
  • 1889 :Application of a very thick, reddish-brown coat.
  • 1892 :The Tower turns "ochre brown".
  • 1899 :A coat of 5 colours is painted in shaded tones from yellow-orange at the base to light yellow at the top. It was after this repainting campaign that the 7-year cycle was adopted for the renewal of the paintwork.
  • 1907-1917-1924-1932-1939-1947 :The colour is called "yellow-brown". The 1917 repainting was delayed because of the war.
  • 1954-61 :A new colour for the Eiffel Tower: "brownish-red".
  • 1968-1975-1982-1988-1995-2002 :The colour “Eiffel Tower Brown” is chosen for its harmony with the Parisian cityscape. It was applied in three shaded tones, with the darkest at the bottom and the lightest at the top.

The Eiffel tower repainting campaignA Guide to the Repainting Campaign :

  • First things first: security equipment
    Before the painters begin, specialists in work on tall buildings first fit safety nets and safety lines.

  • Safety Lines

    Painters are equipped with harnesses to work on the Eiffel Tower's beams. Their security is ensured under the best possible conditions thanks to the systematic installation of safety lines (lignes de vie), which allow the workers to move around freely while staying attached to the structure at all times.

  • Safety Nets

    Safety nets are fitted to secure the work areas (against falling objects) and to catch any paint flakes. In 2009 they were equipped with an “anti-drip” system for the first time, using polymer film.

  • Tool Safety

    All of the tools used are attached to the painters’ belts or wrists, including paint pots and brushes.

  • The Painter’s Work: to form an assessment, to sand, to clean, to apply the paint

    The extent and complexity of the work requires a rigorous methodology that includes a preparatory stage to search for the most corroded areas (generally around 5% of the structure’s total surface). These areas are then stripped, and a first coat of an anti-rust primer is applied, followed by a second application to strengthen the rust-proofing. Lastly, a final coat of paint is applied.
    PAs for the rest of the structure, all of the areas judged to be in good condition undergo high-pressure steam cleaning. Treatments of any flaws or the unblocking of any drains are carried out, and lastly two coats of paint are applied.
    Anticorrosion painting experts are asked to inspect the site regularly, including places that are difficult to get to, and to evaluate the quality of the work.

  • The Course of the Campaign

    With 15 months of active work, the campaign lasts around 18 months, interruptions due to the weather considered :
    - painting is impossible if the structure is too cold,
    - the paint does not stick well if the structure is wet.