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Decorative Painting of Galvanized Steel Garbage Cans


Q. I have used galvanized garbage cans for decorative painting. My previous preparation consisted of "degreasing" and sanding. I have read the information about preparing new galvanized steel products, but still have questions about this.

I have had several requests to do projects for other people, but I do not want the product to start peeling. I used Rustoleum spray paint previously. My can has been indoors for 5 years and is holding up ok, but I am aiming for better than ok, if I give it to someone else. It is only a hobby, so purchasing specialized equipment is probably out of the question. Also sanding 20 pound garbage cans is a challenge even with an electric sander.

1. Do manufacturers of garbage cans use the same preparation?
2. What is pre-galvanized steel? Does this mean there will be no finish on it?
3. Is there an alternative to sanding?
4. How toxic are the galvanized primers?
5. I use my can to store dry dog food? Can anyone suggest another large container that can be decoratively painted that has an easier preparation?


Patricia Morin
- Woodbridge, Virginia

"Handbook of Hot Dip Galvanization"
by Maass & Peissker

on AbeBooks

or eBay or


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A. Hi Patricia. A manufacturer can use any preparation he wants, so we could be wrong to say they all use the same. However, they probably all use hot-dipped zinc followed by chromate conversion coating because there seems to be little reason to do different.

I have never painted galvanized myself, but it has been reported here that you can successfully clean it with a trisodium phosphate [on eBay or Amazon] solution and a scrub brush [on eBay or Amazon]. While some say that there is no good way to paint galvanized steel, old galvanizing gets repainted often enough and successfully enough that I think what would work for your application is a Galvanized Metal Primer [affil links] after the scrubbing with TSP. Then you can use a decorative top coat. But never use alkyd paint as a primer / first coat on galvanizing as this saponifies (forms a soap) and the paint will peel right off. Latex is a better bet. Best of luck.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Q. I have a similar dilemma. I am needing to paint three large galvanized feed troughs (also for someone else) that will be used as outdoor planters in an entryway. I was told to wipe the whole surface down with vinegar [in bulk on eBay or Amazon], let it dry completely, wipe off any residue and then prime with an oil based paint. Theoretically, the vinegar should act as an acid etching to remove the coating and make the paint stick. Anyone w/experience have comments or testimonials? I really don't want to give her something that will ruin or degrade in a short period of time.

Hillary Smith
- Petaluma, California

A. Hi Hillary. Yes, vinegar can be used as an etchant in lieu of self-etching primer. The same "rules" apply: scrubbing with TSP to remove any grease or oil before the vinegar, and no alkyd paints on bare galvanizing.


Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
November 2012

A. I also paint as a hobby. I paint the cans with a gripper primer that adheres to shiny surfaces. I will start to clean them with vinegar first after reading this forum. I then use outdoor water based varnish and that works very well.

Monica Tolin
- Morganton, North Carolina

Decorating Painted Galvanized Garbage Cans

Q. I want to paint my galvanized garbage cans that hold my bird seed. I would like to decorate over the paint with flowers or sunflowers etc, but I have no painting talent. Are there any kind of transfers that one can put on and then 'seal'

Pat Hammons
- Martinsburg, West Virginia
September 11, 2019

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