Can You Spray Paint Aluminum? Easily and Effectively


Last updated: May 31, 2023

Even though plain aluminum looks sleek and modern on its …

Can you spray paint aluminum

Even though plain aluminum looks sleek and modern on its own, many homeowners often consider updating it with paint to make it look more attractive. If this sounds like you, you may be wondering, “can you spray paint aluminum?”

The good news is that you can! Painting is a quick and easy way to give your aluminum piece a facelift and prolong its lifespan. But the process can be a little tricky, especially if it’s your first time.

In this write-up, we will unravel any preconceptions about spray painting aluminum and how to do it correctly. We also look at what to consider when selecting paint and primer for aluminum and other common questions.

Can You Spray Paint Aluminum?

Yes, you can. The key to painting aluminum is to properly prepare the surface by cleaning it with a degreaser and sanding it to roughen it up. Next, apply self-etching primer to remove the natural oxidation on the surface and ensure the paint adheres better.

How do you prepare aluminum for spray paint?

Before painting aluminum, it’s essential to prepare the surface properly. This will help the paint to adhere smoothly and evenly. 

Clean the surface

Start by cleaning the surface with a degreaser or mild detergent to remove dirt, grease, oil, or other contaminants that can interfere with the paint job. 

  • Find a well-ventilated area, ideally your backyard or any other open space. Cover surrounding surfaces with drop cloths to protect them from paint splatters. 

  • Next, get a large bucket and fill it with warm water. Then add a degreaser cleaner or mild detergent to the water and mix.

  • Dip a rag into the bucket and let it soak some of the solution. Then use the damp rag to wipe the aluminum surface. 

  • For rusted aluminum or old flaking paint, use a wire brush or some other coarse scrubbing brush to scrub it off. Do not use scouring pads or steel wool to avoid ruining the metal aesthetics.

  • Rinse with water and allow the metal to air dry. 

Sand the Surface

Once the surface is clean, the next step is to sand it to get it “ready” to accept the new paint. 

Before proceeding with this step, ensure you have your protective gear (goggles, gloves, and dusk mask). The dusk mask will help protect you from dust particles.  

Now, rough up the surface using a sanding block or coarse-grit sandpaper (80-grit to 100-grit). Sand a second time using finer grit sandpaper (400-grit or higher). When you’re done, wipe the surface with a damp cloth or wash with water to remove any dust. Allow it to dry completely. 

Why don’t spray paints stick to aluminum surfaces?

There are two main reasons spray paint generally doesn’t stick to aluminum or metal surfaces.

First, bare aluminum is usually slick and non-porous, which makes it difficult for spray paint to penetrate. Second, if the item is dirty or riddled with rust or grime, the paint won’t be able to adhere properly.

How you overcome this is to clean the metal surface, roughen it up with sandpaper and then apply primer before spray painting. Once you do this, you can paint on aluminum just like any other surface.

Are there any toxic chemicals in aluminum spray paints?

Most likely! Metallic or aluminum spray paints are typically oil-based and usually contain a certain amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). This can differ with each brand, but you will commonly find chemicals such as acetone, xylene, toluene, and ethylbenzene.

Can you spray paint aluminum?

Ingesting these chemicals, either through inhalation or exposure to the skin, can cause several health problems.

So, for the most health benefits, choose aluminum spray paint with low VOC content. The VOC content is usually indicated on the label and is normally between 5 to 200 grams.

Even if you end up with a product that contains a significant amount of VOCs, ensure you wear proper PPE (especially safety gloves and a respiratory mask) and only use the paint outside because of the fumes. As long as you follow proper guidelines and safety precautions, you shouldn’t have issues with any spray paint, whether it contains toxic chemicals or not.

How to apply the aluminum spray paint

Once you’ve properly prepared the surface, you can begin applying primer and color. 

Prime the Surface

For the best results, before painting aluminum, apply good-quality primer and sand again. 

We recommend using a self-etching primer. This type of primer will remove any lingering dirt or grease and “etch” the surface so the new paint can adhere better. You can get it online or from any hardware or home improvement store. Apply thin coats of the primer according to the instructions on the can. 

Remember to shake the can before use to mix the content properly, and hold it 8-10 inches away from the workpiece. Allow the primer to dry completely, then gently sand it again with fine grit sandpaper (400-grit). Wipe the dust residue with a rag. 

NOTE: Sanding the surface again after applying primer is optional, but it will allow you to achieve a smoother finish.

Start Painting

Once you complete the previous step, you are now ready to apply the spray paint. When selecting a spray paint, opt for an aluminum spray paint or one that says it can be used on aluminum. This is important because some spray paints will not stick to aluminum.

Generally, acrylic or latex metal paints work best for aluminum. If the aluminum piece is going to be used outdoors, make sure the paint is labeled “exterior grade” or “exterior surface.” It is better to choose a matte or satin finish; high gloss paints tend to highlight imperfections on aluminum.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to apply the paint. Remember to vigorously shake the can for two minutes before use and every 30 seconds while spraying. Hold it at a good distance from the aluminum surface to avoid drips. Spray in a back-and-forth motion and use multiple light coats (2/3 coats are recommended) instead of one heavy coat. This will help you achieve even coverage. 

Also, allow complete drying time between each coat.

The safety precautions when using aluminum spray paints

Here are a few safety precautions to note when spray painting aluminum surfaces:

  • Wear proper PPE when using aluminum spray paints. These include a respiratory mask (or dust mask), safety goggles, long-sleeved clothing, and disposable gloves.

