Spray Paint FAQs

October 5, 2010

Some of you, no, a handful of you have been reading this site since the beginning when I started spray painting all sorts of things on the average of at least once a month and frequently mentioning my affection.  I jumped on the spray paint bandwagon several years ago, cracked the whip, and cried "Faster, faster, take us to a better place!"  I have an entire category dubbed "Spray Paint, My BFF" and I reckon I’ve done my part to keep RustOleum, Valspar, and Krylon in biz.

I’ve spray painted just about everything:  plastic, glass, wood, fiberglass, mirror, metal, ribbon, laminate, etcetera.  I’ll spray paint anything that stands still, mostly because it’s  cheap-n-easy, but also because my curiosity in this wonder product knows no end.  Most especially since I’ve witnessed first hand just how many gosh darn things seem to look better when dosed with Toluene and Xylene (the chemicals in spray paint which we never mention in the light of day, but secretly adore in the private solitude of our well ventilated garages).

Spray paint, when applied correctly, possesses the magical power to transform so many dated looks into a something fresh and modern, all in the course of an afternoon.  I think if I was stranded on a deserted island, a can of spray paint just might be on my wish list, not for the giant ‘SOS’ but to give my pathetic coconut mailbox attached to my hut that extra oomph it needed.

I’m sorry, where was I?  Oh yes. Take this sweet little French style solid wood nightstand I spied while gallivanting around the local thrift store last week.  Fab lines, lovely detail, but with yellowed spotty paint and chipped gold accents.  Facelift needed.

All’s well that ends well when you have a well shaken can of spray paint with which to solve the world’s problems.  The final paint is RustOleum’s ‘Canvas White’ found at True Value Hardware.


endtable before 2


cg endtable final after

‘Shipwrecked Pitcher’ from Anthropologie

I have used spray paint in so many ways I can’t even count them anymore.  Take a tour through my home and you won’t find a room with at least one spray painted thang.  Since I often get asked questions about spray paint, I reckon I’ll just put all those FAQs in one big post.  Bear with me.  I don’t know all the answers, but that’s where you come in at the end friends.

Away we go.    

1. What surfaces can I spray paint?

What can’t  you spray paint?   Well, perhaps that’s too inclusive.  Here’s the growing list.  Plastic, metal, fiberglass, mirror, glass, wood, wicker, masonry, plaster, concrete, canvas, ceramics, MDF, laminate and particle board.

valspar bathroom Image via Valspar


2. What are the pros and cons of spray paint vs. brush on paint?

I 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 questions, so read on!


3. How can I avoid drips?  Do you have a certain technique you use when applying spray paint?

*Cough*  Ahem.  Um, yes I do.  I even made a video.  Those new to spray painting can view my beginner tips and simple painting technique.  The rest of you pros have strict instructions to avert your eyes and ears.


4. To prime or not to prime, that is the question.

Mkay, where to begin.  My rule of thumb is this.  Prime these surfaces: 1) anything  meant to go outdoors that will be exposed to moisture because you risk rust (but see below), 2) glossy surfaces, or 3) wood.  Forget everything else.  But I break that rule of thumb all the time, so what good am I to this world, I don’t know.

Here’s my reasoning why I sometimes skip primer.  Spray paints are predominately oil based paints.  You can always tell when you read the ‘cleanup’ category on the back and it says to use paint thinner or mineral spirits to clean up your spray paint.  ‘Paint thinner’ and ‘mineral spirits’ = oil based paint.  It’s that simple.

Because spray paint is oil based, I find it has a much higher adhesion than your typical latex paints.  It clings baby, and it clings well.  Hence the reason I often skip primer when working with spray paint even when recommended *gasp* because I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m being sold a product I don’t need.  But don’t quote me on that.  Raw wood loves oil based paint, it soaks it up well, so for example when I refinished this chair, I skipped the primer and went straight to spray paint and have never had a problem since.

If you’re spray painting something for the outdoors, you may want to consider priming to protect against rust, Krylon recommends it.   However, I’ve spray painted several pieces of metal outdoor furniture without priming with only spray paint specifically designed for outdoor use, and they’ve never rusted, even after years of rain and sun exposure.

One thing I do like about spray primers is they dry with a flat finish, so if you like that super matte finish in white, gray, or black, just spray your object with primer and call it a day.   Black matte primers and spray paints can make a bowl or pitcher look pretty close to Basalt, just ask Eddie.


