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How to Paint Metal in 4 Simple Steps

Painting metal isn´t as hard as it might seem in the beginning. It can be a lot of work to properly paint metal though, depending on the amount of rust or old paint that is present on your metal piece. But don´t worry! In this article, I will teach you exactly how to properly paint any metal surface.

The four steps to painting metal are:

  • Remove Dirt, Rust, and Old Paint
  • Clean the Metal Surface with Rubbing Alcohol or Mineral Spirits
  • Apply a Primer
  • Paint the Surface

I will go over each of these steps in more detail but generally, this is all you need to do for painting any type of metal surface.

Remove Dirt, Rust, and Old Paint

Before painting any surface you have to prepare it properly first. I have a dedicated guide on how to prepare metal for painting where I explain in further detail how to properly prepare any metal surface including heavily rusted ones.

The first step is removing any dirt, rust, and old paint. If the metal that you want to paint is completely free of any rust and dirt then you can simply skip this step and move on to cleaning the surface.

I recommend using a sturdy brush to remove dirt and dust first.

Then you can move on to using a wire brush to remove any old paint and rust.

If the metal is already painted and the paint is not peeling then you can simply use sandpaper to rough up the surface and continue with the next step. You don´t have to remove old paint if it is not peeling.

If you can´t remove all of the paint and rust with the wire brush, then you can use fine-grit sandpaper to remove the rest of it. Sandpaper is also great for hard-to-reach areas.

Make sure that you remove as much of the rust and old paint as possible. Your goal is to have an even surface that is free of any dents or color flakes.

If you can´t get rid of all of the rust then don´t worry, you can use a rust reformer before priming the surface. But more on that later.

Clean the Metal Surface

Once you removed all of the old paint and rust it´s time to clean the surface of the metal to ensure that the primer adheres properly.

I recommend using either mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol to clean the metal but you could also use a 1 to 5 mixture with one part vinegar and 5 parts water.

You will also need a piece of old cloth or a towel.

Use some mineral spirits and a towel to clean the metal from any dust, and grease.

This step is especially important because grease or oil that is left on the surface could, later on, hinder the primer from adhering properly. So make sure that you clean the surface thoroughly before you apply any primer to the surface.

Apply a Primer

When it comes to applying a primer I always recommend either using a primer that inhibits rust or applying a rust reformer before you apply the primer.

By doing this you will ensure that no rust can form underneath the paint so I highly recommend applying at least some sort of rust protection.

I personally use Rust reformer from Rust-Oleum for most of my projects that involve painting metal. You can buy it in a spray can for easy application in most hardware stores or right here on Amazon.

Rust reformer will reform any rust that is left on the surface and it will prevent new rust from froming. So if you couldn´t remove all of the rust then using a rust reformer is highly recommended!

The rust reformer states that you can paint right on top of the surface after you applied it but I prefer to apply a separate coat of primer just to be sure.

I prefer a spray primer for easy and even application in most cases. You should only apply spray primer in well-ventilated areas or outside.

I recommend using the professional spray primer from Rust-Oleum. It sticks to a multitude of surfaces including metal. You can buy spray primer in pretty much every hardware store or right here on Amazon.

So FIrst apply a thin layer of rust reformer to the surface. Wait until the coat is dry and if necessary apply another coat. I usually apply between 2 and 4 coats until the bare metal is fully covered. Then apply between 2 and 4 thin coats of spray primer on top of the dried rust reformer coat until the whole surface is covered sufficiently. Let each coat dry in-between applications.

Let the primer dry overnight before you start applying the paint.

Apply the Paint

The final step is applying the paint to the surface.

If you feel like the primer isn´t smooth enough or if you find some drops or other uneven parts on the surface then you can use 200 grit sandpaper to sand the surface smoothly before you apply the paint.

If you sanded the primer make sure to remove any dust left over from the sanding with a soft paintbrush or some compressed air.

As a whole, you can spray paint metal and you can paint metal with a brush. It is recommended to use spray paint if a smooth even finish is needed. Applying metal paint with a brush is generally cheaper but also requires more work and the result will have brush marks on it if done poorly.

So I highly recommend using spray paint to paint metal because the end result will be much smoother.

I personally use Rust-Oleum Painter´s Touch to paint most of my projects. It adheres very well to most surfaces including metal. You can buy it right here on Amazon.

Before you apply the paint make sure that you taped off everything that you don´t want to color and make sure that you are in a well-ventilated area.

Trust me, you don´t want to accidentally color something with this paint because you will have a hard time getting it off again.

Then apply the paint in thin even coats. I recommend applying the paint in several thin coats instead of one thick coat. This will ensure that the paint is not running anywhere and it will also ensure that the application is even and smooth.

I usually apply around 2 or 3 coats before the paint covers everything properly.

Let the paint dry in between coats!

Most metal paints don´t require a top coat but you can refer to the instructions of the paint for more information. Most paints for metal can also be used for outdoor applications.

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