Spray Paint: Pros and Cons

August 10, 2009

I was finishing up a bench this morning, using one of my favorite tools: spray paint.  As I was working, I was going back over all of your emails that you’ve sent to me asking questions about spray paint, expressing your fear or relaying your love for the aerosol can. 

spray paint nozzle

In my humble opinion, these are the top ten pros and cons when it comes to the use of spray paint.

Pros

  1. Spray paint offers more even coverage without brush strokes. 
  2. Spray primer is a million times faster than brush primer. 
  3. Spray paint is a million times faster than brush on paint.
  4. Spray paint is typically oil based, therefore more durable than water based spray or regular latex paint.
  5. Spray paint is easy to use outdoors, with a drop cloth and some newspaper.
  6. Specialty spray paints can be used to transform metal, wicker, plastic, resin and other surfaces. 
  7. Spray paint dries much faster than paint out of a can (without an additive).
  8. With a spray paint nozzle gun in hand, you can conquer the world, or at least, transform a piece of furniture without losing your mind to a million brush strokes.
  9. Clean up is quicker – no brushes to rinse or buckets to wash.
  10. Spray paint feels a little devious – at least in my state – you have to be of a certain age to purchase it.

Cons

  1. Compared to latex paint, there are limited color choices beyond the great ‘Heirloom White’ and some of the ‘American Accents’ line by Rustoleum. 
  2. Spray paint is more expensive per square foot of coverage.
  3. Spray paint requires ventilated area in which to work.  You can’t use it indoors. 
  4. Drips are tricky.  I use my finger to wipe up drips, but they take away from the smoothness of even coverage.
  5. Spray paint is typically oil based, so clean up on your hands requires mineral spirits or really strong exfoliation. 
  6. Spray paint is extremely toxic (therefore, wear a mask).
  7. A bad nozzle will spatter paint and ruin your day.
  8. Spray primer is not as durable as brush primer so it shouldn’t be used on high traffic pieces (ex: tabletops).
  9. Without a spray paint nozzle gun, your fingers can cramp.
  10. I read somewhere that aerosol cans are bad for the environment.  For a very boring interesting article on how an aerosol can of spray paint works, look here.

Rules I Follow:

  1. Shake shake shake.  Shake shake shake.  Shake your spray can.  Shake your spray can.
  2. Always spray 7 inches away from your piece, and move back and forth in a rapid motion. 
  3. Two thin coats is better than one thick coat – you risk drips.
  4. Start your spray in an inconspicuous spot in case it spatters out of the can. 
  5. Quality varies, so I mostly use Rustoleum brand spray paints. 
  6. Always wear a mask, disposable or otherwise.  Have you seen the warning label on a can of spray paint?  Couldn’t be more toxic.
  7. Dispose of your cans properly at a toxic waste disposal sites.

Here’s a throwback to a few months ago, but take a look at some brass thrift store finds that I transformed with a can of spray paint in this post

Before:

brass before

After:

brass after

What has been your experience with spray paint?  Are you as big of a fan as I am?  Do you fear the spray can?  Did I miss any pros or cons?

What tips can you share to help us all be better in our application? 

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75 Responses to “Spray Paint: Pros and Cons”

  1. Tanya says:

    I love spray paint!! I do wish there were a wider range of colors. I've learned to do several very light coats to avoid drips.

  2. Vivienne says:

    I will spray paint anything that holds still long enough for me to do so. Good reminders about toxicity. (I got a butterfly stoned once…)

    I'm a big fan of Rustoleum products.

  3. Rachel says:

    I am a huge fan of it.. but also feel you sort of have to "master" it, if that makes sense! I have a brass lamp I'm about to spray paint so I will send in pictures and my story when I finish it!

  4. Lori says:

    Amazing before and after pictures, since reading so many design blogs, I have become a spray painter. It is an amazing way to transform flea market finds.

  5. Shady Creek Lane says:

    Thanks for all of your tips for spray painting. Unfortunatly I have made every mistake there is when using spray paint so I have had to learn the hard way. (Where were you 6 months ago when I really started using spray paint? LOL)
    Thanks again.

