Can You Paint Stainless Steel? – Complete Guide with Tips

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Whether you want to paint stainless steel banisters or add some color to a kitchen appliance, painting stainless steel is doable! Stainless steel is inherently resistant to corrosion, so there is usually no need to paint it. However, sometimes the harsh aesthetic of stainless steel can look a little too sterile, and choosing to paint stainless steel is a great way to remedy this. Painting stainless steel is not as simple as slapping on your favorite shade, however. This article aims to provide some information about the nature of stainless steel, the ideal paint to use, and how to paint stainless steel!



The Nature of Stainless Steel

Stainless steel not only offers beautifully appealing finishes for home appliances but also provides a surface that is easy to clean and sanitize, making it ideal for use in the medical industry. Another reason why stainless steel is used so widely is the fact that it is very strong and it can be rolled into sheets or made into wire, tubing, and bars. It is fire-resistant and also offers great resistance to impact and general wear and tear. Read on to find out more about this extremely hard-wearing and versatile material.

Paint for Stainless Steel



Stainless steel is completely recyclable and can be recycled over and over. It is the most recycled substance in the world and the material recovery rate is sitting somewhere at around 100 percent. It is safe and inert as it does not emit any compounds into substances that it comes into contact with, such as water and soil. It is because of stainless steel’s green status that it is an ideal construction material.


Non-Corrosive Properties

Stainless steel comes in various grades, all of which are part of a class of ferrous alloys that have what is called a passive layer of chromium. Chromium is what contributes to its non-corrosive properties. If this passive layer of chromium is damaged, the stainless steel regenerates this layer itself.

The fact that this metal resists rusting so well is the main reason that it is used widely within commercial and industrial sectors.



Stainless steel can have many finishes. Matte and brushed finishes offer a more toned-down option to the high-gloss polished finishes or the highly reflective mirror finish. Because of the durability, cleanability, and non-corrosive properties, painting stainless steel is not common. This being said, it is possible to paint stainless steel if done correctly.

How to Paint Stainless Steel



Types of Paints for Stainless Steel

With the many different types of paints on the market, you may be wondering what the best paints for stainless steel are. In this section, we will have a look at some of the different types of paint that are commonly used on steel. It is important to consider applying a primer before applying paint to the bare steel. A primer will not only increase the adhesion of the paint but will also help you to achieve a smooth, even finish while covering up any imperfections on the stainless steel.


Oil-Based Paint for Stainless Steel

While you may not be able to find a paint specifically formulated for stainless steel, you will be able to find oil-based paint that is designed to work on ferrous and non-ferrous metals. These paints can smell bad as they usually contain solvents, which can also be flammable.

Oil-based paints are usually the first choice for painting stainless steel.

This is because oil paints are very tough and do not easily chip or stain, and oil-based painted surfaces are also easy to clean. These paints come in a wide array of different finishes, from matte and flat to gloss and high-gloss.

Oil-based paints are also available in formulations that can be brushed or rolled on as well as convenient-to-use spray paint. It is important to note, however, that spray paint is not ideal for painting large surfaces of stainless steel. Another drawback to using oil-based paints is that they generally take longer to dry than water-based paints. However, there are quick-drying formulations on the market to keep an eye out for.

Steel Paint


Water-Based Paint for Stainless Steel

Unlike their oil-based counterparts, water-based or latex paints offer quick drying times, which makes them super convenient to work with. These paints are far easier to work with because their odor is usually not as bad as oil-based paints, and clean-up is easy with just water – no solvents are required. Once the paint is cured, the surface is easy to clean.

The downside to painting stainless steel with water-based paints is that applying a primer is highly necessary. Whereas when using oil-based paint, you may be able to get away with not applying a primer.

Water-based paints may be more affordable than oil-based paints, but they are simply not as tough and hard-wearing as oil-based paints. With this in mind, if the surface of steel you want to paint needs to stand up to a lot of use, water-based paints are less than ideal.


Epoxy Paint for Stainless Steel

Epoxy coatings are yet another option for painting stainless steel. Epoxy coatings are extremely durable and are often used in the automotive industry as well as heavy industry for coating steel tanks and pressure vessels. It is also available as epoxy spray paint.

Epoxy paint requires the mixing of the resin paint with a hardener, which acts as a catalyst that sets in motion the polymerization or hardening process. The drying time of the paint is dependent on how much of the hardener is added. This makes it tricky to work with as you would not want the paint hardening before you complete your project. It is for this reason that epoxy paint is not often used for small DIY projects.

This steel paint is extremely hard to wear and is resistant to chemicals like solvents. It is also resistant to impact, which prevents it from chipping or cracking. Epoxy paint can also withstand extremely high temperatures.



Top Spray Paints for Steel

Let us now take a look at some of the best spray paints for stainless steel as well as the best primer for stainless steel. There are numerous brands on the market as well as many different types of paints. The list below should help you to narrow things down. Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions, as this should state whether the paint in question can be used to coat ferrous and non-ferrous metal. Bear in mind that stainless steel is a ferrous alloy.

