In the eyes of many people, brass is a thing of beauty. But if you’re like some others, you’re just not a fan of brass. Sure, you like the shape and style of the object; it’s just the color that’s not doing it for you. If that’s the case, there’s a decent chance one question has popped into your mind: Can you paint brass?
Painting brass is an option as long as you prepare the surface properly before you get started. Along with a thorough cleaning and potentially a light sanding, you’ll need to use the right primer. If you do that, you can use nearly any paint on brass pieces.
If you’re trying to find the answer to “Can you paint brass?” here’s everything you need to know, including a thorough step-by-step process you can follow.
Can You Paint Brass?
Yes, you can paint over brass. However, you have to use the right approach to ensure the paint sticks to the brass piece. Metal pieces are typically slick, making it harder for the paint to adhere. Plus, coatings on the brass may prevent the paint from sticking correctly. Fortunately, all of that can be overcome.
At a minimum, the brass needs a thorough cleaning and a coat of primer. In some cases, a bit of sanding might be necessary, too. However, that isn’t always the case.
For lacquered brass, there’s even more work involved. Getting paint to stick to lacquer is often difficult. Adhesion issues will occur if the lacquer isn’t properly addressed or prepped, giving you less-than-ideal results.
Do You Need to Clean the Surface Before Painting Brass?
Cleaning the surface before you attempt to paint brass is essential. You need to make sure that the piece is free of dirt, grime, and debris. Otherwise, there could be issues when you paint. The buildup may clump, creating bumps or leading to an uneven surface. Plus, dirt can harm paint adhesion, causing the paint to flake off in relatively short order.
In most cases, you’ll want to use a grease-fighting cleanser when you clean. Something as simple as dish soap may work, though you might need to turn to rubbing alcohol or another cleaning agent if the dirt and grime are built up.
However, if there are any signs of tarnishing or corrosion, you’ll have to go the extra mile during the cleaning step. Addressing tarnish or corrosion is essential if you want the paint to go on evenly and stick correctly.
If you’re dealing with any corrosion, you might need a commercial tarnish remover, some steel wool, or both to get the brass ready for painting. That way, you can remove all of the corrosion and tarnish before you begin.
Do You Have to Sand Before Painting Brass?
Generally speaking, you don’t have to sand before painting brass, depending on how you cleaned the piece. If you had to use a tarnish remover and some steel wool to remove corrosion, then sanding isn’t usually necessary. The roughness of the steel wool does a good job of scuffing the brass surface, so just make sure you use it across the entire piece.
If you didn’t have any tarnish that needed removing, then lightly sanding the piece with fine-grit sandpaper isn’t a bad idea. It creates a better surface for the primer, ensuring it sticks properly when applied. However, that might be unnecessary if you’re using a primer designed to adhere to the metal without sanding.
Is Primer Required When Painting Brass?
In most cases, a primer is required if you’re painting brass. Getting many paints to stick correctly to metal is challenging. By using a primer, you’re giving the paint an excellent surface, making adhesion issues far less likely.
The only exception tends to the paints that are specifically designed for metal. With those, you may be able to skip the primer. However, using a primer is typically the smarter move, even if it isn’t necessary. Again, primer gives you a clean, even surface to work with, ensuring the final result after painting is just what you imagined.
How to Paint Brass
The simplest answer to “Can you paint brass?” is “yes.” However, using the correct approach is necessary if you want the paint to stick correctly. Here’s a step-by-step process for painting brass.
1. Put on Safety Equipment
Putting on a mask, eye protection, and gloves is essential for all painting projects. Since you’re painting brass, it not only protects you from the paint; it also ensures that small metal scrapings created during the scuffing or sanding process can’t get into your eyes, lungs, or skin.
2. Test for Brass vs. Brass Plating
Just because an item has a brass surface doesn’t mean it’s entirely brass. Instead, it could be brass plating over another material, usually an underlying metal like zinc or steel.
The main reason you’ll want to determine if it’s brass or brass-plated is that layers of brass plating can be surprisingly thin. You may need to adjust your surface prep approach if you’re dealing with brass plating, ensuring you use a lighter touch along the way.
There are two main ways to test for brass vs. brass-plating. First, you can place a magnet against the piece to see if it sticks. Pure brass isn’t magnetic, so the magnet won’t stay in place if you let go. However, some underlying metals can be magnetic. If it sticks, you know it isn’t pure brass.
Second, you can do a scratch test. Find a spot on the piece that’s a bit hidden and scratch it to see what color is revealed. If it’s still a shiny yellow, you’re probably dealing with solid brass. If it’s another color – like gray, white, or silvery – you’ve got a brass-plated piece.
3. Remove Tarnish or Corrosion
If there are signs of tarnish or corrosion, you’ll need to address that first. In most cases, you should start by using steel wool to clean away any corrosion as a starting point. Along with tackling the tarnish, use the steel wool across the whole piece to scuff the surface, ensuring it’s ready for priming.
When you use steel wool, make sure to keep your touch light if you have a brass-plated piece. Since steel wool is rough, you could scratch all of the way through the plating if you’re too aggressive. With that in mind, you may be better off using a tarnish remover designed for brass plating specifically, ensuring you don’t accidentally remove the brass plating during this step.
Similarly, if the steel wool isn’t working well on the corrosion on a pure brass piece, you can use a commercial tarnish remover. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
4. Scuff the Piece (Optional)
If you don’t need to use steel wool to clean away tarnish or corrosion, you’ll want to lightly sand the piece using fine-grit sandpaper. That way, the surface isn’t as smooth, making it easier for the paint to stick.
Again, if you’re dealing with brass plating, use a light touch. Even gentle scuffing helps the paint adhere. Plus, that softer approach ensures you don’t take off too much of the plating.
