Can You Spray Paint Stainless Steel ( And How To Paint Effortlessly)

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Last updated: August 31, 2023

Breaking Down The Details on Spray Painting Stainless Steel from a Painter’s Experience!

Can you spray paint stainless steel

We can’t deny that stainless steel has an alluring natural appearance. However, there are times when its metallic luster doesn’t blend with your décor. The alternative way for the stainless steel to merge with the aesthetics is to paint it. 

After deciding to go ahead and spray paint the stainless steel, other questions bombard your mind. Will the paint stick to the stainless steel surface? What paint is best? Will you need a primer?

In this guide, we will answer all these questions and address other hurdles you may encounter as you embark on your project.  

Can You Spray Paint Stainless Steel?

Yes, you can spray paint stainless steel to whatever color you consider appealing. However, since stainless steel has an oxidative layer of coating which makes it difficult to paint over it, you will have to scuff the surface and damage the protective coating to create a rough texture on the surface for better adhesion. 

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is an iron and carbon alloy resistant to corrosion and rust. There are over 100 grades of stainless steel made with additional elements like copper, aluminum, nickel, titanium, sulfur, and selenium, to mention but a few.

Manufacturers add a level of chromium to the steel. Chromium reacts with the oxygen in the air to form chromium oxide, which creates a protective layer over the stainless steel, making it resistant to corrosion and rust.

The chromium content ranges from 10-30%. The higher the chromium levels, the more resistance the stainless steel has to the elements and corrosion

Stainless steel is easy to clean, strong, durable, and has a shiny finish. It is also resistant to fire and wear and tear, making it ideal for home appliances. Stainless steel is versatile and can be manipulated into bars, wires, sheets, and tubing.

Stainless steel is eco-friendly due to its recyclability. Due to its non-corrosive nature, steel is standard in aircraft, construction, automobiles, home appliances, and vessel and tanker manufacturing applications.

There are five major groups of stainless stains, they include:

  • Austenitic is known for its excellent resistance to rust, corrosion, cracking, and heat. Austenitic stainless steel is common in housewares, construction, industrial piping, and vessel manufacturing.

  • Martensitic is a strong type of stainless steel. However, it contains low levels of chromium, making it prone to corrosion. It’s used in knives, kitchen utensils like Yeti cups, and turbine blades.

  •  Ferritic is used in indoor architecture, washing machines, and boilers. It is resistant to corrosion, heat, and cracking.

  • Duplex combines ferritic and austenitic stainless steel, making it extra strong and durable. Its application includes shipbuilding, petrochemical industries, and paper and pulp industries. 

  • Precipitation hardening stainless steels contain martensitic and elements like copper, niobium, and aluminum.

What To Consider Before Spray Painting Stainless Steel

In addition to achieving a merging finishing, here are crucial considerations to pay attention to as you prepare for the project:

1. Choosing the right wax

The wax is the final seal to tie the work together. There are various types of waxes in the market. Pick one that is best suited for metalwork.

2. Choosing the correct paint

Standard paints, sealants, and industrial metal paint don’t bond on stainless steel. Other than choosing a color scheme you like, buy the correct stainless steel paint for your project. 

3. Selecting a primer

A primer is necessary when spraying stainless steel paint, as it helps the spray paint stick better. Consider buying a primer specifically designed for metallic surfaces like stainless steel.

Types of Paints for Stainless Steel

Let’s have a peek at the types of paints commonly used on stainless steel:

1. Oil-based paint 

The outstanding characteristic of oil-based paint is that it doesn’t require a primer, unlike water-based paint. Metal oil-based paints work on ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

The paint offers protection against heat; it’s easy to clean, durable, and obtainable in a matte, flat gloss, and high gloss finish. The spray paint is convenient to use. However, the paint has formulas for brush and roll-on.

2. Water-based paint

Water-based or latex paint for stainless steel is quick-drying, produces less toxic fumes, and is easy to apply. The paint is less durable than the oil-based one and requires a primer.

However, it is more pocket-friendly. If you spray paint stainless steel surfaces that receive heavy traffic, there are better choices than water-based paint.

3. Epoxy paint 

Epoxy spray paint is the most durable and can take heavy traffic. Epoxy paint is heat, dust, rust, and abrasion resistant. The trick to working with epoxy paint is you’ll need a hardener. 

You can buy the paint and primer combo spray paint or load a mixture of both onto a high velocity low pressure (HVLP) or gun sprayer.

