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topic 30442

What paint do I use on a metal mailbox?

A discussion started in 2004 but continuing through 2018


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, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
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

February 5, 2009

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

One-Shot Paint

November 29, 2016

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 cleanup. I'm looking for ideas for a waterbase durable alternative. Any suggestions?

Jeni Erickson
- Huntington Beach California

November 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
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"

October 26, 2018

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? And will acrylics adhere?

Jenny Campbell - Chagrin Falls, Ohio

Latex Self-Etching Primer

October 2018

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
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"

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]

November 2018

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
Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live "Aloha"

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]

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