    Hugs to ya,
    Connie

    By The Way: Love the transformation from brass to "class"

  6. Jenny @ Words on Wendhurst says:

    I do love the sprays that will transform plastic. There is nothing like it in my opinion, and it can make anything looks 1000 times better.

  7. Shannon says:

    I love how spray paint can be a quick and inexpensive way to give something a new look. My husband is a big fan of wearing a mask when doing any project that involves paint or dust. Thanks for the reminder on that. Another thing to consider is a well ventilated area. Like you said, "couldn't be more toxic."

  8. Sare says:

    I love spray paint. I just wish it came in all colors like cans do. I wish you could pick up a swatch and match it…maybe someday.

  9. Mrs. P says:

    I'm a huge fan of spray paint! This looks beautiful!

  10. Nancy says:

    I'm a huge fan. I've seen time and time again in blogland how so many can transform something really ugly into something completely differnt and beautiful with spray paint.

    Nancy

  11. Pony Girl says:

    Great tips, especially the mask, which seems silly but is important. I have used spray paint minimally, to cover a candelabra once. It worked great. I will say that recently, trying to paint over some other things (like a dark wooden candle holder) I was a bit frustrated with my regular paint and brush! Honestly, never thought of spray paint, I might have to tackle it again with the can. I just tried some spray glitter the other day and had an awful time with the aerosol can, it wouldn't stop spraying lightly and leaked out those toxic chemicals all over, I promptly took it back to the store, those poor ladies weren't sure how to dispose of it but I felt it was very flammable and dangerous. Probably just a defect.

  12. Laurie says:

    PLEASE get a Rustoleum Comfort Grip! It will change your spray paint experience! I will never again spray paint without it. Eliminates that painful, numb finger and gives such great control. Another thing I have used in the past month is Rustoleum's new line of Ultra Cover 2X coverage spray paints. I am thrilled with the results over a regular can. Well worth it.

  13. marty39 says:

    I am with you. I love spray paint and Heirloom White is my favorite. I havn't used the spray gun nozzle yet, but I plan to buy one for my next project. Thanks for sharing. Hugs, Marty

  14. PS~Erin says:

    I've just started using spray paint as a staple and I just can't stop. Love it!

  15. Struggler says:

    Goodness, coincidental timing! I uncapped my first ever can of spray paint yesterday – and loved it, apart from one single drip. I think your pro's and cons are spot on.

  16. Grits414 says:

    I have fallen (back) in love with spray paint recently. I've become very fond of Oil Rubbed Bronze but have ventured to other colors. I will admit, though, that I have a 'fear' of painting large furniture pieces but am trying to get over it. I currently have several pieces I am holding out painting because of it. And it's not b/c of the spray paint, it's paint in general. For some reason, I have a 'hang up' about painting wood furniture! Helpppppppppppppppppppppp

  17. Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

    I like the idea of spray paint, but I found in the past that I would get drips ~ probably my own fault in not doing quick movements (I'm always in such a hurry to get it done). This was on 6 chairs I was painting white. I want to repaint them so I think I will just go slower and be more patient.

  18. Liberty :) says:

    thanks for replying to my question! i am going to bite the bullet and go for it and let u know how i get on!!!!!!couldnt be worse than my current paint job!!

  19. Beth says:

    I love spray paint and buy my black paint very cheaply at Big Lots. (I've had good luck with cheap black varieties but don't recommend messing around with the white.) I heartily second the "wear a mask" warning. One day when I went a little black-spray-paint nuts and painted every piece of furniture I could get my hands onto, I had trouble breathing that night. I took a hot shower to try to loosen up my lungs and while there I sneezed. Let's just say that what came out was black! First…ew. And second, oh my goodness wear a mask! I learned my lesson. I will never spray without a mask again. Scary…and totally gross.

