Stainless steel is durable and easy to care for, but sometimes it needs to be painted. Maybe it’s beat up and needs a protective coat, or you’re tired of the industrial look. But can stainless steel be painted?
You can paint stainless steel, but you must first prepare the piece by scuffing or sanding. This creates the porous-like surface needed for the paint to bond to the steel. A primer will also need to be applied before painting, and it’s recommended to finish with a wax.
In this guide, you’ll get an overview of the process so you can apply and modify the process to fit your project. Want to spray paint, change the color of your sink or faucet, or paint appliances? We’ll walk you through each of those. So let’s get started.
What Kind of Paint Will Stick to Stainless Steel?
Oil-based and epoxy paints will stick to stainless steel and are recommended for such a project. Acrylic paints don’t bond well with steel, even if sufficiently scuffed. Oil-based paints will bond adequately. Epoxy paints are the most durable but rarely used in smaller DIY projects.
Oil paints are the go-to choice for this kind of project. They’re quite hard and do not easily crack or discolor. Also, oil-based surfaces are easy to clean. And they come in a large range of various finishes.
Most importantly, with good preparation, the paint will stick.
Depending on the formulation, oil-based paints may also be brushed or rolled on for a textured look.
The drying time is longer for oil-based paints than water-based, so use a fast-drying formula for large projects.
Water-based paints can be more affordable than their oil-based counterparts, but they’re not as tough and durable as oils. Therefore, water-based paints are far from ideal. You should only consider using them if the surface won’t be handled.
When people complain about the paint not sticking to stainless steel, using these paints is the primary culprit. (With inadequate preparation close behind.)
Another alternative is epoxy because it’s highly durable. Although it has many industrial uses, this paint can be used for household projects.
Liquid epoxy paint must be mixed with a hardener to activate the polymerizing or hardening process. The time to cure the paint depends on the amount of hardener applied.
However, this can be tough to deal with. Afterall, you don’t want the paint hardening before you apply the hardener. Therefore, liquid epoxy paint is rarely used in smaller DIY projects.
However, spray-on epoxies are readily available. For example, Rust-Oleum’s Appliance Epoxy is amazingly easy to use. Just prep, spray, and wait for it to dry. Then, if a second coat is needed, apply it within 30 minutes of the first one.
Spray epoxies come in limited colors as they’re often used to refresh an appliance, so if you want a bold color, you’ll have to look harder for an epoxy. But if you’re going to paint a stainless sink, fuchsia purple is probably not your first choice.
Rust-Oleum offers a few additional color options in the line of automotive enamel paints. Automotive paints are designed to handle the heat of a car engine, so they’re more expensive. But if you have to have Ford Blue, then Rust-Oleum has the paint for you.
Regardless of which product you choose, carefully follow the directions given by the specific product.
You can spray paint stainless steel, and spray painting is the preferred method for large pieces and round objects. It’s also ideal if you want a smooth and shiny coating. Just make sure the paint is designed for stainless steel.
To prep stainless steel for painting, use steel wool or a wire brush to roughen it up if it’s already weathered and scuffed. Stainless steel is non-porous, and paint needs “pores” to bond. If the stainless steel isn’t scratched up, a wire brush won’t do; Instead, use a handheld orbital sander.
How to Paint Stainless Steel: Step-by-Step
Here are the steps for how to paint stainless steel.
1. Prep the Workspace
Unless you want a mess everywhere, prep your workspace. Protect your floors, use plastic sheeting, drop cloths, and tape off areas you don’t want painted. Remove unnecessary hardware. How much or how little you do depends on the size and type of project.
2. Prep the Stainless Steel
Use steel wool, a wire brush, or an orbital sander to prep the stainless steel. Remember, this step is critical to get the paint to stick.
If you’re a newbie to orbital sanders, here are a few tips:
- Make sure the item you’re sanding is secure and will remain secure.
- Apply just enough pressure to scratch the surface lightly.
- Avoid angling the sander.
- Don’t be afraid of sanding the edges. Keep a secure grip and keep the sanding pad from going more than one-fourth over the edge.
- Start with a higher grit and work your way down as needed. For example, if touching up or refinishing stainless steel, you would use a 400 grit. You need a lower grid count, though. So start with 100-150 grit and go lower if you need to.
Newer orbital sanders have a pressure detection feature that warns the user when too much pressure is applied. The Skil Random Orbital Sander also comes with a transparent dust collector, an improvement over an opaque collector.
Before you begin sanding, be sure to remove handles and anything else you don’t want to be painted.
3. Clean the Surface
Like any paint job, the surface needs to be clean of grease, oil, soap residue, and soil. Cleaning vinegar cleaner should take care of light stains. A product like Simple Green Stainless-Steel Cleaner can handle tougher ones. Use a degreaser like Rust-Oleum Krud Kutter to deal with serious grease.
Before applying the primer, rinse soap and degreaser from the surface and let it dry.
Warning: Never use bleach on stainless steel. Bleach compromises stainless steel by eating away at chromium — the alloy that makes it resistant to rust.
4. Apply the Primer
Even after the steel has been abraded, it should be coated in a primer. And not just any primer; you need a galvanized, metal-etching primer. Again, any high-quality primer labeled for stainless steel will do.
