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Decorative painting of a metal mailbox

Q. We recently purchased a new white mailbox from a box store and had our son hand painted. This was done at a pottery kiln so our son has indicated that the paint is very durable.

30442-5a   30442-5b  

With that being said, it will be a working mailbox. We live in the northeast where the weather can be very challenging. My question is, do we need to apply a coat of clear lacquer before we install it outside. If so what brand would you recommend. Also will the lacquer peel, and does it need to be reapplied on an annual basis. Thank you very much for your advice.

Andrew Downing
Homeowner - Wilton Connecticut
March 12, 2022

A. Hi Andrew. Sorry, we can't post recommendations of brands for a number of reasons ( huh? why?). But Everbrite [a supporting advertiser] makes a one-component clearcoat for things like this which in my experience does not peel or need to be periodically stripped, but can have a second layer applied when needed :-)

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
March 2022

⇩ Closely related postings, oldest first ⇩

Q. I am going to be painting on a metal mailbox. I need to know how to prep it and what type of paints are best to use. I also would like to know what to put on after I am done to prevent any peeling. I've never painted on metal before and have the simplest of resources. HELP.

Amy Gerardi
hobbyist - Greenfield Center, New York, United States

A. It's not a complicated thing, Amy. Go to the hardware store or paint store and look for the aisle of Rustoleum, or Krylon, or other consumer-oriented project paints. Find one that says it okay for metal (or has a picture of it applied to metal), in either a spray can or a small can for brush-on (your preference). The instructions on the back will tell you to scrape or sand loose paint and rust, and to wash and rinse. Just follow the instructions on the can.

I don't think you want to put anything on top of the paint, because peeling is not caused by a shrink-wrap effect breaking, it's caused by poor adhesion of the paint to the mailbox. If you get good adhesion it won't peel. Good luck.

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

Q. We have a mailbox with enamel paint (brand new) and want to repaint it. What is your recommendation for type of paint? I have seen suggestions for acrylic and latex. Does it have to be sandpapered first if there is no flaky paint?

Thank you

Stephanie Sears
- Dalton, Massachusetts

A. I'd like to mention that I just did a little project to spruce up the ol' mailbox. I just a combination of Krylon, Osh's brand, and some cheap Walmart stuff. If your going to use any of these spray paints I'd suggest getting a sanding block from 3M. Usually any ultra fine grit will do. I have a 320 grit and a 400 grit. Really if your only going to spray 1 color then you just want to knock down the "shine" or the gloss on the mail box. If you have cracking paint because of abuse and weather whipped then I'd rather go down to bare metal and spray a nice primer spray then scuff with said block and then the final coat. I just took the masking tape off of my box and I am going to level everything tomorrow afternoon with a 1000-grit then 1500-grit sandpaper. Hope some of what I just wrote is of some help to someone :) Cheers!

Simon Hernandez
- Hesperia, California, USA
February 5, 2009

One-Shot Paint

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Q. I wonder how many people have used "One Shot" on metal mailboxes? I did two like that, and the paint was really durable -- but they're oil based, with turpentine [on eBay or Amazon] cleanup. I'm looking for ideas for a waterbase durable alternative. Any suggestions?

Jeni Erickson
- Huntington Beach California
November 29, 2016


A. Hi Jeni. I now see a bit of confusion here. When people asked about painting a mailbox, I and others assumed they meant to put a coat of paint on it -- black, white, or whatever color they wanted ...

But the "One Shot" that you are talking about is "sign paint"; it's intended for lettering, multiple distinctive colors on the same piece with freedom from brush marks, etc. The blog illustrated here suggests that regular latex house paint is not as good as "One Shot", but can be used for sign painting. Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
November 2016

Q. I've seen a lot here about repainting an old mailbox in solid colors. But I'm a cartoonist and I've been asked to paint characters onto a brand-new black galvanized steel mailbox. I've done walls, cinder block and wood, but never galvanized steel. Any suggestions for how to prepare a BRAND NEW metal mailbox, and what paints to use? Should I still wipe the box down with vinegar [in bulk on eBay or Amazon]? And will acrylics adhere?

Jenny Campbell
- Chagrin Falls, Ohio
October 26, 2018


Self-Etching Primer

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A. Hi Jenny. When you say it's "black", I'm not sure whether you are saying that it's already painted black or that the galvanizing is a rather dark color. If it's already painted you don't need to worry about the underlying galvanizing; the people who painted it black already did that.