  20. Jaclyn says:

    Um, so I'll admit it…I'm horrible when it comes to remembering to wear a mask. Not that I don't HAVE them…I just forget to wear it in all of the excitment of starting a new project! I also have never read the "warning" on the can, so that might scare me into remembering now…

  21. Gwen says:

    I have never read the warning on the cans. If I read 50% of the warnings that are around in life I wouldn't have had 10% of the fun and learning experiences that I have had.

    I have learned though, to let a piece sit outside for a few days to really cure. The fumes even 24 hours later are too much for this girls lungs.

    My only issue with spray paint is the durability. I find that in a piece that gets a lot of wear, it is better to use traditional brush on paint. I guess because it is thicker, it can stand a ding or two without issues.

  22. ms. less is always more says:

    I just love spray paint recently… I am spraying all the out-dated gold door knobs in my house with "hammered black" by Rustoleum. For $7 a can I redid 6 knobs which would have been $20 EACH to replace… very nice!

  23. Heather J says:

    I am venturing into the world of spray paint but have been inspired by many projects in blogland and elsewhere! I've come really close to getting the oil rubbed bronze color to update some icky brass light fixtures but was scared b/c it has some texture to it. One of the posts mentioned it with approval so I'm off to buy a can! Also, I've been toying with the idea of painting my knobs but was afraid that they wouldn't wear and look tacky – I'm hoping that ms. less is always more can elaborate!!!!

  24. Amanda @ Serenity Now says:

    I am now a true spray paint fan. I even went out and purchased one of those can trigger thingies for my next project. I can't believe I was so scared to use spray paint…why?!

    Now I know what's wrong with me. I haven't used a mask when spray painting. ;) Oh well, I have been outside….

    Good tips!

  25. Centsational Girl says:

    Great tip Gwen. It's true – on high traffic surfaces like tabletops, I would not use spray paint, unless using a glass tabletop over my paint job. Good point !

  26. MyLittleHappyPlace says:

    I think you are spot on with the pros and cons…and at least the color selection improves all the time.
    This post is especially relevant to me, as I am endeavoring to redo a set of Chinese Chippendale chairs we inherited. I loathe the idea of painting all those knot, nooks, and crannies with a brush – but we live in Brazil, and the spray paint options are next to nil! {sigh}

    So glad I found your blog (I really don't know how I've missed it!) ;)

  27. Julia says:

    I am really glad you mentioned the environmental factor — that's what always kept me from using it. I never stopped to think that OF COURSE you can take spray cans to the paint disposal depot! That makes me feel a bit better about using them in the future. Thanks for mentioning this.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I had spray painted little things like frames, candle sticks, ect. But I got brave one day and spray painted a dresser, mirror and a 4 poster bed. They turned out beautifully. I'm hooked!

  29. Mrs. Limestone says:

    Great tips!

    Although I never wear a mask. I hope I haven't caused any permanent damage to myself. I can't spare any brain cells :)

  30. Jenny says:

    I believe it was that last picture that motivated me to try spray paint. That is one of my most favorite projects you have done.

    I agree about the brand. I bought Krylon once and hated it.

  31. Funky Junk Interiors says:

    I agree, great tips!

    Another is, remember to keep shaking the can. For me it seems to build up pressure and the paint goes on smoother. Or maybe it's just to hear that metal ball thing bounce around inside too.. hmmm.. issues?!?

    Donna

  32. effy says:

    A tip for more colours to chose from is to find a place that sells spray paint to graffiti painters. They are made for outside use and should hold for furniture as well. And there are lots of different colours!

  33. mrso' says:

    I'm obsessed w/ spray paint, in particular Heirloom white. Although I'm debating investing in a paint sprayer for bigger projects and to use regular paint.

  34. Blushing hostess says:

    Squarely in the spray paint camp. I f it can be done, I prefer it for ease of use and speed.

  35. suzanne says:

    I recently spray painted a dresser with water based spray paint. My comments on that are~the water based spray paints do have less fumes, but the paint is thinner and drips more easily. I thought it took longer to dry, but the finish is mirror smooth and a lot glossier, so if you want shiny, that's a plus. The coverage wasn't great, but it reminded me of really old furniture that has that super hard glossy finish, so it wasn't all bad. I didn't think it was all that much easier to get off my hands, though.