Use a spray-on primer if you want to get an even, smooth coat. For smaller projects, two or three cans should be sufficient. For larger items, buy primer by the gallon. If you don’t have a spraying machine, either rent or purchase one. Wagner makes a variety of sprayers. This Wagner Spraytech is a mid-range sprayer sufficient for medium-sized projects.
Only use a brush if you want a textured look for the final project.
One coat of primer will be sufficient in most cases, so keep that in mind when checking the containers for coverage amounts.
After you finish, let the primer dry thoroughly before you begin painting. This will typically take 4 to 6 hours.
If this is your first time using spray paint, these tips will help you:
- Choose a well-ventilated area. Paint in your garage if possible or open windows for ventilation. Don’t paint outdoors if there’s a breeze.
- Put down drop cloths, cardboard, or paper. Use more than you would use if you were using a brush, as there will be overspray.
- Wear goggles to keep the aerosol out of your eyes. In addition, you might want to use a dust mask and gloves.
- Hold the can 6 to 8-inches (15.24 to 20.32 cm) from the surface.
- Spray in a sweeping motion, applying the paint in thin coats. Think of the primer as glue—who wants blobs of glue on their project?
- Spray in short, quick bursts, not a constant stream.
Pro Tip: Before choosing a primer, make sure it’ll work with the paint you plan to use. Also, most primers are white; If you’ll be painting a super dark color, look for a grey primer to use.
5. Paint the Piece
Decide on the final effect you want. A brush gives a textured appearance, which you may further accentuate with a sponge or rag. To achieve a somewhat grainy effect on larger surfaces, use rollers. But for smooth results, apply paint with a sprayer.
When spraying, hold the nozzle further away and spray in one direction for a consistent-looking grain. You’ll want to apply several coats, giving sufficient drying time between them.
As always, wear eye protection and use a respirator, especially if you don’t have good ventilation.
6. Finish by Applying a Wax
After the final coat is dry, it’s time to add wax. The wax will add luster to the piece, protect it from water stains, and help to prevent soap build-up. Again, the look you want will determine whether you use car wax or marine varnish.
Use a car wax, such as Turtle Wax for a natural look. Use a lint-free cloth to work the wax into the surface thoroughly. Let it dry until cloudy, and then buff it with a cloth until it shines.
If you want the shiny appearance without buffing, use a marine varnish such as Aurora Stainless Steel varnish. Not only do you avoid the buffing, but an outside piece will also have protection against the elements. And it can also be used on stained silver.
Pro Tip: Keep the car wax handy. It can be used to clean stainless steel, rubbed onto sticky drawer and window tracks, and lubricate garden tool hinges. It’ll keep snow from sticking to a shovel. In the bathroom, it can fight mildew in showers and make a mirror fog-free. It can also be used to fix skipping CDs if you still have any.
Painting Stainless-Steel Handles
The process for painting stainless steel handles and knobs is the same as above — prepare, clean, apply paint, and wait for it to dry. However, you should use a wire brush or sandpaper to scuff them. After you finish sanding, remove the dust.
A spray-on primer gives better coverage and is easier to work with. Allow it to dry before applying the paint.
Although spray-on paint can be messier, it’ll be faster and less likely to pool in the hardware’s details. Unless you have experience with fine-detail painting, we recommend you use a spray-on primer.
The process of painting a stainless-steel sink is the same, but the prep work is more time-consuming. Before you start, you need to determine if you can remove the sink. The faucet will need to be removed as well.
Hopefully, you can remove the sink. If not, the countertop area around the sink will have to be covered with paper and held down with painter’s tape.
Since sinks get a lot of use, an epoxy paint will be more durable. For a textured look, use an oil-based paint and brush.
You’re more likely to be frustrated by the disassembly and reassembly of the sink than by the painting itself.
Painting Stainless-Steel Appliances
Stainless steel appliances can be painted, but appliances that generate heat need specialized paint made to handle the heat. Paints like Rust-Oleum and Krylon will work on small appliances, but not stoves.
Paints labeled as “stove paint” are formulated to work with cast-iron stoves. Instead, look for a “high heat” paint like Stove Bright. It can handle temperatures up to 1200°F (650°C).
Alternative: Refinishing Stainless Steel
If your piece is a little beat up and scratched, depending on the goals you have, you could consider refinishing it instead of painting it. Simply for the reason that refinishing is a simpler process.
To refinish stainless steel, use 400 or 600 grit sandpaper and follow these steps:
- Completely clean the item.
- Remove dirt with a microfiber cloth and a glass cleaner.
Remove stains using distilled white vinegar.
- Begin with the finest grit and pour a little sanding fluid on the paper.
- Sand the scratched area with the grain until the scratch is gone, changing to a more coarse grit if needed.
- Buff the surrounding area to match.
- Use a steel polish or cleaner to finish.
The same process works for both larger items like a refrigerator and smaller ones, like a sink. However, for refinishing a fridge, consider using liquid stainless steel.
Pro tip: Make sure that you’re refinishing plain stainless steel. Fingerprint-resistant coated steel can’t be refinished using this process.
Painting stainless steel painting is possible. Please think twice before starting because the non-corrosive qualities of stainless steel make it ideal for indoors and outdoors. If you’re dedicated to adding color to your stainless steel, do not skip the preparation stage. Otherwise, the paint will have nothing to stick to, and you’ll be unhappy with the final product.