5. What are the dangers of skipping primer when using oil based spray paint?

I haven’t ever had a problem skipping the primer with glass, metal, fiberglass, terra cotta, or plastic because of the oil based nature of spray paints mentioned above.  My only real problems arise when I skip primer with glossy or wood surfaces.  With wood or laminate, you risk the paint not sticking over time or the dreaded bubbling and cracking that can occur in certain conditions when the surface repels the paint.  Which brings us to our next question.


6. My spray paint just bubbled and cracked, and I’m freaking out.  What did I do wrong?

crackling spray paint


I have seen this happen in three circumstances.   When the temperature outside was too low, when the wood surface wasn’t primed, and when the surface wasn’t perfectly clean and free from debris.  When you read the back of a can of spray paint, it cautions you to use the paint within a certain temperature range.  That’s key.  One time when I was spray painting the curtain rod in my office, it crackled on me because it was early in the morning in December and below 50 degrees.

This most recent crackling was due to debris I forgot to clean off my drawer front.  Both debris (and sometimes lack of primer) can lead to problems.  In my experience, it happens in patches, and not across an entire surface.  Basically part of your surface is repelling the paint like a toddler refusing his green vegetables.  "Me no likey, ppphhhhhbbt!"

Don’t panic.  This little wrinkle is easily solved with oil based primer.  I recommend you keep a quart of it handy, you’ll be amazed at its adhesion, stain blocking and bonding qualities.  Zinsser primer also comes in spray version, both the red and brown can are oil based, and they’re awesome.

zinsser spray primer


So here’s what I do with a crackled surface.  I wait wait wait until the crackled spray paint is completely dry.  You’ll find the bubbles and cracks reside a bit so that it looks like dehydrated clay.  Or my forehead up close when I don’t moisturize, heh heh.

Endtable & Spray Paint 112


After you’ve allowed the spray paint to dry a full 24 hours, sand it down with some medium to fine grade sandpaper so it’s smooth, then coat it with oil based primer.  Allow that to completely dry.  Lightly sand if necessary.  Apply second coat of spray paint over the top.  You should be fine.  Spray paint takes a chill pill when layered over oil based primer.

champagne detail 2


 RustOleum has a good surface preparation guide you can read here.


7. I‘ve noticed a splotchy finish on my flat furniture surfaces.  What the heck?

krylon matte finish Yes, I’ve seen this too.  To me, it’s not necessarily a problem with paint coverage, but a weird thing that happens with the finish.  This is why I had to brush paint my bookcases in my office because the sides kept getting that splotchy look from the spray.

And yet another reason why larger pieces of furniture with flat surfaces don’t necessarily look better when spray painted.  Just my experience.

But I have found a new solution that seems to work.  I tried the Krylon ‘Matte’ finish as a final coat, and that seemed to even out the splotchy look.  It also tones down glossy paint finishes.

Krylon also has an entire series of artist’s clear coatings which I’m excited to try in the near future. They may be the perfect protective coat for white paint, fingers crossed. 


8. What’s the deal with those new nozzles?

A certain company has introduced the ‘Comfort Tip’ designed to be more spray paint user friendly.  Peeps in the SPFC (Spray Paint Fan Club), you’ll have to tell me what you think, but here’s my opinion.  {Insert granny voice}  "Them thar new fangled contraptions ain’t as good as them old fashion nozzles! " 


Yes, you heard me right.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is what I say.  I find the new flatter wider nozzles (on the right) clog and spit five times more than the old fashioned nozzles (on the left).  But it could be that the Comfort Tip gods are against me.

Bottom line, you still need that spray paint gun that you see (located in your paint department) or you’ll never be accepted into the SPFC.  I tell you the truth. ;-)


9. What’s the difference in sheen?  How do I know when to choose flat, matte, satin, gloss or lacquer?

Ah yes, the great debate.   Unfortunately, with spray paint, and unlike latex brush-on paints, the sheen is already chosen for you.  So if you’re searching for something beyond black or white, you don’t have many options other than what is already specified on the can.   The most common finishes are Satin and Gloss.  RustOleum, Krylon, and Valspar have developed their own lines of great colors, but again, you’re limited by what’s available.

That said, the sheens are what they are.  Matte is very similar to flat paint, satin is akin to an eggshell finish, and gloss is well, glossy.  Lacquer is the glossiest and shiniest of all.

bench rustoleum Image via RustOleum


10. Where’s the best place to buy spray paint?

It’s everywhere, but the retailer chooses what brands and colors to stock.  I found my most recent stash at True Value ~ I’ve been shopping there a lot lately.