    I think I'll stick with Rustoleum or Krylon (I've never had any problems with it). I actually found a really pretty aqua blue yesterday and can't wait to use it.

  36. Chatty Natty says:

    Just used the aqua blue Suzanne and it's beautiful! Love love love spray paint and when I found your blog a few months back I loved that you, too, were obsessed. It made me like you even more. Do tell me more about the spray paint gun…I had numb finger for days….an odd sensation. I, too, may invest in a nice sprayer for bigger projects since everything looks better with a touch of paint:)

  37. Embellished Bayou says:

    Love the spray paint, it can transform almost anything!

    Has anyone used a spray gun? Something like a Preval Spray Gun? It lets you turn any liquid into a spray. Maybe useful for when you need more color selection. I haven't tried one yet but would love to hear some reviews.

  38. elizabeth says:

    I am still in a deep depression that the American Heirloom color "Chenille" was discontinued….I went to every Home Depot in the area to buy all I could. (It's my heirloom white but a little creamier.) Sigh…

  39. Tales from the Crib says:

    I've truly come to LOVE spray paint as well. The "fastness" of it just can't be beat when you have 2 small children running around. I recently painted boring, cheapie, outdoor plastic chairs a wonderful "Martha green" and the transformation from cheap to chic was instantaneous! The only downside — the wind knocked one around the other night and it's scratched all to heck. I'm out of the color so I have go get a spare can for such emergencies. Though likely I'll just find more things to paint that fun color!

  40. Valerie says:

    You're timing for this post couldn't be better! I have several mismatched ikea pieces of questionable wood origins/finishes that I've been dying to paint over. Any tips for a spray paint virgin?

  41. Sami says:

    When you get a spray paint drip — DON"T WIPE IT OFF! Instead use a piece of painter's tape to 'pick it up' off of the surface. Then you can lightly respray that area — no mess, no fuss!

  42. tales from an oc cottage says:

    ADORE the spray…would marry it if i could! I have the attention span of a gnat, so the 10 minutes transformation is right up my alley!

    m ^..^

  43. Laura@JourneyChic says:

    I am dying to spray paint our dining room chairs and the hardware on our guest room dresser. The hardware, at least, will be a weekend project!

  44. Jenny says:

    Please, I love spray paint, too, but get one of those attachments that let you squeeze a lever to get the spray out, costs $5-6 at a hardware store. My finger is still numb weeks later after starting a project painting my outdoor light fixtures, originally PINK, to a metallic hammered brown. Looks great now, but if I would have known about the finger, I would have bought the lever before I ever started. I finished with it, but wish I had known about it before!I have read of this numbness lasting as long as over a year, and trust me, it is annoying even to type!

  45. Jenzifer says:

    I am a spray paint addict. I will spray paint absolutely anything. I recently sprayed 2 dressers from my childhood for my daughter, as she was moved into a ‘big girl’ room when her baby brother was born. My parents thought I was crazy to spray the wood. But they do admit, they look great. I modified the sides with some beadboard to match her bed. I used the Rustoleum Lacquer. Huge fan of it otherwise, but with this project I found it didn’t give the high gloss I was looking for. So I added Rustoleum Double Coverage Ultra Gloss. They look great! A little tacky on top, so I may try your oil-based-plus-conditioner brushing method next time. I too always strive for the hard gloss look.

  46. Dayka says:

    I just ran across this post and your pros and cons, along with all of the responses, are really great. I have been having really bad headaches lately and have been spraying and painting a lot, so I think that may be the culprit. I plan on investing in one of those high powered masks this weekend. Good tip about lifting the paint drip with painter’s taper as well!

  47. erin says:

    Hi- I just sprayed the top of a cheap dresser with a glossy black spray paint and it looks like crap! I did a lot of coats trying to get that shiny, even coverage. It never happened for me. NOW, i need to know the best way to get it off so I can try with a different type of paint. Any help?? P.S- I still love spray painting stuff, just not this dresser.

