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All You Need To Know About The Best Paint For Metals

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DIY metal-based projects are super-duper easy. Plus, they fall into the budget-friendly category, which I’m a fan of. The most thrilling part of these projects is as soon as you start to paint, the transformation truly begins. However, choosing the best paint for metals is critical as you want your results to last.

In general, painting metals is relatively easy. You only need to know the type of metal you are working with, and then you can purchase the supplies in any home improvement store.

WARNING: Asking an employee of a home improvement store, which paint you should buy or if paint primer is needed is a HORRIBLE idea – HORRIBLE! 

The only thing that is safe to ask is, “Can I Paint Over Metal?”

The warning above comes from my experience, and as we all know, experience is the best teacher. Fortunately, my friend is a commercial painter who bailed me out after receiving some bad advice once or twice. Sure, the Home Depot employee may have had good intentions, and my projects did look great until it began peeling just a few days after completion.


The prep was not done correctly. Second, you need to understand the surface you are painting on or the paint type you will be painting over. That information can only be determined by you. Therefore, by asking someone else a question without providing them all the information, their guidance will be incorrect.

My much younger self was more gullible, and over the last two decades of working on projects, I have come to learn the value of research.

Today, I want to share with you essential techniques that you can follow to make your metal project painting successful.

Table of Contents

How Do You Paint Metals To Make Metal Surfaces Achieve Long-Term Durability?

Use oil based paint for your metal projects

Start With The Right Preparations and Procedures

If metals are not appropriately protected, rust will eat it up in due time. Before brushing your metal surface with primers and paint, you need to clean the surface. Primers and colors will hardly bond on metals with dirt and rust.

To remove impurities and rust, you need to peel, crack, and chip out the paint. Use a stiff-bristled steel brush or a chisel type of scraper. If your project contains a large metal surface, you may want to clean the surface with a power wire brush or use of pressure washer.

For example, in our first property, I repainted all the heat radiators in our home. Yep, imagine carrying those outsides from the second floor and back up.

After cleaning the metal surface, make sure to thoroughly wipe down with the use of clean and soft cloth. Check to ensure that all particles are removed. There should be no rust, paint, or dust that stays in the metal surface.

If you are working on a new metal surface, you still need to clean the whole subject. You need to remove the dirt, mold, mildew, moss, any residue, grease, and oil. You can use solutions to remove grease and oil. Make sure you rinse all structure and remote corners of your project thoroughly.

Yes, it may be tiresome not to skip any surface.

But the downside of not faithfully cleaning all the metal aspects is you will surely get low quality of painting results, and the paint will not last long. Soon the project will not sustain and serve its purpose.

Use oil based paint for your metal projects

Choosing The Best Paint Primer For Metals

It is essential to prime metal surfaces to get the utmost beauty and high durability of your painting job – PERIOD.

Prime painting is the most critical part of the whole painting project. Once you got the metal structure in its shape and construction, rust can immediately begin attaching only in a few days of exposure.

Hence, dust, mildew, and other contaminants will also start to accumulate when your project is starting to get high exposure to moisture or other elements.

These impurities will hamper the adequate adhesion of the primer. Moreover, you need to know the two types of primers that you can use in a metal painting job.

  • Zinc-rich primers – they act as sacrificial layers to prevent metal surfaces from rusting if there will be a break that will occur in the topcoat.
  • Epoxy primer – it ensures strong adhesion to the substrate. It prevents the formation of rust under the primer

Here’s one of the best tips I received, when working on rusted metal surfaces, you’ll need to purchase paint primers for metals that are rust-inhibitive.

This type of primer is created to work effectively on areas that are already experiencing heavy rust. It can restore the surface into a non-rusting and paint-friendly surface.

Further, the latest experiences from credible DIY enthusiasts recommend to use an exterior alkyd primer or latex corrosion-inhibitive primer. The coating of these primers is thick enough for rust hardly penetrate.

Should You Use A Paint Plus Primer Product?

Hmmm, I have in the past and still do on occasion. What you need to understand is that the percentage of primer contained within the paints are VERY low.

Hence, it will do a subpar job.

Therefore, if you don’t plan on keeping the item long-term or don’t mind an aged and weather look, then the cost savings can be viewed as an advantage.

Also, if your new color choice is similar to what you will be painting over and the surface is not a stubborn one, then go for it.

If the surface is stubborn and heavily rusted, then using a separate paint primer is a must.