I’ve also found spray paints at Home Depot, Lowes, OSH, ACE, Walmart and Michaels.  If you’re looking for a particular color or specialty paint, most of the big websites have a store locator tab so you can find what your looking for near your zip code.  Ask your retailer to order your specific paint for you if you can’t find it close by, or shop online.  If you’re really gung ho, I hear you can buy it by the case at a discount.   


11.  Why aren’t there prettier spray paint colors available?

Amen to that.  There is a limited amount of quality colors.  My most favorite to date is ‘London Gray’, a deep mushroom color used on these small dressers and RustOleum’s ‘Night Tide’ (a gorgeous deep teal) used on the lamp in my family room.   The colors I’ve used the most are RustOleum’s ‘Heirloom White’, ‘Gloss White’ and ‘Espresso’.  Both ‘Oil Rubbed Bronze’ and ‘Metallic Bronze’ are favorites too. 


blue rustoleum paints

If I won the lottery, I’d develop my own line of spray paints in the most amazing colors, but that’s a dream for another decade.  Till then, I’ll be waiting patiently by the phone for that assignment from the big producers.


12.  Tell me about specialty spray paints, the metallics, hammered and stone finishes, high heat, chalkboard and frosted species.

specialty paints


I’ve used the frosted version here and here, the chalkboard version here and here, and the plastic version here and here, all with great success.   I’ve used the high heat (brush on) here and here, but the spray version is the same formula.  Great for BBQs I understand.

Other readers feel free to chime in about your experiences with hammered or stone finishes, those I’ve never used before.

*** Reader comment update ***

"One small piece of advice to those out there looking to spray paint plastic: go Krylon Fusion.  I was at my local Lowe’s (where they don’t seem to carry Krylon) and bought Valspar plastic spray paint as an alternative. As it turns out, not all plastic spray paints are created equal… the Valspar stuff bubbled and warped, but I’ve had no problems with Krylon’s product."  ~ Sarah at Ugly Duckling House  (CG note: I’ve used Rustoleum’s version for plastic and been pleased with the results too.)

"I’ve used the textured finish on a tired metal patio set. The finish does look great but it takes an awful lot of paint to do just one chair. So now I’m mid-way through and realizing it probably would have been cheaper to buy a whole new set on clearance.  One chair takes almost 2 cans to get good coverage. Perhaps if I had primed it black first I could have used a lighter top coat.   At our old house I used the hammered finish on old radiators and they looked great, hid the bumps and unevenness really well."  ~ Sophie

"The hammered metal paints are fun to use. Temperature and moisture seem to affect how the hammered look turns out.  The stone paints look like fake stone paint, not real stone."  ~ Sarah


13.  Can I toss my empty spray paint can in the garbage?

Please don’t.  Spray paints are considered toxic waste, at least in my state, so I make it a habit to take them to the proper specialty disposal site, even if they’re technically empty, they still contain the residue.


A few unsolved mysteries:

Can you use spray paint on bathroom hardware in high moisture areas?   I’m not sure, but there are spray paints designed for outdoor use on metal, and when I hear ‘outdoor’ I hear ‘rain’ which equals moisture, so I suspect it just might work.  I haven’t seen any manufacturer advertise this, so are there any volunteers?   Whose got some shiny brass plated leftovers from the nineties?  Anyone?  Bueller?

*** Reader comment update***

A lady I worked with spray painted her old brass taps in her bathroom with Rustoleum’s hammered metal paint.. and they look fantastic!   Ass far as I know, she has never had a problem with the results.  I say – go for it!  Try it out and if it doesn’t work you are no worse off than when you started – with an ugly faucet that needs replacing."   ~ Kimberley

"We spray painted our kitchen hardware.. it was ugly brass and I wanted it to match our stainless appliances.. but didn’t want to drop the dough on new handles.  I did spray prime them.. then used some silver Rustoleum.  Worked like a charm! some of our oft used handles have had to be retouched, but its so easy to just unscrew – spray – and reattach! It’s been about 1.5 years — still going strong!  It was a cheap-o solution since we plan a major kitchen overhaul in the next few years. Why spend the $$ now?"  ~ Katie


Can spray paint cans be refilled?  Rumor has it, some hardware stores will do this for you in your paint of choice.  Can you imagine the possibilities?  I’ve never discovered a good source for this, so if any of you have, be sure to tell us where and how it can be done so we can all stampede the door.

