Cover Up Rust for $20 or Less With the Best Spray Paints for Metal
These are the brands DIYers trust.
Published Dec 28, 2021 1:10 AM
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Let’s be real: Metal is cool. But if there’s one thing that can kill the vibe of your industrial-chic outdoor setup—whether it’s the creatively clad exterior of this Vancouver home, the‘70s-inspired silhouette of these cylindrical seats, or these cone-shaped pendant lamps—it’s rust. But all may not be lost. Pro DIYers will tell you there’s no better way to give your metal wares a makeover than with a can of paint. “As a designer, I’m always changing the colors of things, and spray paint is such an easy way to make a big transformation,” says James Judge. “A good paint job on metal should last for a few years.”
If durability is a concern, you definitely don’t want to grab the first option you see at the hardware store. There are formulas specifically designed to adhere to (and, most important, protect) this lustrous material—on bikes, lanterns, side tables, you name it. So we asked four DIY experts to weigh in on the best spray paint for metal projects for every need, tallying bonus points for longevity and aesthetics, and even got a few of their application tips to help you achieve a supersmooth finish. Here’s what they had to say.
- Best for instant gratification: Krylon Fusion All-in-One Spray Paint
- Best for humid-prone spaces: Rust-Oleum Protective Enamel Spray Paint
- Best for heated surfaces: Krylon High Heat Max Spray Paint
- Best for glam glow-ups: Rust-Oleum Universal Metallic Spray Paint
Best for Instant Gratification: Krylon Fusion All-in-One Spray Paint
Coverage: 25 square feet | Primer needed: No | Colors available: 82
What we like:
- Paint and primer in one
- Five times stronger adhesion (compared to average spray paint)
- Typically dries in just two hours
Why we chose it: No sanding, no priming—this can does it all.
“My favorite spray paint is Krylon, specifically its Fusion All-in-One line, because it has a no-peel guarantee and is a very easy product to use,” offers Judge, who recently tapped the paint to give an old outdoor metal chair an interior upgrade with tufted leather and a sleek black frame. Of course, some spray paints are better suited for specific metal-based goods, from appliances to automobiles, notes Judge. But generally this can is great for everything and boasts crazy durability stats against rusting, which means your makeover will last. You also can choose between matte, metallic, gloss, and satin finishes, as well as specialty looks like hammered or textured to really get your creative juices flowing.
Best for Humidity-Prone Spaces: Rust-Oleum Protective Enamel Spray Paint
Coverage: 15 square feet | Primer needed: No | Colors available: 6
What we like:
- Offers exterior-level protection
- Comfort grip
- Dries in four hours
Why we chose it: It’s a no-fuss, corrosion-resistant coating.
Danielle Guerrero of Our Nest on Powell is no stranger to spray paint (or a good DIY), but when it comes to metal, she’s only ever used Rust-Oleum’s protective enamel—in fact she’s never had a reason not to. “I love using all Rust-Oleum paints, but this one worked great for spraying my shower door frame,” she shares. “I used it to spray the frame black and then used Rub ‘N Buff to get an aged look before adding a Rust-Oleum top coat to seal it all in.” How has this combination held up? Better than expected, even if it’s only been a few months (check the photo below to see for yourself). Plus this formula can’t be beat for water-prone areas like a bathroom: It’s optimized for protection against rust, abrasion, fading, and chipping.
Best for Heated Surfaces: Krylon High Heat Max Spray Paint
Coverage: 25 square feet | Primer needed: No | Colors available: 2
What we like:
- Fully dries in just one hour (15 minutes to touch)
- Adheres well
- Strong coverage
- Not for surfaces directly exposed to flame
- Limited color options
Why we chose it: It can withstand temperatures up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you’re looking to spruce up a grill, firepit, or wood-burning stove, this paint can take the heat—just don’t use it to cover up any cooking surfaces. The vast color selection doesn’t hurt either. “I love working with Krylon because it sprays on evenly and the coverage is great—a little in a can goes a long way,” says Erin Marshall of Live Pretty on a Penny, who has completed at least a handful of spray paint–related projects this year. A personal favorite? Revamping her weathered outdoor grill. “It had gotten so beaten up with all the elements in Georgia,” she says. “After using High Heat Max, it looks brand-new!”
