Painting Metal Surfaces: Painting the Most Common Household Metal Surfaces

When painting metal surfaces it is wise to find out exactly which type of metal that you are painting before moving forward with choosing paint for your job.   Aluminum, Iron, Steel and other various metals are common in American households and each requires a little bit of expertise on the right way to paint the metal.   Let’s take a look a little further.

Best Way to Paint Metal

When painting metals, especially if you are painting metals with a paint sprayer, it is important to choose a quality paint that will fit what you need.  For instance a paint that you will use on iron rails that are outside will be different from the paint that you use on an iron chair that you keep indoors.  Let’s look at the process of picking the right paint first.

Choosing Your Paint

Like almost anything you paint you will want to make the decision on whether you are using latex vs. oil based paint.  Each of these has is pros and cons on whether it is the right paint for your particular metal surface.  Some people have even used chalk paint with metal, which can be a cool alternative.

Painting Metal with Latex Paint Pros

While latex paint is typically not the #1 paint to use on metals is does have some things going for it in regards to painting metal with latex.  Latex is easy to use, can be cleaned easily and is an option for certain metals.   Latex would be best for small metal jobs such as parts of your ceiling or wall that also have latex paint surrounding them.

painting metal surfaces

Painting an aluminum storage unit.

Painting Metal with Latex Paint Cons

Durability is the key con in latex compared to oil based paint and that is why few people use it.  Also, with certain metals, latex paint can rust, especially if it exposed to conditions outside.   Latex also does not do well with smooth surfaces such as large steel paint jobs.

Painting Metal with Oil Based Paint Pros

Painting metal with oil based paint is definitely the logical choice for most metal surfaces.  Because of its durability and its ability to cover up blemishes on metal, oil-based paint is the clear choice for a majority of paint jobs.

Painting Metal with Oil Based Paint Cons

The main cons of using oil based paint are that it wears down quicker then latex paint and is typically more expensive than latex paint.   With this being said, we recommend using quality oil based paint when painting metal surfaces.

Best Paint for Steel

When I am painting steel, especially anything that will be outside, I typically choose Rust-Oleum as my paint choice.  Last winter I painted a steel walkway for one of my clients and I chose the Rust-Oleum high performance protective enamel for this.  I feel that Rust-Oleum makes a great paint for any type of metal that can rust and it is something I use often.

Using a primer on metal

There are many “professional” painters I know that tend to skip using primer with metal, but I feel that this is a mistake.  Priming is something that I feel is necessary in 99% of painting projects and will always make your project look better than straight paint. I feel that Rust-Oleum Clean Metal Primer Spray is the best primer for metal and it is something that I highly recommend as it is quick and easy to apply.

Painting Metal Surfaces – Three Common Household Paints

While there are hundreds of different metals that can be painted, most questions that I get on the subject are broken down to mainly typical household painting.    Below are three of the most “requested” metal surfaces that I paint and my strategy I use on each one.

Painting a Metal Kitchen Cabinet

Painting metal kitchen cabinets can be a very easy or time consuming task

painting metal cabinets

Use painter’s tape if you choose not to remove cabinets

depending on what kind of state your previous cabinet is currently in.   If you are painting a previously painted metal cabinet, by far the most time consuming part of your project will be stripping the paint.

Tools needed- Paint Stripper (if previously painted), Wire brush, Primer, Paint sprayer (Best Choice would be Wagner SprayMax), Oil-based paint, Painting Mask, Gloves

It is important when painting metal that you have a smooth surface to work with as it will make the paint apply easier and it will last longer.   Let’s look into the 4 easy steps on painting metal kitchen cabinets.

  1. Removing Cabinets– The easiest way to paint cabinets is to remove them and place them on a drop cloth for painting.  If you choose not to remove them you can still paint them but you may not get the same quality paint job.   Most cabinets can be removed with a screwdriver and a hammer.   Others may require more depending on what type of cabinets that you are painting.
  2. Prep Work– Prepping to paint is the least fun part of the job, but the one that is most necessary. If you are painting a metal cabinet that has been previously painted, you will paint to use a paint stripper along with a wire brush to remove all of the old paint.
  1. Priming– As previously stated we feel that the majority of metal paint jobs can be done with a spray primer such as Rust-Oleum.  Read the instructions with your particular primer and wait until it dries.
  1. Painting– Painting is pretty straight forward, especially if you are painting your metal cabinets with a paint sprayer. Using smooth strokes and the distance that is best advisable by your specific sprayer.

