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Can I paint a walk-in cooler?

Q. I bought a True bottle cooler and the interior is stained and has a little rust. I believe it is galvanized. Can I coat it with a rubberized paint without affecting the cooling ability.
Rich Ritter
- Mayer, Minnesota
January 18, 2021

A. Hi Rich. The general answer would seem to be that if the cooling comes from circulation of cooled air and you're not blocking that circulation, applying an insulating rubberized paint to the walls doesn't interfere with the cooling ability.

But I think you should use a Galvanized Metal Primer [affil links] first, which is probably a latex; alkyd paints react with galvanizing to form a zinc soap which makes the paints peel off, as you've probably seen many times.

Luck & Regards,
pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
January 2021

January 19, 2021

A. Hi Rich!
My addition to this advice is to be prepared to look for a sanitizing solution that is safe for the particular coating that you plan to use, or a coating that is designed to stand up to common sanitizers. You're going from a hard surface to a soft and possibly slightly porous one, so you'll have to clean it more frequently without damaging it. I bartended for 20 years and the rusty old galvanized beer cooler was always a DELIGHT to keep clean (said with a hearty dose of sarcasm).

January 19, 2021
Rachel Mackintosh
- Greenfield, Vermont
Lab Rat and former long-time bar manager with an intense dislike of cleaning spilled bloody Mary mix out of drop-in coolers ;)

⇩ Closely related postings, oldest first ⇩

Q. I own a couple of pizza restaurants called Papa Joe's Pizza and would like to paint the aluminum walk-in cooler the colors of the high school next door. I actually messed up the walls of the cooler by thinking they were stainless steel and used oven cleaner [on eBay or Amazon]--ouch--black mess! The school colors idea is just a cover up (no pun intended)! So I really need some help. No bad weather conditions to worry about.
Mama Joe
pizza - Dripping Springs, Texas

A. None of us can answer that. Should you, probably. How to: Go to a real paint store and get a primer made for aluminum. Wash the cooler with an abrasive pad (not steel wool) with a little TSP [trisodium phosphate [on eBay or Amazon]] from a wallpaper store. Rinse, dry, prime and paint. Make sure that the primer and the paint are compatible. Spray is optimal. If you roll, use a short nap roller.
James Watts
- Navarre, Florida

A. You can paint the inside of your cooler. first you need to check with your local health codes and make a decision from there. To paint it you would use a moisture cured urethane and a similar product for another finish coat. On the other hand if health codes will not permit that, they do change from location to location, you can go in and lightly sand all corners and walls install and install rfp covering. RFP will pass just about all health codes nationally.
James Finley
- Austin, Texas, United States
June 7, 2011

Q. How does one tell if the construction is galvanized steel or aluminum and is there a difference in what kind of paint to use for a walk in cooler according to what construction material used.
Bob Burns
- Trucksville, Pennsylvania, USA
November 26, 2011

A. Hi, Bob.

A magnet will quickly reveal whether the metal is aluminum or steel. While the ideal treatment for aluminum involves chromates, these are not very suitable for amateur application or for a food location anyway, and a galvanized primer should be fine for aluminum as well. Good luck.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
November 28, 2011

White spots in Walk-In Cooler

Q. I sometimes clean walk-in coolers for customers. I notice that there are whitish looking spots on the surface before and after cleaning. Is this an indication that the manufacturer's finish is wearing off? And is there a way to get it all looking like new again? Is there a clear coating you can spray on or what?
James wright
- New Cumberland Pennsylvania USA
April 21, 2017

A. Hi James. Galvanizing is a functional finish rather than a decorative one, and it gains most of its corrosion resistance from a slow reaction with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Avoiding white rust is difficult in an enclosed space or one where condensation collects. You can paint it but you probably won't successfully clearcoat it because the paint must be a 'self-etching primer' and it's hard to make such a coating transparent and decorative.

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

Q. If I use a galvanized primer in the walk-in cooler does that mean I can use latex over it or is there a special paint I have to use as well or just anything compatible?
Victoria Trahan
Interior Designer - Flatonia,Texas Usa
November 14, 2017

A. Hi Victoria. The primer is probably already latex, and other latex paint will probably be fine once you have a good adherent layer of primer in place.

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
November 2017

Q. Can I paint a stainless steel storage rack and place it in the walk-in chiller?
Mahesh babu
- Khobar , Saudi arabia
April 10, 2018

A. Hi Mahesh. That's pretty vague, but I suppose so.

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

April 11, 2018

A. You should be very careful if using solvent based paint in an enclosed space, particularly if the ambient temperature is high. You live in a hot climate.
In general, paints do not adhere well to stainless and the finish is much less durable than uncoated stainless.
geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England

Q. The walk-in door was originally painted white from the manufacturer and after 57 years of use the paint has worn down the the metal, what do you recommend I do to repaint just the door? And what kind of primers and paint do you recommend, the best products for food use?
Franki verardi
- Windsor Ontario Canada
September 19, 2020

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