How To Prepare Stainless Steel For Spray Painting

Preparation plays a vital role in the outcome of the project. Here are the steps for preparing stainless steel:

Cleaning the Steel

Clean to remove any dirt on the stainless steel surface. Don’t use steel wool, as it leaves behind a residue that can cause rust. Some of the cleaning methods include the following:

  • Pickling involves applying a pickling paste on the stainless steel surface or immersing it in a nitric and hydrofluoric acid solution. Pickling helps remove mill scale, welding, and heat tints on the surface. It is essential that you thoroughly rinse the stainless steel afterward.

  • Blasting is standard on large surfaces requiring high performance. However, it’s very effective in mill scale removal.

  • Other cleaning methods for small DIY projects involve using an abrasive, stainless steel wire brush, flap wheel, or disc grinder to get a clean and polished stainless steel.

Degreasing

Degreasing ensures the removal of any oily molecules on the stainless steel surface. Water-soluble solvent degreasers are the common types available.

Always conduct a water break test on the stainless steel surface to test whether it is clean and contaminant-free.

 

Can you spray paint stainless steel

How To Paint Stainless Steel

Below is a step-by-step guide on spray paint stainless steel:

Supplies You Will Need

  • Protective gears
  • Spray paint
  • Wax
  • Metal primer
  • Orbital sander
  • Scotch brite and thinner
  • Wax
  • Drop cloth
  • Sandpaper
  • Wire brush
  • Paint sprayer

STEP 1: Prepare your workspace

Wear the required PPEs, as most of the paints have toxic fumes. Spread a drop cloth or tape your workspace to prevent splatters and drips to areas you don’t want paint on. 

STEP 2: Prep the stainless steel

Clean the surface properly to remove dust, dirt, and grease. You can use a detergent and warm water for small projects like door knobs, sinks, and faucets. 

STEP 3: Sand the stainless steel

If the stainless steel is relatively new, you’ll need to put more work into the scuffing and do some damage to obtain the required roughness. 

Use sandpaper, mount it on the orbital sander, and work on the surface. Apply pressure on the sander to ensure good contact on the bare steel for better results. You can rent one from your local store if you don’t own an orbital sander.

STEP 4: Remove the dust and let it dry

Clean the stainless steel to remove any dust, dirt, or grease on the surface. Cover the surface with a water-based degreaser; tough stains require an ammonia-based degreaser. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and let it dry. 

STEP 5: Prepare the paint 

Get your spray can ready. If you find working with spray paint more costly, buy and prep the standard paint. For oil-based paint, mix it with a thinner and mix water-based paint with water. Load the combo into a gun or HVLP sprayer. 

STEP 6: Apply the primer

Use a white primer if you plan on using bright paints and dark primer for dark colors. Use a high-quality primer for metal surfaces. 

Primers are available in spray cans, but you can rent a sprayer and apply the coat of primer over the entire surface. Let the primer dry before you start painting. 

STEP 7: Spray the stainless steel

At this point, the surface is ready for painting. When using a sprayer, take note of the fluid tip, air pressure, fan size, and spray distance. Cover the stainless steel in paint in a consistent length of 12-18 inches from the nozzle to the surface. Move-in even strokes, and don’t be afraid to overlap. 

Use a wide mist in a uniform direction for the coat to appear even. Apply two-three coats of paint, giving each sufficient drying time for great results. 

STEP 8: Let it dry

Let the coats dry completely before proceeding 

STEP 9: Apply the wax

Finish off with wax. You can use car wax or marine varnish. The wax gives the paint job a natural sheen. After covering the entire surface, let it dry and buff. Buffing takes your project to another level and leaves it with a silky smooth finish. 

STEP 10: Let it dry

Let the paint dry and cure.

How many coats of paint on stainless steel?

Two to three coats of paint are enough. The first layer should follow the primer. Let each coat dry adequately as per the manufacturer’s recommendation. After the final coat is dry, apply your wax for perfect results.

When applying spray paint on stainless steel surface, keep an even distance from the nozzle and apply thin coats in long sweeping motions for a smooth finish.  

Best Spray Paints for Stainless Steel

Epoxy spray paint is the best choice for stainless steel. It is extra durable and protects against the elements, heat, and rust.

Epoxy spray paint can withstand heavy traffic or wear and tear without abrasions. The downside is epoxy is pricey.