How to Paint an Aluminum Door

Painting an aluminum door, mostly storm doors, are a very popular option for those looking to add color to their home.   Aluminum is one of the few

painting an aluminum door

Removing an aluminum door is easy with the right tools

metal surfaces that latex paint may be preferred over oil-based paint due to the surface.  Unlike traditional front doors, painting aluminum doors with a paint sprayer involves more steps due to the nature of aluminum and the likely chance that the door has dents and other imperfections.  Let’s look at the steps to paint an aluminum door the right way.

Tools needed- Automotive filler, Sandpaper, cloth, alcohol, Metal Primer, Paint (Latex or oil-based), Paint Sprayer, Painting Mask, Gloves, Caulk Knife, Caulk (For doors with windows)

  1. Remove the door from hingesRemoving the door from the hinges is a necessity when painting doors due to the inability to properly paint a door when it is still intact. Remove the hinge completely before painting.
  2. Repair dents and scratches– Almost any aluminum storm door will have dents, scratches and imperfections on it because of common wear and tear. If you are repairing dents, it is usually easy to push out the dents or use a suction device.  If they are deep dents you may need more equipment.   To remove deep scratches from an aluminum door it is best to use automotive filler such as Bondo as this will stick much better than traditional wood filler.
  3. Sand the door– Sanding aluminum is something that is highly recommended as it gives the aluminum a new look. I personally would use a high sanding grade of 600 or above if want to make the aluminum look shiny and new.
  4. Remove caulk and windows– If your aluminum door has windows, removing the windows and the caulk that holds the windows is something that we highly recommend. Using a utility knife or paint scraper along with wet cloths you should remove all traces of caulk from the window.
  5. Priming an aluminum door– After removing the windows, it will be time to prime your door. Like any other metal surface, priming is something that I always due and it can make a difference in the overall look of your door. Once again a good metal priming spray can be a quick and easy way to prime your aluminum door.
  6. Painting– The final step will always be the easiest, especially if you are using a paint sprayer and that would be painting the door.   Many people choose latex on aluminum and this can be a good choice, especially if you are choosing a bright color.  Once again, follow the directions on your specific paint sprayer and always use smooth steady strokes.   Paint one side at a time and make sure to give enough drying time before flipping your door over and painting the other side.

How to Paint a Metal Garage Door

The last and most tedious job that we commonly get questions on is how

painting a metal garage door

Paint bottom to top when painting a garage door

to paint a metal garage door.  Unlike cabinets and doors, garage doors cannot be removed and because of their size will require much more overall time.   Also if you are painting a garage door yourself, your supply list will be much larger.  Here is what you need to paint a metal garage door.

Tools needed-  Stepladder (6’ or larger if doing a commercial metal garage door),  Painter’s Tape,  Rags, Paint Sprayer (Graco Truecoat Pro II is #1 choice) ,  Gloves,  Painter’s Mask,  Drop Cloth, Primer, Wire Brush, Sand Paper,  All-purpose cleaner,  sponge ,  Garden hose

  1. Look for Proper Painting Conditions– Whenever you are painting outside it is important to have ideal paint conditions as this could ruin your paint job.   Typically we are looking to paint between 50- 80 degrees on a day with no precipitation.   You can paint in warmer or colder conditions if necessary, but you will not get the maximum effectiveness.
  2. Prep the garage– Removing paint on a full garage door is quite labor extensive and it is not recommended if you are looking to get your project done in one weekend.   If you have tons of time, you can always remove all of the paint, but it is not necessary.  If you choose not to remove the previous paint, it is still recommended to use a wire brush to remove all blemishes.
  3. Clean garage– After you have remove all blemishes from the metal garage door it is now time clean the garage door before moving forward.    This is typically a two part process depending on how dirty your garage may be.   If I was cleaning a client’s garage I would use an all-purpose cleaner and sponge first and then use a hose to clean off everything.   If you are doing a newer door or one that may already be clean, you may be able to just get by with hosing off all of the dirt and grime.
  4. Tape off and use drop cloths– Because you cannot remove a metal garage door to paint like you can with other types of doors, it is wise to use painter’s tape and drop cloths to avoid painting other areas of your garage/ driveway.
  5. Prime & Painting Garage– While most metal objects can be primed with a canned primer, for large metal garage doors we recommend a traditional painter that can be sprayed or painted on.   Best advice for painting a garage door is to paint the bottom of the garage door first at a level that is about eye’s length and then use the garage door opener to move the garage door down as you continue to paint.

Conclusion on Painting Metal Surfaces

As you can see painting metal surfaces requires different steps for a variety type of jobs.  One thing that is common among painting any type of metal is that it is important to have all of the proper tools in place and to have a clean surface to prime and paint.  Follow these rules of thumb and you will be on your way to much better looking painted metal.

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