28th Nov 2022 -

Whether looking to paint the metal railings around your home, an exterior gate, or a piece of furniture, using a specialist metal paint can ensure a strong and attractive look. In this guide from Building Materials Nationwide, we’ll explore your options for metal paint, look at how to apply it, and answer some popular questions about applying metal paint to other materials.

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What Kind of Paint Do You Use on Metal?

When looking to paint metal you should opt for a paint specifically designated for metal surfaces. This will be labelled as either metal paint or multi-surface paint, but make sure that the product description references painting on metal. 

Regular paint can have issues when applied to metal, especially water-based paints like emulsion which can cause rusting when they come into contact with metal. When applied correctly, metal paint will help avoid rusting by creating a protective outer coating. 

These paints could be oil-based or water-based. Historically, oil-based paints offered increased durability alongside issues with application and fumes. Today there is more parity between the two, with water-based metal paints available that will offer great performance.

Exterior Metal Paint

Many exterior paints for metal will be available, most of them designed for use on wood and metal surfaces. This paint will need to be weatherproof, especially waterproof, to allow long-term use. Exterior paints may release harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) , something to keep in mind when using them. If using them outside it should be fine, but if using them to paint a piece of furniture you should do this outside or in a well-ventilated room.

Direct to Metal Paint

This metal paint is designed for easy application and a strong finish. It can be applied directly to a metal surface without a primer, usually a key step in painting metal. Opting for a single product can save you time while giving great results. Direct-to-metal paint options like Ronseal come with a lengthy guarantee for outdoor use.

Metal Spray Paint

A wide variety of popular spray paints can be used on metal objects, normally requiring a prior layer of primer. Spray paint can help to give an even coating and is a good way to ensure that complex shapes receive a good level of paint. Spray-on primers are also available.

What is the Best Paint For Rusted Metal?

Direct-to-rust paints are available, which can be simply applied over rusty metal, helping to make your metal items and features attractive again. Some of these options will require a coat of primer, while others like Hammerite Direct to Rust will not. Before you apply primer or paint you’ll need to remove any loose rust using a piece of sandpaper or a wire brush in extreme cases, helping give a smooth finished surface. A solid coating of paint will also help to limit future rusting.

Metal Paint Colours

You’ll find metal paints available in a full range of colours, with options like black popular for fences and gates, and reds, greens, and blues used for outdoor furniture. Opting for a gloss metal paint will create a shiny and durable surface, while matt can give a more subdued look to garden furniture or interior metal surfaces.

Metal Paint Brands

In the UK many of the standard brands will make paints that can be applied to metal, including Dulux, Johnstone’s, and Crown. In addition, there are several key brands specifically working within the metal paint space. The most famous of these in the UK is probably Hammerite. Hammerite produces interior and exterior metal paints with standard and spray options. They offer direct-to-metal options, direct-to-rust options, and metal paints designed around high temperatures.

Rust-Oleum is another metal paint brand that offers a range of products in the UK for metal or wood. Sandtex is a popular brand of exterior paint, offering metal paint alongside masonry paint and wood paint.

Metal Primers

Both traditional pots and spray primers will both be available. You’ll need to use a primer that is specified for metals or as multi-surface. Some options will combine a primer and an undercoat. While many metal primers are intended for all interior and exterior metal usage, there will be a few options designed for specific metals:

  • Red Oxide Primer: This metal primer protects from rust and other corrosion. It will be used on ferrous metals (such as iron and steel) and is popular for industrial uses such as structural steel beams and railings.
  • Etch Primer: This spray coating can be used on all metals, creating a powerful bond and protecting against rust.
  • Zinc Rich Primer: This primer will involve zinc, which will provide galvanising properties to iron or steel, protecting them from corrosion.

How to Apply Metal Paint

Whether opting for an interior or outdoor metal paint, the application process should be similar. In this section, we will be assuming that a metal primer is needed, though if you are using a paint that is self-priming it won’t be. 

  • Prepare and Clean: You’ll want your metal to be in the best possible condition before you paint it. Especially in the case of rust, you should use sandpaper or a wire brush to remove all uneven pieces from the surface. Drill attachments can also be used for removing rust. If possible, this should be undertaken in an open environment, with a dust mask to avoid inhalation. You should then clean your metal surface with white spirit to further clean it, sanding again for a smooth finish. This can also help to remove any loose paint or dirt.
  • Priming: Depending on your choice of primer you’ll be looking to spray or brush it on, with one coating that will then be left to dry for the time specified. In the cases of rusted metal, you can benefit from using a primer or paint specifically intended for rust.
  • Painting: Most metal paints will require two coats, which you can apply with a paintbrush or roller depending on the shape of the surface you’re painting. You should only paint exterior metal if you can be sure that there won’t be rain during the painting or drying process.

How to Spray Paint Metal

You can opt for both a spray primer and a spray metal paint, saving time and giving a spotless, even coating. Keeping a protective surface around your painting can help avoid getting paint in unwanted places. 

In addition, you can also tape up areas of an item you don’t want to be painted, like wooden elements of metal garden furniture. You should spray in a sweeping motion, holding the can at a level height and continually moving. Most spray metal paints will require two coats. 

The fumes from spray cans are dangerous, so you should cover your nose and mouth when painting.

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    Can you use metal paint on concrete?

    Depending on the type of metal paint you use it may have acceptable performance on concrete, but you are likely to gain both in appearance and performance by using a paint designed around concrete, such as masonry paint.

    Can you use metal paint on stone?

    Much like concrete, you’ll likely have a better result from a paint designed for use on stone surfaces, like masonry paint.

    Can you use metal paint on plastic?

    You’ll find multi-purpose paints that work on both metal and plastic. In addition, multiple Hammerite metal paints can also be used on some plastic surfaces.

    Can you use metal paint on glass?

    Glass is a famously difficult material to paint, meaning that it will be in your best interests to use a paint that lists glass as one of the materials it can be applied to.

    Can you use metal paint on tiles?

    Tiles are also difficult surfaces to paint, with specialist paints designed to be used on them.

    Can you use metal paint on wood?

    Many metal paints are in fact sold as “metal and wood” paints, making them suitable for use on wood. 

    Can you use metal paint on radiators?

    There is specific radiator paint available, designed to withstand higher temperatures. Regular metal paints are not designed for these temperatures and could peel if used.

    How long does metal paint take to dry?

    This information will be provided on the paint itself, either on the tin or online. If time is of the essence you will find quick drying options.