*** Reader comment update***

"I just received my refillable spray paint can last week, but I haven’t used it yet, so I don’t know how well it works. You just fill it with thinned paint, pressurize with a bicycle pump, and spray away! It sounds too good to be true, but I do have my fingers crossed.  It’s the ‘Go Green Aluminum Rechargeable Spray Can’ available at Amazon."  ~ Leslie

"Lowe’s now offers custom mixed spray paint! That’s right, you pick the color, they mix it and some how magically put it in your standard aerosol spray can! I’m not sure the price but being able to get the perfect shade of yellow or blue is worth quite a bit in my book. I haven’t tried it yet but I’ll be sure to report back when I do! I still get goosebumps just thinking about it!   ~ Amanda


Want more answers?  Visit RustOleum’s FAQs and Valspar’s general tips for detailed information on working with spray paint.

Want to see my entire list of spray paint projects?  Check out these specific posts.

Now let the greater conversation begin.  Do you have a specific tip to share that hasn’t been mentioned?  Another question that hasn’t been raised?  I’ll try to answer follow up questions in the comments.

Have you worked with a particular spray paint product that you recommend?  Please link to your project in your own comment as well !


True Value Blog Squad legalese:  “I was one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program as well as my writing about my experience.  I have also been compensated for the materials needed for my DIY project.   However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.”



206 Responses to “Spray Paint FAQs”

  1. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Marcie, it’s fine to spray paint the metal, but not the glass.

  2. Betty819 says:

    Your blog is filled with such great information; I am in awe of it. Your home is so stunning with your choice of paint colors. I can not imagine anything painted in the grey/silver tones but you nailed it in that bedroom. It turned out so elegant ! I’ve only spray painted a few things, not any furniture but you make it seem so simple. I really don’t need any more furniture but in one room; that’s our sun room. It is used for watching tv all day long, and we eat our meals there so we have a kitchen dinette set that came from our former home that is way too large for that room. DH sits in his Lazyboy recliner all day except for meals. The chairs that go with this kitchen table/dinette set are so comfortable and has arms on them. He refuses to start using the formal dining room because he can’t watch the tv from there. I’d like to get rid of that kitchen set and make that room look like a sun room, what is’s meant to look like. Rip up the carpet and put some tile floors, repaint the room. Only trouble is the sun is in that room all day long and we have to keep the mini blinds closed or all we get are the outside reflections on the TV. I hate being closed up. What’s my solution? The walls of the Living room and formal dining room are BM Hillsborough Beige with white woodwork. This color we love and it has held up so well for over 7 years without showing a need to repaint. What color would you suggest for the sun room which is next to the formal dining room. I’d love to go tropical in that sun room. It is now Kittery point green which is the second time we painted it. Went with a blue the first time and changed it within a few weeks as it reminded us of a boy’s bedroom color. I want the colors to flow from one room to another. In the living room, we have sheers on top of the mini blind and a pretty valance on top of the sheers that is a light green/aqua color so I was wondering if I should pull that color on to that sun room. Is that considered a tropical color. I have not chosen the tile I want for the sun room floor, replacing the light beige carpet that gets a lot of soil and wear and tear. Do I wait till I chose the tile and then decide on paint color?

    I’m going to be looking for a used credenza/buffet that I try painting a white or color for 32 in. flat screen tv to set on and so I can also set plants around on it. At least that is what I am picturing in my mind. I have a collection of bird houses on a white shelf over two large windows in tha sun room. Your eye for color and your creativity is amazing. Love you blog and can’t wait to view the next article/category or subject matter. Thanks for sharing with your fans.

  3. I love this post – what a handy reference on spray paint! I’ve got this linked to my DIY painting post too today, thank you!

  4. Ali B. says:

    I sprayed some Rustoleum gold and I’m not sure what happened, but it bubbled. Weird because the temp is perfect, I primed the surface (though not with oil based primer) and since it was primed, it should have been pretty clean. Anyway, I’ll follow your instructions for fixing it. Thanks for the tips!

  5. Lori says:

    I know this is an old post but I just wanted to add that I’ve found another source for paint blistering and that is the use of Liquid Sander. My old dining chairs had been previously coated with stain and varnish (no poly) and I thought liquid sander would make the job easier – NOPE! Even though I followed the instructions to the letter, when I applied the spray paint to the de-glossed and dried wood, it blistered like I had used paint stripper. I am now in the process of sanding and priming so I can paint all over again. Wasted time and money! Hope this helps someone else to avoid my mistake.

  6. CentsationalGirl says:

    Oh no so sorry you had that experience Lori! Despite the awful outcome, I really appreciate you sharing that so others are warned.


Leave a Reply