Are you wondering if you can paint metal? You can make metal products look like new again with a fresh coat of paint. However, it’s essential to prepare the metal surface properly so the paint will last. What should you know before painting metal?

Metal surfaces need proper preparation before painting. The surface needs to be thoroughly cleaned first. Make sure all dirt, grease, and deposits are removed. You will need to fix holes and dents with epoxy filler to create a flat surface for painting. It’s also important to address any rust before painting so it doesn’t spread.  

Do you have a metal surface that you’re ready to paint? Painting metal is more challenging, but the results are worth it. Today, we’re going to cover how to properly prepare metal before painting it. Read on to find out what you need to do.

How To Prepare & Paint Metal

Painting metal is challenging because the paint doesn’t stick to the metal as well as other surfaces. For this reason, thorough prep work is very important. Let’s take a look at what you need to do to prepare and paint metal properly.

Step 1: Clean The Metal

The first step is to clean the metal surface you want to paint. The paint won’t stick to a surface that isn’t clean. When cleaning the metal surface, you will need to focus on one area at a time.

This is because there isn’t a one-product-cleans-all for metal. There are various different cleaners you may need to use to get the metal ready. 

  1. Remove dust, cobwebs, and loose dirt with a dry cloth. This cloth can also be used to degloss the metal surface.
  2. Use a mild detergent (such as dish soap or laundry detergent) with water and a rag to remove built-up dirt and debris.
  3. If there is grease or oil on the metal, it will need to be removed with a rust-inhibited primer. 

Step 2: Remove Peeling Paint

If the metal has old paint on it, you will need to remove the peeling paint. Keep in mind that this is a very labor-intensive step. There are a few different ways that you can remove the old paint. 

Professionals will usually use a power tool for cleaning, This is a great option for saving time. However, it’s only a good option if you’re experienced with using the tool. This is because you need to be very careful not to polish the metal with the tool so the paint sticks.

For beginners, using a paint scraper or sanding paper is a safe option. While this will take more time, you’re less likely to cause issues to the metal. 

Step 3: Remove Any Visible Rust

Inspect the metal surface for any signs of rust. If there is no visible rust, you can move on to the next step. Rust needs to be removed because it can prevent the paint from adhering to the surface.

When you come across a rust spot, remove loose rust with a brush. Then, cover the rust spot with a rust-inhibitive primer. This primer will stop the rusting so you can paint the surface without having to worry about the rust spreading.

Step 4: Repair Any Damages & Imperfections 

If the metal is older, there may be dents, holes, or cracks. Always repair imperfections in the metal to prevent them from getting worse. This will ensure that the metal and the paint job last longer.

Now, you don’t have to be an expert to repair these minor damages. You will need to get an epoxy-based filler for this step. For minor damages, fill the holes or cracks with the epoxy filler. 

If you come across large holes, you will also need to fill them with epoxy filler. To secure them, cut a piece of fiberglass mesh that’s approximately 1-inch larger than the hole. Press the mesh into the filler until it’s in place. Then, apply another layer of filler over the mesh, starting from the outside and working your way to the center.

Step 5: Prime The Metal Surface

Priming is an essential step to ensure the paint adheres to the surface. This is one step you should never skip. Primer helps protect the paint and the metal, so your paint job will look good for longer.

Metal is a more complicated surface, so you can’t use just any primer. The best type of primer to use is a rust-inhibitive/rust converter primer. You can also use a galvanized metal primer or iron oxide and zinc chromate primers.

So, why is choosing the right primer so important? If you use the wrong type of primer, it will allow moisture to get through to the metal surface. This can cause damage to the paint, causing it to peel.  

If the metal you’re painting is staying indoors, one coat of primer will be efficient. For outdoor projects, you should apply 2 coats of primer. This will help to prevent oxidation.

Step 6: Paint The Metal

You can paint metal with spray paint or use a paintbrush. Before you being, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area. We recommend painting metal outdoors. You should also cover the area where you’re painting the metal with sheeting.

Spray Paint

Spray paint is a very easy way to paint metal. Start by holding the can at a distance of 6 to 12 inches away from the surface. If it’s too close, you could cause pooling. Dripping is a sign that you’re holding the paint can too close to the surface.

Paint the object using long sweeping motions. Try to avoid holding the paint in one area. For the best results, you will need 2 to 3 layers. Make sure you paint thin layers and allow each layer to fully dry before applying the next. 


Always use a natural brush for painting metal surfaces. It’s important to make sure the paint gets applied in thin layers so it doesn’t appear lumpy. You should mix the paint so it’s consistent and add mineral spirits if the paint feels too thick to work with.

Once you have painted the surface, allow it to dry before adding a second coat. When complete, allow your project to fully dry before moving it. This could take up to 48 hours.

What Type Of Paint Should You Use For Metal?

Spray paint and oil-based paints are the best choices for metal. You should avoid using latex and water-based paint because metal is prone to rusting. The main decision you’ll need to make is whether to use spray paint or paint by hand.

Spray-On Paint 

Fast applicationCan’t use indoors
Easy to applyMore expensive for large projects
High coverageCause finger cramping
Fast dryingToxic ingredients & bad for the environment 

Brush-On Paint

Durable finishRequires high-quality brushes
Smooth applicationTakes longer to dry
Available in different gradesStrong odor
More color optionsFading causes a yellow tint

Should You Hire A Professional?

Are you wondering if you should hire a professional? If you don’t have experience working with paint, there are times when hiring a professional can be beneficial. However, metal paint doesn’t always call for an expert. 

If you want to touch up your patio furniture, you won’t need to call the pros. However, if you have a metal fence that was damaged last year, you could benefit from calling for help. Here are some times when you should consider hiring a professional.

  • Larger surface area than you’re comfortable working on
  • Metal has damage or needs repairing
  • You want a specific shade or color matching the previous paint job

So, how do you know if hiring a professional is the right decision? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of hiring a professional service.

Knowledge of tools and productsExpensive
Attention to detail Job will be done around the professional’s availability 
Warranty on products and the work
Proper level of prep work
Results that look better and last longer

How Expensive Is It To Paint Metal?

The average cost to paint metal is between $1 and $4 per square foot. However, if you purchase premium paint for aluminum surfaces, the paint could cost between $3 to $11 per square foot. 

If you paint the metal surface yourself, you will only have to cover the costs of the paint, primer, and tools. The cost of primer ranges from $10 to $50. 

When you contact a professional to paint metal, you will also have to factor in the cost of labor. This usually works out to be an additional $2 to $6 per square foot. However, each service will have its own rates. 


Painting a metal surface is a great way to make it look new again. If you want to ensure that your paint job lasts, you will need to thoroughly prepare the metal surface ahead of time. This includes cleaning the surface and fixing all imperfections and damages.

Before painting, you should always use a rust-inhibitive primer. This will help the surface remain resistant to moisture so it doesn’t rust. Always paint outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. Make sure you allow your project to fully dry before you move it.

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