  • It’s best to paint outside, but if you can’t, then paint in your garage. If you choose to spray paint indoors, ensure there’s good ventilation in the room.

  • If you get paint into your eyes or mucous membrane, wash the area immediately and then see a physician. The doctor may request the paint’s datasheet to evaluate the content and prescribe treatment.

NB: Use the dust mask when sanding and the respiratory mask when priming and painting.

The tips to get a perfect finish when spray painting on an aluminum object

Follow the tips below to achieve a top-notch result when painting on an aluminum surface:

  • Please make sure the aluminum surface is clean before applying paint on it. Remove all dirt, dust, and grime, and wipe down the surface with a lint-free cloth before proceeding.

  • Don’t use fabric or sandpaper previously used on another material or metal on the aluminum surface, as this can leave fine particles on it.  

  • Whether you’re using spray paint or a brush, ensure you pretreat the surface before painting. For paintbrushes, avoid anything hairy.

  • Always check the aerosol can for instructions on how to approach the project. Allow complete drying time between coats.

  • Use light coats of aluminum primer and paint instead of one heavy coat. 

  • To prevent bubbles or peeling of the paint, do not spray in a humid environment.

  • Because aluminum is a good absorber of heat, avoid painting in direct sunlight. Also, avoid painting in windy conditions to prevent splatters and uneven finishes.

  • Opt for 100 percent acrylic or latex paint. Check the label to be sure it’s suitable for aluminum.

  • Use 2 to 3 coats of paint to achieve even coverage. 

  • Opt for a flat or satin finish. Glossy paints will often highlight scratches, dents, and other imperfections on the surface of the aluminum. 

What to look for When Buying Primer and Paint for Aluminum

One of the main things to consider when buying paint for aluminum is the type of paint. Not every paint will work on aluminum. For the best results, choose acrylic or latex paint specifically made for aluminum or metals. Besides providing a durable finish, they help to prevent cracking due to expansion and contraction that comes with temperature changes.

Some aluminum paint comes with a primer, which reduces the amount of prepping and drying time. Ensure the paint is suitable for exterior use. Choose a satin or flat finish.

If you’re working on a bare aluminum surface (not painted aluminum), you will need to use a primer. This ensures the paint sticks better and lasts for a long time. It also helps to prevent flaking, blistering or peeling paint. 

Oil-based primers work best for metal surfaces. Specifically, for aluminum, you should use a self-etching primer. One coat of primer is usually enough.

Other features to consider will relate to any special requirements of the project. For instance, if the aluminum surface will be exposed to high heat, as with a grill or fireplace, you want to choose a paint with high heat resistance. 

How to achieve a durable finish when spray painting an aluminum surface?

To achieve a smooth and durable finish when painting aluminum, you must first prepare the entire surface. Unlike wood, aluminum is non-porous, which makes it hard for paint to stick. To overcome this and improve the paint’s stickability, the surface needs to be adequately prepared.

This often involves cleaning the metal with a degreasing cleaner or mild detergent, roughening it up with sandpaper, and etch priming it so the paint can adhere better.

Priming also ensures the finished job looks better. Without it, the paint will oxidize and chip.

In addition to the steps above, it’s also important you choose spray paint that is suitable for aluminum surfaces. Not all spray paints will work on aluminum.

FAQs – Can you spray paint aluminum

Will Rustoleum paint stick to aluminum?

Yes, Rust-Oleum paint will stick to aluminum without any issues. However, make sure the paint is specifically designed for aluminum or metal use. Some cans may come with built-in primer, eliminating the need for a separate primer. Make sure you prepare the surface properly before painting.

What type and brand of spray paint is for an aluminum object?

When painting aluminum, choose acrylic or latex paint for the best results. Also, opt for a satin or matte finish instead of gloss. Glossy paints will often show off scratches and other imperfections. When it comes to brand, Rust-Oleum and Krylon are easily the best options.

Can you use oil based paint on aluminum?

Please refrain from using regular oil-based paint on aluminum surfaces as it can corrode the metal. Instead, opt for acrylic or latex paints. You can choose light or dark colors depending on where you want to use the item.

What is etching primer to aluminum?

Etch primer is used to “etch” or lightly corrode the aluminum surface so paint can stick better on it. Etch primers typically contain a certain amount of acidic chemical responsible for etching the metal surface. Besides roughing the surface, etch primers also stop rust.

Why does paint peel off aluminum?

Aluminum is non-porous, which means it cannot soak up paint. So, painting it without priming and sanding the surface will often result in a poor paint job, and the paint will start to peel off before long.

Should I prime metal before painting?

Yes, you should. While it’s possible to paint metal pieces like aluminum without priming, this is not usually recommended. Priming ensures the paint adheres better to the surface and doesn’t flake over time. It also creates a barrier between the paint and the metal underneath, so the paint doesn’t bleed into the original material.

Content Summary: Can you spray paint aluminum?

To conclude, you can spray paint aluminum as long as you use the right paint and prepare the surface. Proper surface preparation usually involves:

  • Cleaning the surface thoroughly.

  • Roughening it up with sandpaper.

  • Applying a self-etching primer. 

Once you do this, you can spray paint aluminum just like any other material. All you require now is a little time and effort. 

Whether it’s an old piece of furniture that needs updating or home decor that needs a fresh color, follow the steps above to achieve a professional-looking finish that will endure for many years.  

Let us know if you have any more questions about spray painting aluminum. Till then, happy spraying!

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