  48. Amber says:

    I love LOVE love spray paint, but I live in NYC and dont have a garage. So during the summer months I can spray on my roof (lucky for me I am on the top floor and the only one with roof access), but in the winter months I cant really get on the roof and spray, especially when there is snow on the ground. I know your not supposed to, but I have spray painted some small things in my shower this winter. I am just curious what other NYers do when they live in buildings that dont have roof access at all?

  49. Haley says:

    I used Spray Paint for the very first time today! I built and painted an entire table with brush paint a couple of months ago and it was grueling. I didn’t even think to consider spray paint until I read your post. I just transformed some Thrift Store and Dollar Store Frames for my living room.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  50. Cassandra says:

    I absolutely love using spray paint, but have also stuggled with the thought of how harmful it could be to the environment. Often this idea is quickly diffused by the new thought of my freshly painted bright baby blue _____.

  51. Shelly B. says:

    I just had to pop over and read this post! I’ve got some spray paint projects planned… Thanks for the tips! And, I absolutely love the transformation of your metal items!!!!! You are a star!!!!

  52. […] One of the articles I wrote way back when that initiated some good discussion, was this article on Spray Paint: Pros and Cons.  Feel free to chime in and offer your two […]

  53. Karen says:

    Do you suggest using primer for any of your spray painting projects? Do you sand between coats?

  54. Sue at Beach Bungalow says:

    I thinks it’s great stuff; use it all the time!

    Your before and after looks so pretty!

    Sue

  55. Becky says:

    I am a Scenic Artist by trade, meaning I paint scenery for theatres, and I use a lot of spray paint. I agree that sometimes a can of spray paint can be magical, but I always take great precaution when using it. The fumes are very toxic (not to mention they smell terrible!) and I use a respirator, not just a mask. Most masks that people have are particle masks and do not help with harmful vapors. Check that your respirator is made for chemical vapors, not just particles. Also, be sure to wear gloves. The chemicals will also seep through your skin and into your bloodstream if they contact your hands. It does not burn or anything immediate, it’s just not a terribly healthy thing to have in your body. I say the fewer chemicals that we are exposed to, the better. But using some simple protections, I am a fan of the magical land of spray paint. Great blog, I’m a new fan!

  56. ClaudiaM says:

    This is a wonderful article. I am glad there is someone out there for give advices regarding spray paint. Just wanted to let everyone know about a new brand of spray paint “Bosny” that has recently appeared on the U.S. market. Nowadays, a lot of us are concerned with prices for any products we buy, Bosny is much cheaper than the products by Krylon, Valspar or Rust-Oleum. At the same time, Bosny paint has very good quality and has a lot of specialty paints and a large assortment of colors.
    I hope this helps! Enjoy painting everyone!

  57. Amanda says:

    I made the very stupid mistake of spraypainting a table indoors recently. Even though I opened all my windows, the air still filled with a strong (not to mention toxic) smell. And a strange white dust ended up all over the place, even in rooms I hadn’t been painting in. Best part: finding spraypaint in my nostrils. I did it really stupidly for my first time. Next time I will for sure do it outdoors and wear a mask. No more messing around with the stuff indoors, the cleanup afterwards was a total pain.

  58. […] addressed this query last year, you can read all about in in this article about the pros and cons of spray paint.  Several other issues are addressed in the following […]

  59. vicki archer says:

    Great tips …..Thankyou, xv.

  60. AimeeH says:

    I have a question about painting metal. I’ve tried to paint two chandeliers now and while hanging them the chain seemed to scratch off the finish so easily! Should I be priming or waiting for it to dry even longer?

  61. I’m way late to this post. I got here clicking through some of your other great spray painting tutorials and tips.

    I love spray paint and your tips are fantastic. I’m just getting ready to spray paint some beds I bought for my nieces and it was great to be reminded about using several thin coats to avoid the drips!

    I really do appreciate your great posts.

