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How to Paint a Metal File Cabinet

If you have an old metal filing cabinet on hand and you’re thinking about throwing it out, you might want to consider doing something else with it instead. When considering all of the options of what you can do with an old rusty metal file cabinet, you might be surprised at the answers available to you.

How to paint a metal file cabinet? The best way to paint a metal file cabinet is to remove the drawers before anything else. Next, remove old rust from the metal file cabinet by using sandpaper and applying rust primer before painting. Finally, you can use a metal primer spray paint to paint a metal file cabinet.

Nowadays, filing cabinets are found in both homes and offices. And since older ones can be found at second-hand stores, some occasionally on the side of the road, you can pick one up and bring it home to restore it. In this post, let’s explore how to paint a metal file cabinet and breathe new life into old office equipment.

We hope you love our tips & how-tos. Office Solution Pro is supported by its readers. This post may contain affiliate links. We may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Can You Paint a Metal File Cabinet?

Of course, you may think it isn’t possible to actually paint a metal file cabinet, but the good news is that you can do so quite easily. In fact, all you need are a few basic tools and products, and you’re off to creating a literal masterpiece.

Indeed, you can get very creative when painting and decorating a metal file cabinet, so enjoying something unique and extraordinary when you’re finished is not difficult.

In fact, you don’t even have to use the file cabinet for that purpose if you don’t want to. Refurbished file cabinets make great decorative end tables and shelves, and you can make them as basic or as fancy as you like. Even file cabinets that are rusty can be renovated into something beautiful if you know how to do it.

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What Kind of Paint Do You Use on a Metal Filing Cabinet?

Painting a metal file cabinet isn’t difficult, but you will need a rust-resistant spray paint. Most people find it isn’t practical to use a paint brush because it simply takes too long to paint something this size, so choose a spray paint instead. Additionally, an all-in-one paint & primer works best when painting a metal file cabinet.

There are products made for metal items that also offer a rust-resistant feature, and you’ll be surprised by how many colors they have available. If you’re looking for the best option that offers a wide selection of colors with a beautiful finish, check out this Universal Metallic Spray Paint that offers easy application.

How to Paint a Metal File Cabinet

1. Protect Your Floor

To get started, put some drop cloth or old newspaper down and place the file cabinet on top of it so that your floor is protected. You’ll want to do this even if you’re in the garage or backyard. Be sure that the area you are in is well-ventilated to be safe. This simple step is important for the remainder of the process.

2. Remove the Drawers

After the file cabinet is on top of the drop cloth or old newspaper, remove all of the drawer handles and any other type of hardware and just set them aside for later.

If there is any hardware on your cabinet that cannot be removed, simply cover it with painter’s tape so it is protected once you start spray painting. In most cases, you won’t want to spray paint the hardware.

If you like, you can remove the drawers at this point, especially if you want them to be a different color than the rest of the cabinet. Even if you plan for them to come out the same color, it’s still best to remove the drawers because your spray painting will be more even and efficient by doing them separately.

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3. Clean and Dry the File Cabinets Thoroughly

At this point, you’ll want to thoroughly clean and dry the filing cabinet. If there are rust spots, sand them with sandpaper until they are as smooth as possible. You also might need to treat the rust spots with a rust primer. This isn’t a necessity, but it helps to get rid of the rust stains and keep them away.

One more thing: When you’re sanding the file cabinet, start with sandpaper that has a coarse grit to make sure you get rid of as many of the rust spots as possible. Afterward, you can use one with a finer grip to smooth things out a little. This is the best way to sand metal objects, such as file cabinets.

4. Pretreat the Metal Cabinet

Once the metal file cabinet is cleaned, dried, sanded, and the spots have been pretreated with a rust primer, you can spray-paint the entire cabinet with a metal primer. These metal primers are super easy to find at hardware and home-improvement stores. You can even buy them online.

While metal paint primer is not always a requirement, it is always recommended, especially if the metal will come into contact with moisture. Additionally, the primer is a very important step because it helps the paint stick better and remain in good shape for years to come. It also helps prevent those pesky rust spots from coming back in the future.

Don’t forget to pay close attention to the instructions on all of the products you’re using, especially the metal primer. These primers sometimes take a long time to dry, so make sure you give yours enough time to dry thoroughly before you move on to the final step.

5. Start Painting

Finally, you are ready for the paint itself. It’s best to choose a spray paint that offers rust protection because it is always possible for the metal to rust in future months and years. When you apply the coats, ensure that (1) you apply them very thin and evenly and (2) you apply a minimum of two to three coats.

Once again, you have to let each coat dry for the proper amount of time to get a clean look in the end.

You should also let each coat dry completely before you apply the next one, and when you’re finished with all of the coats, you’re going to be amazed at what this formerly rust-filled, worn-out file cabinet now looks like.

After you’re finished with the metal file cabinet itself, you can go to the drawers and do the same thing to them. You can even paint or decorate the entire cabinet afterward to make it more decorative if you like.

Taking an old file cabinet and making it look new isn’t difficult because it is not complicated. The supplies are inexpensive as well, so it won’t cost a fortune for you to get a beautiful metal file cabinet once the job is complete. Just make sure you use rust-resistant products so that the cabinet looks attractive in the end.

Finishing Up

And there you go, a simple guide on how to paint a metal file cabinet. Renovating old file cabinets can be a lucrative hobby, especially if you learn to be creative and create unique designs with different colors. This is yet another of the many advantages of learning how to paint and redo a tired, worn-out filing cabinet. 🙂

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