Best for Glam Glow-Ups: Rust-Oleum Universal Metallic Spray Paint
Coverage: 25 square feet | Primer needed: No | Colors available: 23
What we like:
- Two for $20
- 10,000-plus positive Amazon reviews
- Wider finger pad
Why we chose it: This shimmery shine refreshes all sorts of surfaces, not just metal.
When it comes to spray paint, Drew Scott of Lone Fox says there’s no reason to go superfancy—he sticks to the hardware store essentials. Although he loves using a variety of both Rust-Oleum and Krylon options, metallic gold and burnished amber can really give your furniture or decor a boost, covering up scratches and rusty eyesores without looking gaudy. There are four finishes to choose from: gloss, satin, flat, and matte.
How We Chose These Products
We asked four DIYers for their favorite spray paint for metal projects, factoring in tips on coverage, ease of application, color options, and durability.
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Spray paint is essentially regular paint in an aerosol can—in other words, there are just as many formulas and finish options to choose from, but with a few more color limitations. Instead your decision will largely depend on an object’s exposure to the elements and general frequency of use. Enamel and oil-based paints are good options for metal work as they’re primed for durability, especially against corrosion and chipping.
One of the biggest benefits of spray paint is time: With metal, a fiber-y brush can more easily leave streak marks that you’ll have to go over again and again. But before even giving that can a shake, you’ve got to clean your surface. “Make sure you get off any dust or residue completely so that it doesn’t affect the finish,” shares Judge, who also stresses the importance of taping anything you don’t want getting splattered on (paint is not the easiest thing to remove). “I always put down a big blanket to catch the overspray.”
Stick to multiple light coats to avoid dripping or the dreaded fish-eye effect (when bubbles arise from dirt or oil that gets trapped under the paint). If you’re having adhesion issues (this happens sometimes with metal in particular), Scott says don’t fret. “When spraying on rough metal that has some texture to it, a primer is not necessarily needed; however, a smooth surface is a different story. I love using a shellac primer on metal as it adheres extremely well and gives a nice base,” he explains.
For the perfectionist—or if you have a large surface to cover and aren’t a fan of finger cramps—Judge suggests springing for Krylon’s reusable hand-spraying tool. “It makes it so easy to keep a consistent spray,” he says.
Because spray cans are applied in thin layers, they dry much faster than traditional paint. But this timeline varies depending on a number of factors, including whether you’re tackling a project indoors or out—heat, wind, and humidity can play a huge role—and the type of formula you’ve purchased. The directions printed on the label usually provide a good ballpark timeline, but Scott says it can vary as drastically as 10 minutes to upwards of 12 hours. A general rule of thumb: Though you may want to use your piece immediately, give it at least 24 hours to ensure maximum adherence. Trust us, it’s worth the wait.
Q: Are all spray paints for metal waterproof?
Definitely not! Look for a product that ensures both indoor and outdoor protection and maximum rust protection.
Q: How long do spray paints for metal last on average?
“Ultimately this depends on the item and how it’s being used,” says Judge. “A good spray paint job on metal should last for a few years, but honestly, I can’t think of anything that I’ve gone back to spray again. Like anything else, something that is getting a lot of wear and tear will need to be resprayed much sooner, but for an item with common use, you should be able to enjoy it for years to come.”
Q: What’s the best way to apply spray paint?
Judge recommends giving your can a good shake for at least one minute before applying and always starting from top to bottom; this ensures consistent, smooth layers, he says. “And don’t get too close. If you miss a spot, don’t go back,” he warns. “Let it dry before filling in any spaces you missed.”
The Last Word
There are a lot of spray paints available these days, but when it comes to metal, opt for a formula designed with this surface in mind. According to the four DIYers we tapped, you can’t go wrong with Krylon or Rust-Oleum.