But if it's bare galvanizing, it won't hurt to wash it down with diluted vinegar, but you must apply a primer designed for galvanizing. Galvanized surfaces turn alkyd paints to soap and they peel right off.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
October 2018

October 26, 2018

Q. Here's a photo of the new (black) mailbox I've been asked to paint!


Wondering if this has already been painted, or if I still need to do something to it to paint cartoons on it. And, what type of paint should I use? I usually work with acrylics. Will acrylics work on this? Thanks, Ted!

Jenny Campbell - Chagrin Falls, Ohio [returning]


A. Hi Jenny, sorry for the delay. That mailbox may or may not be galvanized before it was painted or powder coated, but that won't affect you because your paint needs to adhere to that paint/powder; it won't contact the galvanizing itself.

It's a truism that in our modern age where people are constantly trying to make cheaper finishes look like more expensive finishes, it is difficult to know what a finish actually is even by looking at it in person, let alone looking at a picture. But I think this is a wrinkle finish powder coating and is probably polyester because that is what is generally used for outdoor exposure. If so, I think your acrylics will be fine (although I don't know how lightfast they are for outdoor use, but you probably do).

What would concern me is that if this mailbox is actually a thick heavy thermoplastic coating like PVC or Teflon, other paints might not adhere ... but I don't think it is because that probably wouldn't work well on something with a hinged area like that mailbox.

The following is based on guesses, extrapolation, and book knowledge, not practical experience, but I think very lightly rubbing it with flour pumice is the best way to remove any dirt, oils, or whatever. But pumice will probably slightly reduce the shine, so do the whole mailbox for consistency or only do it under your graphic. Use warm water and a little dish detergent to wet the pumice; don't use oil. Or just paint it as-is and hope for the best.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
November 2018

November 15, 2018

thumbs up sign Thanks, Ted, for your expertise! I may just go ahead and give it a try as is and, as you say, hope for the best! My client's very reasonable, so I'll tell her if it chips off, I'll come get it and try something else!
Thanks again!!!

Jenny Campbell - Chagrin Falls, Ohio [returning]


Q. I live in a gated community with very nice (cast iron?) mailboxes that need new paint. I have before and after pictures of a couple of mailboxes.

30442-2b   30442-2a  

In order to get the glossy look, what prep and what type of paint would you suggest for Georgia?

Tom Schulte
- Gainesville, Georgia
May 13, 2019

May 16, 2019

A. You should do a good prep job on the old paint. Give it a good scrub with a stiff brush, and use sandpaper to smooth if necessary.

After that, any gloss black advertised for outdoor use will work. Rust Oleum is a popular brand, but there are others. Ask where you buy your paint.

jeffrey holmes
Jeffrey Holmes, CEF
Spartanburg, South Carolina

Q. I have an old postal collection box that has been out in the weather for some time. I would like to paint it red and use it in our community as a collection box for children's letters to Santa. Could you please offer tips on the refinishing process? Can I use an electric sander to remove rust? And do I need to put some type of primer on before painting it red? Finally, what type of paint should be used? Once it has been refinished, it will not be kept in the weather. Many thanks for any suggestions you may have!

Barron Hite
- Sumter, South Carolina USA
October 8, 2019

October 2019

naval jelly

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A. Hi Barron. You can use an electric sander but it's a lot of work. Removal of loose rust with a wire brush, followed by naval jelly (rust converter [on eBay or Amazon] ), then your red paint should be more than adequate for out of the weather use. Merry Christmas.


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

thumbs up sign  Thanks for your help! I am painting a fine art picture of birds on a brand new black (painted) metal mailbox . The artwork how to is set u for painting on masonite so I didn’t know what to do. Because I live in NH, I will try acrylic with a sprau on finish. I will let you know how it works out after a winter in the weather.

Joey pearson
- Manchester, New Hampshire
January 7, 2020

Q. Hi! Thought it was time to add a 2021 question to this thread! Received a vintage postbox from my sister today with a request to paint it black with white accents.


Not sure how to begin or what type of paint to use. I can see using Krylon might be the way to go, but how to paint the raised designs might be tricky. Your suggestions would be so appreciated! Box will be outdoors, but under cover. Thanks!

MJ Schmidt
Painter - LAKEWOOD [NY]
August 6, 2021

A. Hi Judy. Yes, black outdoor spray paint for metal is probably the right base. My guess is that the white paint was originally factory done with a roll-coater adjusted such that the roll did not touch the flat metal sheet but was raised a small fraction of an inch so it only touched the raised areas.

Maybe you could temporarily make "rails" made of multiple layers of masking tape or something similar, then run a small foam or short nap roller for the white paint along those rails to maintain that tiny gap so the roller can't touch the flat area. Let us know what you do and how it works out.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
August 2021

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