How To Paint Aluminum? (5-Step Guide)

Wondering how to paint aluminum?

Maybe you have a DIY project you're working on or some home improvement that calls for painting aluminum.

Don't worry, it's not as hard as it might seem! There are plenty of ways to paint an aluminum surface that make it easy to get a great paint job.

How to Paint Aluminum

In this ProPaintCorner.com guide, you'll learn:

  • What you need to know about painting aluminum
  • Supplies you'll need to paint aluminum
  • Steps required to paint aluminum
  • And much more!

So, before you dive into painting aluminum on your own, keep reading to learn how to get the best paint job out of it!

What You Need To Know About Painting Aluminum

Painting aluminum does require a few extra steps in the prep stages to yield the best results. For instance, you'll need to start by sanding your aluminum in order for the paint to adhere to the bare aluminum surface.

This can be accomplished with medium-grit sandpaper to help "scuff" the surface. Then you'll follow up with an etch primer that will offer a solid base coat so your paint will stick to the aluminum surface.

This will give you a high-performance paint job that will stay durable in all weather conditions. If you want even more durability, though, we recommend finishing it off with a sealer or topcoat and letting it air dry for at least a full 24 hours.

This will ensure that the paint has fully stuck to the surface and is set in place before it's put to the test!

Luckily, most of these supplies are available at hardware stores and they're all fairly easy to apply.

Read More >> How Do You Get Primer Off Your Hands Easily?

Did you know: Recycling aluminum takes only 5 percent of the energy needed to extract new aluminum from ore, according to the EPA.

Want To Just Skip All This Research And Hire A Decent Professional For Your Paint Job?

Click here to check out our pro painter search tool where we instantly send you free quotes from trusted (and thoroughly vetted) painters in your local area.

Process Takes About 30 Seconds

Supplies You’ll Need For Painting Aluminum 

Before you get started on painting aluminum, there are a few supplies you'll want to collect in order to get the best finish possible.

First off, you need to use a painting respirator if you're dealing with spray paints, self-etching-primers, and top coats. All of these can be harmful to your health if you come in direct contact with them, so make sure you take proper safety precautions.

DO NOT use any of these spray paints or primers inside as they will create toxic chemicals in the air.

Finally, you'll want to collect some other basic items like sandpaper and an old rag or cloth that will help you prep your aluminum surface for paint.

  • Spray paint (or brush)
  • Self etching primer
  • Medium grit sandpaper
  • Cloth
  • Aluminum primer
  • Respirator
  • Gloves
  • Paint sprayer (if not using spray paint)

Read More >> What Are The Best Automotive Primers To Cover Old Paint?

How To Spray Paint Aluminum (5-Step Guide)

If you're looking to do a DIY home decor project, spray painting aluminum is probably best for you.

  1. Sand the surface of the aluminum
  2. Use a cloth to rub off excess dust and dirt
  3. Apply self-etching primer in multiple coats
  4. Apply spray paint color of choice in multiple layers
  5. Allow spray paint to cure for at least 24 hours
  6. OPTIONAL: Apply a clear coat to seal and protect your item

Step 1 - Sand the surface of the aluminum

Before you get started with spray paint, you'll need to sand down the bare aluminum surface by giving it a nice scuff.

This will make the surface rough enough to make sure the spray paint will stick to it. You don't need to go crazy with this, just add a bit more texture to make the next steps a lot smoother.

Step 2 - Use a cloth to rub off excess dust and dirt

Now, you'll take a cloth or old rag and rub off all the dust and dirt that step 1 created so you can prevent the spray paint from slipping off or going on unevenly.

We want to get the surface clean from debris so that all those scuffs you made will actually get a chance to absorb the paint.

Step 3 - Apply self-etching primer in multiple coats

Next, it's time for the self-etching primer that will really create a smooth, durable surface for our spray paint.

​For this step, you may need to get a bit creative with how you're holding your item(s) up while you spray them.

We highly recommend doing this outside in a temporary paint booth to prevent the spray paint from getting on your surfaces inside, but also to keep the toxic spray paint chemicals out of your home. 

You'll want to apply 3-4 layers of this primer, letting it rest for about 5 minutes between coats, to get the best effect.

Step 4 - Apply spray paint color of choice in multiple layers 

Now it's time for the fun part: the spray paint! When it comes to spray painting metal, we highly recommend any of Rust-Oleum's paints, but specifically, their metallic colors, which tend to offer amazing finishes on a multitude of surfaces.

No matter which spray paint you're using, though, for this step you want to take extra caution to not get the paint on any other surfaces and to protect your lungs from the fumes.

Generally, you'll want to do 4-5 coats to get the best finish that will be less prone to flaking or wear-and-tear.