  62. As an environmental scientist I have to say that spray paints are extremely bad for the environment. As a result I swore off using them, and have held that promise ever since … about 8 or so years now.

    You just changed my mind.

    Now all I need is something to paint … the question being where to start first …

  63. Eileen Lewis says:

    Claudia mentioned a spray paint named Bosny. I am interested where to buy Bosny spray paint. I haven’t seen it anywhere in my area of Lancaster, PA.

  64. Debbie Cadene says:

    Great site and I am really loving your projects. I also love the DIY stuff. I have some brass door handles that DEFINITELY gotta go, so I would love to spray paint them the Oil Rubbed Bronze color. A couple of questions for you though… do they (or any metal piece) need to be spray primed first, or just directly spray painted a few times?.And can you recommend the best paint and primer (if needed) to use. I looked for the ORB color at Canadian tire yesterday, but didn’t find any…will keep looking though.

    Can’t wait to paint these suckers.

  65. I am sad to say I FEAR it! Not sure why…I can paint and tile and do lots of stuff, but for some reason spray paint seems scary. Now I am inspired to give it a try!

  66. Rosalind says:

    hmmm, wished I had of read this part before I started spraying! I had read your FAQ’s but missed this post. Damn nozzle – my paint is splattering!!!!!!! I will try the old pin trick to clean it but wondering if it can be saved or is a bad nozzle as good as dead?

  67. Laura too says:

    I know I am very late coming here, but in case it may help someone, I’d like to leave a tip for cleaning up from oil point or spray paint or the resin from pine cones. Rather than use turpentines or other harsh chemicals, you can simply put some sort of fat on your hands – crisco, butter, lard or even vegetable oil. You just smear a little on and wash your hands with your regular hand soap and it comes right off. It’s sort of amazing. I used to do a lot of work with pine cones and would keep the paper that came off of butter sticks in the fridge to grab a few of when I went out to pick or when I was crafting with them. There was enough left on the paper taken off of cold butter to work with regular hand wipes. So very much healthier than using turpentine.

    And you know that turpentine is toxic (fatally so) to cats to put on them if they get paint spilled on their fur, so now you know you can just use a little bit of oil or butter and work it in, then wash and rinse well and it’s all gone and cat is healthy!!

    Spread the word! Keep turpentine and chemicals off your skin, your children and your pets!

  68. Trudy says:

    Thanks for such wonderful tips!

  69. I accidentally inhaled some today and am convinced I’ve shortened my life by 20 years. Went straight to Home Depot and bought masks after that episode. Thanks for sharing tidbits on spray paint.

  70. Lori says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! You’ve seriously changed the way I re-do. I never had the patience for regular paint and now that I’ve met Centsational Girl and Rustoleum, watch out ;)

  71. Tara says:

    This weekend, my daughter, MaryLou, and I were priming and silver spraypainting plastic animals. Here’s the conversation… Please do not take offense to the R word.
    ML: Can we spray inside? We will look retarded to the neighbors, spraypainting toys!
    Me: If you use spraypaint inside, you’ll BECOME retarded!
    ML: Oh, then carry on.

  72. poly says:

    I love using spray paint! I do a lot of multi-layer stencils using spray paint. Check out my art and tell me what you think!

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/thestreetcanvas

    Thanks,
    poly

  73. Emily says:

    Hi Kate,

    Thanks so much for responding. I bought the Devon mirror and to my dismay, it looks very gold-colored in my bedroom because my walls are yellow and they bring out the frame’s golden hues. I’m considering painting my walls your grayish color, or more practically, spray painting the frame a silverish hue. What do you think? (PS Im a veterinarian but if I could, I’d start a second career of decorating/design!)

  74. jo b keenan says:

    How do you keep the spray nozzle clear to spray another day. I have cans that I know are half full & I can’t get them to spray very frustrating & expensive. Please help. JBK

  75. CentsationalGirl says:

    Ho Jo, sometimes they need rinsed with some mineral spirits to clear them but I usually just switch it out with another tip and that works too.
    Kate

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