Stainless Steel Spray Paint


Best Primer for Stainless Steel: RUST-OLEUM Professional Primer Spray Paint

Applying a primer is very important for ensuring a good level of adhesion. Rust-Oleum’s Professional Primer Spray Paint is one of the best primers for stainless steel as it is specially formulated for use on non-ferrous as well as ferrous metals. Besides working well on metal, it is also very versatile as it bonds to masonry and wood too! The tin’s specialized tip makes for 50-percent faster coverage than other brands. It also allows you to spray the paint while the tin is inverted, which is ideal for getting into tricky areas.

RUST-OLEUM Professional Primer Spray Paint
  • Ideal for use on surfaces like ferrous and non-ferrous metals
  • Provides rust protection and a tough, weather-resistant finish
  • Quality oil-based primer provides a base for excellent adhesion
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  • Ideal for priming stainless steel
  • High output tip means fast coverage
  • Fast drying
  • Ideal for both exterior and interior surfaces


  • There have been complaints about nozzle splatters


Best Spray Paint for Stainless Steel: RUST-OLEUM Stops Rust Protective Enamel Spray Paint

Rust-Oleum is a trusted brand and their Stops Rust Protective Enamel Spray Paint does just that – it protects. This product protects against harsh elements, making it ideal for both exterior as well as interior surfaces. This is a superb stainless steel spray paint, but it also works just as well on other surfaces. The any-angle technology makes spraying in those tricky, hard-to-reach areas far easier and the tip is designed in such a way as to maximize comfort. This spray paint is available in an impressive array of colors and is ideal for spray painting steel.

RUST-OLEUM Stops Rust Spray Paint
  • Oil-based formula provides resistance to weather and rust
  • Excellent resistance to abrasion, fading, and chipping
  • Flat finish minimizes surface imperfections
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  • Bonds to stainless steel
  • Comfy grip
  • Any-angle spray technology
  • Offers superior protection


  • Does not contain a primer


Best Paint-and-Primer Combo for Stainless Steel: RUST-OLEUM Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra Cover

When it comes to stainless steel spray paint, a convenient option is a two-in-one combination of paint and primer. Rust-Oleum’s Painter’s Touch 2X offers just that. There is no need to apply a primer and then paint when using this product, as it includes both the primer and paint in one convenient spray can. This paint will reduce the time it takes for you to get the job done. The oil-based formula has a low odor and once cured, it offers long-lasting protection. You can spray at any angle and the button is very comfortable to use because of its wide design. This two-in-one formula is an ideal stainless steel spray paint.

RUST-OLEUM Painter's Touch 2X Ultra Cover Paint and Primer
  • Ideal for use on interior/exterior surfaces, including plastic
  • Oil-based formula is low odor and offers lasting protection
  • Durable formula provides excellent hide and goes on smoothly
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  • Built-in primer
  • Versatile
  • Fast drying
  • A wide variety of colors available


  • Color may not be exactly as indicated



How to Spray Paint Stainless Steel

Can you paint stainless steel? Yes, you can! Spray paint is ideal for painting smaller stainless steel items. This section will lead you through the process of painting stainless steel using spray paint. Applying a primer is always recommended, however, if you have selected a paint and primer combination spray paint for stainless steel, then you can skip on the primer. These instructions serve as a guideline only, and it is always recommended that you refer to the manufacturer’s directions before letting rip with a spray can.

Can You Spray Paint Stainless Steel


Considerations Before Painting Stainless Steel

Before we take a look at how to paint stainless steel, we should ask ourselves whether it is necessary to do so. The passive chromium layer on stainless steel is what stops it from corroding and gives it its natural luster.

The amazing thing about stainless steel is that it self-regenerates this layer when it is scratched or damaged.

This regenerative process happens through oxidation. When stainless steel is exposed to oxygen, it oxidizes and forms a new layer of chromium, which prevents further oxidation or corrosion. It is for this reason that you may want to think twice before painting stainless steel. However, you can paint stainless steel and this should not stop you from doing so.

Whether it is a stainless steel kitchen appliance or a doorknob, spray painting steel is a great DIY method that will allow you to create a professional-looking coat without the need for hiring a professional. Just be sure to select a quality stainless steel spray paint and a primer.


Safety and Preparation

First and foremost, it is advised that you work in a well-ventilated space. Spray painting creates a lot of fumes that can be damaging to your health. It is a good idea to wear a respirator, goggles, and gloves. Be sure to use a drop cloth to protect anything you do not want to get paint on – newspaper works just fine too.

Painter’s tape works well at making sure the newspaper does not slide around or shift. It is better to be safe than to get paint on the kitchen counter!

Depending on the item that you are spray painting, you may want to disassemble it as best you can. This can make it easier to achieve an even coat and get into all corners and nooks. Use painter’s tape to mask off any areas that you do not want to paint or that cannot be removed.