Step 5 - Allow spray paint to cure for at least 24 hours

Finally, you'll want to set the spray-painted item in a safe, dry place for at least 24 hours to make sure the paint has time to fully set before it comes into contact with anything.

Step 6 (OPTIONAL): Apply a clear coat to seal and protect your item

Though this step is entirely optional, we recommend making it a MUST if you're working with an item that will see heavy use or be outdoors.

In those scenarios, you'll need to give your paint job an extra boost by applying a few layers of a clear coat to fully seal in the paint job for the long haul.

Read More >> What Are The Best Paint Sprayers For Walls?

Want To Just Skip All This Research And Hire A Decent Professional For Your Paint Job?

Click here to check out our pro painter search tool where we instantly send you free quotes from trusted (and thoroughly vetted) painters in your local area.

Process Takes About 30 Seconds

How To Professionally Paint Aluminum (5-Step Guide)

If you're looking to go beyond the simple home DIY projects and you're hoping to paint an aluminum boat, a home's exterior, or another high wear-and-tear item, you'll want to follow the steps below.

  1. Clean and degrease the aluminum surface
  2. Chemically treat the aluminum
  3. Rinse the surface and allow to dry
  4. Apply self-etching primer in multiple coats
  5. Apply paint of choice with your paint application method of choice
  6. Allow the paint to cure for at least 24 hours
  7. OPTIONAL: Apply a clear coat to seal and protect your item

Step 1 - Clean and degrease the aluminum surface

Before you get started you'll want to make sure the aluminum surface you're hoping to paint is completely free of grease and debris.

Give your surface a good wash and rinse using soap and water or any other degreaser you have on hand.

Step 2 - Chemically treat the aluminum

Next, you'll want to chemically clean and etch the surface of your aluminum using a one-two punch of an etch wash product followed by Alodine 1201.

First, dilute the etch wash if the directions call for it. Then apply it with a brush on the desired aluminum surface, keeping the surface very wet for 2-5 minutes as you apply. You may even use a scotch-brite pad to create some scuffing on the surface simultaneously.

Then, apply the Alodine 1201 solution (at full strength) and apply with a brush, keeping it wet just like the last step.

Step 3 - Rinse the surface and allow to dry

After you've applied the chemical wash, simply rinse it off into a safe drainage area and give it a chance to dry out.

You should notice a gold color on the surface of the aluminum. 

This indicates that the area is now ready to accept and hold paint.

Step 4 - Apply self-etching primer in multiple coats

Now it's time for the self-etching primer.

Even though the surface is chemically etched now, it's still best to err on the side of a primer to give the surface the best chance of holding on to that paint job.

You'll want to apply 3-4 layers of this primer, letting it rest for about 5 minutes between coats, to get the best effect.

Step 5 - Apply paint of choice with your paint application method of choice

Next, you'll want to apply the paint of your choice with either a brush, spray gun, or roller.

Apply as evenly as possible and keep an eye out for any dripping.

You'll probably want to do at least 2-3 layers to make sure the coating is even and durable.

Step 6: Allow the paint to cure for at least 24 hours

Here's the important part: let the paint cure!

Give your new paint job at least a full day to settle in, if not two for good measure.

Ideally, you'll want to keep your item away from any dust, debris, or drafts that could create inconsistencies in the paint job's texture.

Step 7 (OPTIONAL): Apply a clear coat to seal and protect your item

Though this step is entirely optional, we recommend making it a MUST if you're working with an item that will see heavy use or be outdoors.

In those scenarios, you'll need to give your paint job an extra boost by applying a few layers of a clear coat to fully seal in the paint job for the long haul.

Final Thoughts on How to Paint Aluminum 

No matter what it is you're painting, working with aluminum doesn't have to be difficult! Metal surfaces do take a bit more love and care in the early stages in order for them to take on a coat of paint.

But when you do it right and end up with an amazing finished product, it's worth it! I'm sure that if you follow the steps above, your next DIY home improvement project will turn out beautifully.

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

Madison Rude

Madison Rude

I’m kind of a painting nerd. My mom taught me how to paint when I was nine, and since then I’ve painted rooms, furniture...you name it. I’ve written technical advice for Wagner sprayers, and I’ve spent a lot of time DIYing my own home. I’m no expert, but I love to learn. And here at ProPaintCorner, I learn more about painting every time I work with one of our painting pros to bring you the best product reviews and How To advice available. Together, let’s make your next painting project the best it can be!

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Madison Rude

Madison Rude

I’m kind of a painting nerd. My mom taught me how to paint when I was nine, and since then I’ve painted rooms, furniture...you name it. I’ve written technical advice for Wagner sprayers, and I’ve spent a lot of time DIYing my own home. I’m no expert, but I love to learn. And here at ProPaintCorner, I learn more about painting every time I work with one of our painting pros to bring you the best product reviews and How To advice available. Together, let’s make your next painting project the best it can be!

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