High-quality oil-based paint will get you results as well. It is durable and offers outdoor protection.

You don’t necessarily require a primer. Oil-based paint is easy to clean and has a satin, glossy, high gloss finish.

You can apply it with a brush or roller, but it will form undesirable ridges. The paint is more expensive than water-based paint.

Water-based paint is a good choice for indoor surfaces with little traffic. It is less durable and offers no protection against the elements. However, it is affordable, easy to apply, and has a shorter drying time.  

The best paint depends on what:

  • Your budget
  • Location and traffic of the stainless steel piece

Pro Tip On Spray Painting Stainless Steel 

Some of the tips and tricks to spray paint like a pro include the following:

  • Use a white primer for bright colors and a dark primer for darker paints.
  • Scuffing is a crucial step when spraying paint on stainless steel. It helps the paint adhere to the surface. Work two-three scuffs down, and your surface is good to go.
  • Use a Scotchbrite to smooth out the textures and even out the dents. Sanding helps the paint not to flake off.
  • Spray two to three paint coats and let each dry for a professional finish.
  • You can rent from the local stores if you don’t own some of the appliances, like an orbital sander or gun sprayer.
  • For an extra durable coat, use epoxy paint. Mix the paint with a hardener for better results. Note that the hardener influences the drying time of epoxy paint.
  • Consider why you are painting the stainless steel in the first place and prepare accordingly.
  • When you doubt what to buy, ask for advice at local hardware store. They often know the subject.

Pros And Cons Of Spray Painting Stainless Steel

Here are the advantages and drawbacks of spray painting stainless steel:

Pros

  • The paint gives stainless steel surface additional protection from elements and heat
  • It makes it more durable
  • Adds a splash of color to the metal
  • Spray painting steel is an excellent way to salvage the piece instead of a replacement

Cons

  • It’s tedious
  • Spray painting stainless steel isn’t necessary as the metal is durable in its natural state
  • You’ll need to buy or rent equipment for the job
  • Spray painting stainless steel isn’t necessary as the metal is durable in its natural state

Can You Spray Paint Stainless Steel: FAQs

Below are answers to some of the commonly asked questions to make your search easier:

Does stainless steel rust?

The metal is “stainless,” not “stain-free,” meaning it will rust at some point. Stainless steel contains a percentage of chromium, a compound that reacts with oxygen to form a protective layer making the steel resistant to corrosion and rust.

The magnitude to which stainless steel rusts depends on the levels of chromium in it. The higher the chromium, the less likely the stainless steel will rust, and vice versa.   

Do I need to sand stainless steel before spray painting?

Yes, scuffing the stainless steel is a crucial step. Sanding changes the texture of the stainless steel and makes the metal grains accessible.

If you skip sanding, the paint will flake off after a while. You will need to put more effort and pressure on relatively new surfaces. The older surfaces are easier to work with as the stainless steel scuffs with time. Rent an orbital sander to make your work easier.

What kind of paint sticks on stainless steel?

You can spray on your stainless steel pieces with water, oil, or epoxy paint. Ensure you choose a color to match your theme and the correct primer to go with it.

Can spray paint adhere to stainless steel?

Yes, spray paint adheres to stainless steel. To ensure the paint bonds permanently to the steel, apply a primer before you start painting. The primer acts as a catalyst and increases paint adhesion.

What type of spray paint works well for stainless steel?

You can work with spray cans, but we find that relatively expensive because the cans contain less product per ounce. Therefore, you’ll have to buy more paint.

The better alternative is a sprayer, as you’ll load and spray your paint over the surface. You’ll use less paint, and the sprayer creates more accurate and even coats.

Can you change the color of stainless steel?

Yes, it is doable. You can alter the stainless steel color by painting over it or using chemical treatments. Both ways make the stainless steel durable. Repairs can be complex, mainly if you use chemical solutions.

When picking a color to blend with your décor, remember to buy a primer that goes with it. Use a white primer for bright colors and a dark primer for dark colors.  

Can You Spray Paint Stainless Steel: Final Thoughts

Stainless steel in its natural state doesn’t need a pint coat. The metal is durable and less prone to corrosion and rust.

However, you can always paint over the stainless steel surface to give it a splash of color. Painting over stainless steel isn’t an easy task. Working on small projects won’t be as tedious as large surfaces. Rent equipment if you have to make the workload lighter.  

Embrace the work ahead and trust the process for a successful project.

Let’s get painting!

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