How to Paint Metal File Cabinets and Lockers

newly painted metal cabinet for decor how to paint metal cabinets

Re-purposing or sprucing up metal cabinets is a trendy way to add unique pieces to your home. Want to try out this cool trend? Keep reading to find out how to paint metal cabinets, file cabinets, and even lockers.

The ​Best Paint for Metal Cabinets

You have your project, but now you need paint. What is the best paint for metal cabinets?

​Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is the popular choice for painters. This is because it is water based. It is easy to clean up with water. However, once it dries it becomes water resistant to protect your painted surfaces.

In order for the acrylic paint to stick, you will need to sand the surface first (more on this below). You will also need to use a primer.

​Chalk Paint

Versatile and striking, chalk paint is the ultimate paint for avid DIYers. No prep needed on your surfaces for this paint to stick. For chalk paint you will need to add wax or some type of ​finish​ after the coats have dried to seal the surface.

If you are chalk painting an indoor item that won’t come into contact with any water or other elements, you can forgo the wax to have a matte finish.

acrylic oil based paint tubes for painting metal cabinets

​Spray Paint

Spray paint is the ultimate in painting with ease. For spray painting metals, you will want to clean the surface well and then use a sander to smooth the entire area you want to spray paint.

​Similar to using epoxy for painting porcelain surfaces, you will want to use a spray paint metal primer for metal surfaces. Make sure that it says metal primer so your paint does not chip.

The biggest difference between the three is that chalk paint will not require a primer. Unless you're using a ​good sprayer for interior walls, regular ​spray paint in a can is much quicker when it comes to applying and drying time. There is really no wrong choice. It comes down to the finalized project look and how much time you want to invest into the painting project.

Now that you have an idea of what the best paints for metal cabinets are, you can gather the rest of your supplies and get ready to paint.

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​How to Paint Metal Cabinets

The first step you will want to take when you are learning how to paint metal cabinets with acrylic paint is to ​protect your surfaces​.

If you are painting indoors, make sure the floor and walls are covered. Newspaper, painter’s tarps, and painter’s tape are great for catching splashes and drips of paint while you are busy being Picasso.

Once your surfaces are covered, follow these steps to paint your metal cabinets.

  • 1
    ​Clean the metal cabinets with soap and water to get rid of dirt, dust, and grime.
  • 2
    ​Sand your metal cabinets with a 220 or 320 grit. Make sure you remove all rust and smooth the surface.
  • 3
    ​Apply your metal primer and allow it to dry completely.
  • 4
    ​Paint the first coat. You can use a foam or bristled brush.
  • 5
    ​Let it dry completely and then follow up with the second coat of paint.
  • 6
    ​Once the second coat is dry you can decide to repeat this step and add a third or fourth coat.
  • 7
    ​Once you are happy with the color, allow your cabinets to completely dry and then put away your supplies.

If you are painting a large space of cabinets, you won’t have to wait long in between coats since they will dry as you continue to paint. Use thin coats to help it dry quicker and keep an even look.

​You should also make sure that your metal cabinets are in perfect condition purpose wise before working on them, so that means taking out your sockets from their organizers and ​ensuring everything's good to go.

​How to Paint Metal File Cabinets

​File cabinets are not just for dull offices. You can brighten up your home and use them in ​unexpected ways to store things​. Learning how to paint a metal file cabinet is simple and can be done in a few hours, depending on how many coats you apply.

Before you begin painting, pull the drawers all the way out. Clean the entire file cabinet. Soap and water is best to get rid of any dirt and grime build up.

Skip sanding the entire file cabinet when you opt to paint ​with chalk paint. Just make sure there is no rust that needs to be sanded and removed before painting.

Chalk paint does not need a primer, so go ahead and dive into painting. You can use a brush or pour your chalk paint mixture into a paint sprayer to speed up the applying and drying process.

You will need to apply at least three coats, sometimes more depending on how the chalk paint dries. Once you have achieved the right color, you will want to ​apply chalk paint wax​ to seal in the paint. The wax will give off a faint sheen to the overall effect.

Apply the wax in small sections. Buff it off after a few minutes. It is suggested to apply a second coat of wax and buff it off again. You do not need to wait between wax coats when you are applying it.

​How to Paint Metal Lockers

Vintage metal lockers make great ​entryway or kid’s room storage​. You can customize the metal lockers to fit your home decor or give them a pop of color to stand out.

For painting metal lockers, your best result may come from spray paint. This will ensure paint gets into all the tight corners and crevices.

Remember to use the right method when it comes to spray painting. Keep the spray paint continually moving while the nozzle is down. Work in straight lines that flow back and forth across the project.

You could follow these same steps for painting your very own gun safe or cabinet.

newly painted metal cabinet for decor how to paint metal cabinets

Two coats of spray paint should be enough. However, you can add a third if needed. When your metal lockers are completely dry, you can move and secure them into place.


Now that you know how to paint metal cabinets, you can get out there and bring new life to drab and dull metal pieces.