Safety When Spray Painting Steel


Sanding and Cleaning

To increase the adhesion of the spray paint to the stainless steel, it is best to start by sanding the stainless steel with 320-grit sandpaper. This will create a surface profile that is ideal for receiving paint. Think of it as creating a surface for the paint to hold onto. If you are dealing with stainless steel with a mirror finish, you will essentially be scratching the surface of the steel.

Be sure not to miss any areas and keep the pressure even when sanding.

Once the entire project has been sanded, it is time to degrease it. Any oils, grease, or other residues left on the surface of the stainless steel can negatively affect the adhesion of the spray paint. Any degreaser will work, although some degreasers may leave behind a residue. However, this can be removed with acetone after washing the surface with the degreaser. Wiping your project down with thinners or acetone before applying paint will further increase the level of adhesion.


Priming the Steel

A primer is exactly that; it primes the steel for the paint. Primer makes for a more even coat and increases paint adhesion. The stainless steel surface should be dry before you apply the primer. As mentioned previously, you can skip this step if you are using a paint and primer combination spray paint for stainless steel.

If your paint is a dark color, you will want to use a grey primer, and if your paint is a light color, you should opt for a white or a light-colored primer. Primers for stainless steel should be applied in a thin coat.

Spray the stainless steel while holding the spray can roughly 13 inches away from the surface. As you press the trigger on the can of spray paint, try to keep moving the can while spraying. This will prevent any build-up of drips and will create an even coat. Give the primer some time to dry before applying the spray paint.


Spray Painting Stainless Steel

You have selected a stainless steel spray paint and you have applied a primer to the stainless steel surface. You are now set to spray paint steel! As mentioned in the previous step, spray the surface of your project while holding the spray can roughly 12 inches from the steel. Keeping constant motion will prevent drips and ensure an even coat. Apply a thin coat and let it dry.

Applying multiple thin coats of spray paint is a lot better than applying one thick coat, as applying thin coats is a great way to get a professional-looking finish. You may want to apply a second coat and even a third. Wait for the paint to dry in-between, deciding whether or not to apply another coat.

Take your time and enjoy the process. When the paint is dry and you are certain that you will not be applying another coat, you can remove the masking tape. It is best to wait for the paint to cure completely before reassembling your project. The time it takes for spray paint to cure will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure. Waiting 24 hours for the paint to cure fully is usually recommended.

Spray Painting Steel



Tips and Tricks for Spray Painting Steel

  • When painting a dark color on stainless steel, opt for a dark primer. If you are painting the steel a light color, choose a light primer. This will help you to get the best coverage and will prevent the primer from showing through the paint.
  • Sanding and degreasing will help the adhesion of the paint. Using some steel wool is a great way to roughen up the stainless steel and prepare it for a coat of paint. This is especially so when it comes to preparing mirror-finish stainless steel.
  • Applying multiple coats of paint to stainless steel can help you to achieve a professional-looking finish. If this seems like too much trouble, consider contacting a professional spray painter instead.
  • If you are in a rush to complete your project, choose a two-in-one paint and primer. These paints do not require you to use a separate primer and are usually quick-drying, meaning that you will be done in no time!
  • If you are looking for an extra tough coating, you will need to opt for epoxy paint. These paints require some special mixing but when they harden, they are tough. It is no surprise that they are used in industrial applications.


Painting stainless steel can be done. However, you should first decide whether painting your stainless steel project is necessary. Stainless steel has non-corrosive properties that makes it ideal for interiors and exteriors alike. It is specially designed to stand up to the elements without any special coating at all. However, if you are sure that you want to add a splash of color to your stainless steel, be sure to apply a primer for stainless steel before applying the paint. This will ensure better coverage and an even finish.


View our How To Paint Stainless Steel web story here.



Frequently Asked Questions


Can You Paint Stainless Steel?

Yes, you can! Stainless can be painted. It is best to sand and degrease the stainless steel item beforehand and then apply a primer. A primer will help the paint bond to the stainless steel. Once the primer has dried to the touch, apply the paint, and there you have it!


Does Stainless Steel Rust?

Stainless steel reacts with oxygen but not in the way that most types of steel do. Most steels corrode or rust when exposed to oxygen, but when stainless steel oxidizes, it develops a layer of chromium, which is corrosion-resistant.


Will Spray Paint Stick to Stainless Steel?

The short answer is yes. However, it is important to note that some preparation is required to encourage proper adhesion of the spray paint to stainless steel. Sanding, degreasing, and applying a primer is the best way to make sure that spray paint sticks to stainless steel.


What Type of Paint Will Bond to Stainless Steel?

Epoxy paints and oil-based paints are best for painting stainless steel. Epoxy paints are a little less convenient than oil-based paints as they require mixing the right amount of hardener to the paint for it to dry. The easiest method is spray painting steel with a two-in-one paint and primer product.


Do I Need to Paint Stainless Steel?

Stainless steel is praised for its naturally appealing aesthetic. It can be polished to a high gloss finish and it is resistant to rust. So why paint it at all? Stainless steel can be quite harsh and sterile-looking, so adding a splash of color can tone this down, but it is not necessary.