Once Paint Primer Is Completed

Once the primer is ready to go for the next coating, you can apply an intermediate or finish coat. The intermediate coat will decrease the permeability of the paint from moisture, water, and oxygen.

It can strengthen the protection of the metal against different factors. Some project makers apply these finish coat directly to the primed-surface. In other words, they don’t use a clear finish coat.

Another important technical aspect to know is you should ask for specific details about the paint following manufacturers’ recommendations. Particular paint and primer brands require a specific technique to maximize its practical effect.

Accordingly, it is essential that you receive enough knowledge and acquire skills to make metal surface painting jobs successful.

What Kind Of Paint Do You Use For Metal?

Oil-Based Paints

Experts say that oil-based paints are the most recommendable because of its high durability. Painting professionals use oil-based paints in metal-based fences, patio, and furniture. Oil-based paints are also typically used in kitchen cabinets, window frames and molding.

Generally, the price is higher compared to water-based paint because of the formulated pigments, added alkyds, or synthetic resins, some uses plant-based oil and solvents for better curation and resist water, dents, scuffs, and stains.

The downside of oil-based paint is the clean-up and drying time, but I will say the end product is NOTICEABLY better.

Pro Tip: If there are layers upon layers of paint, some painters will use a thick layer of oil based-paint and then lightly sand the coat to even out surfaces.

Water-Based Paints

Water-based paints are fast in drying. Also, it emits lesser fumes. I will recommend the use of water-based paint for indoor projects like wall sconces, bed frames, and tables. These water-based acrylic paints cost less compared to oil-based paints.

Hence, it is perfect for indoors because it dries fast. Acrylic paint is made of pigments, acrylic resin, and water. Most of the brands you can find on the shelves often dry to the touch in about an hour, depending on the humidity.

Water-based acrylic paints are resistant to cracking, chipping, and fading. But it is vulnerable to dents, stains, and scuffs. Generally, acrylic paints have a less organic mixture. That is why it is resistant to the growth of mildew and molds. Professionals are using water-based paint in large moisture-producing spaces in home.

If you choose to use water-based paint, you still need to use an oil-based primer to protect the surface from rusts.

Best spray paint for metal surfaces

Best Reasons To Use Spray Paint For Metals

The spray paints can offer to be more comfortable and friendly because it can easily cover irregular surfaces. Plus, it’s super quick!

Spray cans are practical and efficient if you are working for linear metal projects, fences, and backsplash. Spray cans can reach the irregular contours like chair legs, frame poles, and fixtures.

My Favorite Spray Paint Brands
Rust-Oleum Corporation BIN Primer Spray - This work great for stain blocking.
Rust-Oleum 272479 Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Spray Primer - Great coverage and adheres well.
Rust-Oleum 7590838 Enamel Spray Paint - Oil based and works wonders against rust.

Common Mistakes When Painting Metal

Using Leftover Paint To Save Money

You’ll be sorry…..

I understand your intention that you want to save money, and wanting to be frugal.

Keep in mind that the materials used in the construction of your house are not the same material. Every structure and design is made of different material which requires a specific type of paint.

As a homeowner, you need to prepare enough funds to purchase specific paint to protect your project, such as roof or fence from any elements like rust.

Not Adequately Preparing The Metal Surface

Since everybody knows that painting on the metal surface is easy and fast, they tend to forgo the cleaning process.

Keep in mind debris and impurities like oil, mildew, molds, and grease are present and it won’t allow for good adhesion.  

This mistake commonly happens to repaint projects. As a result, the owner doubles the cost instead of saving costs. You need to spend the additional cost to do the painting job again.

Wrong Application

Many of the DIY painting projects fail because the owner either use too little or too much paint. It will lead to peeling and other problems. 

To avoid this, simply read the instructions for the specific paint brands you have purchased before the paint application.

Forget To Maintain The Work

If you don’t want all your hard work to be ruin give your project some TLC every now and then – I promise it will love you back. Trust me; it’s much easier to clean something every few months and touch up a spot or two.

In Conclusion

The hiring of painting professionals can be easy, fast, and convenient. However, if you are somebody who needs to cut costs and want the gut-feel of ownership of your project, you need to learn the skills of some painting skills.

Using the best paint for metals is key for the longevity of your project. For more home styling tips and tricks drop by anytime. Hey, we’re always up for company. In the meantime, you may enjoy reading Best Home Improvements To Raise Your Home Value or Easy Woodworking Projects For Beginners | DIY Home Projects.

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Die-hard DIYer, home enthusiast and sometimes I cook :-)

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