5. Clean the Brass Thoroughly
After you’ve dealt with any tarnish or corrosion and scuffed the surface, it’s time for a thorough cleaning. You’ll want to use a cleanser that’s designed to cut through grease and grime.
If the piece isn’t too dirty, some grease-fighting dish soap and water may be enough. Use a soft, lint-free cloth to wipe down the item, paying particular attention to any spots with built-up dirt or grime.
If the dish soap isn’t tough enough to clean the piece, you may want to move to a stronger degreaser or rubbing alcohol. Both of those options can remove stubborn grime, ensuring you’re working with a clean surface.
Once you have the dirt tackled, wipe it down with a damp, clean rag. Then, let it dry completely.
6. Apply the Primer
Applying a coat or two of primer gives you a better surface for the paint, ensuring it sticks correctly and the color is even in the end. You’ll want to choose the right primer for the job. Since metal is a challenging surface to work with, going with a self-etching or bonding primer is your best bet.
In most cases, you’ll want to apply a thin, even coat of primer to the piece. If you don’t get full coverage in a single pass, then add a second coat after the first one dries, following the manufacturer’s directions regarding the timing.
Once the primer is on, let it dry either based on the manufacturer’s directions or for 24 hours. That way, you can ensure it’s fully cured before you begin painting.
7. Paint the Piece
After applying the primer and letting it dry, it’s time to paint. Again, you’ll want to apply thin, even coats as you work. If you don’t get full coverage in a single pass, it’s better to wait for the initial coat to dry and add a second coat than to overload the piece with paint. If you’re too heavy-handed, you could end up with runs and drips. With thinner coats, you won’t have that issue.
Check the manufacturer’s instructions regarding how long to wait between coats. Then, apply the second layer. In most cases, a total of two to three coats of paint handles most pieces, though you may need more depending on how thin they’re applied and the final look you’re after.
8. Let the Piece Dry Completely
Once you have the last coat of paint on, you’ll want to let the piece dry completely before you begin using it in any way. In most cases, that means waiting around 24 hours. However, you can check the manufacturer’s directions to see if that product has a different drying time.
Can You Spray Paint Brass?
Yes, spray painting brass is an option. If the piece you’re working with is particularly ornate, it may be the preferred approach, ensuring you can get an even layer of paint in the nooks and crannies with greater ease.
As with other paints, you’ll want to follow the process above. Cleaning, scuffing, and priming are essential for practically any kind of paint you’ll use. However, if you choose a spray paint designed for metal that explicitly states sanding or priming isn’t required, you may be able to skip those steps. Just be aware that doing them anyway could lead to a better result.
Can You Paint Over Lacquered Brass?
If you have lacquered brass, you’ll need to remove the lacquer if you want to paint the piece. Otherwise, the paint won’t adhere correctly.
Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to deal with the lacquer. The easiest option for smaller brass items is to get a large pot with enough water to cover the piece. Add one tablespoon of baking soda per quart of water, then bring it to a boil, occasionally stirring to ensure the baking soda dissolves.
Once it reaches a rolling boil, carefully put the brass piece in the water. Let it boil for 15 minutes and remove the item using tongs or another tool. Let the brass cool. Then, you can usually peel the lacquer off. Just repeat the process if necessary to deal with stubborn spots.
Otherwise, you may want to use a varnish remover. Simply check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you’re using it correctly, as it does involve potent chemicals and can be dangerous if done improperly.
Best Paint for Brass
Technically, you can use any paint on brass if you prepare it properly and use the correct primer. Both oil-based and water-based paints will work if compatible with the primer. Depending on the final look you’re after, you could also try acrylic, enamel, or chalk paint.
However, while you can use whatever kind of paint you’d like in many cases, some options may be better fits for specific circumstances. Since oil-based paints are tough and durable, they’re a good choice for high-touch pieces. The paint resists scratching and wear, ensuring the piece looks its best longer.
For moderate or lighter use items, water-based could be a great choice. It dries faster, usually costs less, and isn’t as toxic, so you may prefer it if you don’t need to worry as much about durability.
One exception to using any paint you want is if you’re dealing with a high-heat item. If the brass is subjected to high temperatures, you want to choose a paint designed to deal with the heat.
Additionally, if a piece is especially ornate, going with spray paint over a brush-on option could be best. You’ll want an easier time getting full coverage and can get a smoother finish.
If you’re struggling to choose paint, focusing on quality first is usually your best bet. Here are two options that are worth considering.
Do You Need to Seal Painted Brass?
Technically, you don’t need to seal painted brass. However, sealing it does add a protective clear coat to the piece. That may help the paint remain in good shape longer or could give you a chance to alter the sheen of the paint after it’s applied and dry.
Generally, sealing painted brass is simple. Your best bet is to use a spray-on protective clear coat. It’s easy to apply evenly and is available in a range of sheens. Just make sure you select the level of gloss that’s right for your project, as it will replace the shine of the paint with whatever sheen is built into the clear coating.
As with painting, you’ll want to apply a thin, even coat of the clear coat. Then, follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding drying times and the number of coats required for reliable protection.
Can You Paint Brass Fireplace Doors?
Yes, you can paint brass fireplace doors. However, you need to choose a primer and paint designed for high heat.
You can find brush-on and spray paint made specifically to deal with high temperatures. In most cases, they’re also designed to adhere to the metal without much issue, as metal is one of the few materials routinely found in high-heat environments.
Are There Brass Items You Shouldn’t Paint?
Generally, you shouldn’t paint brass if the piece is electrical in nature. Painting might harm the conductive effectiveness of certain electric items, such as lamps. Unless the brass is purely aesthetic, you may want to leave it as is on electrical items.
Additionally, painting brass used for eating or drinking isn’t a smart move. Most paints aren’t food-safe, so painting the brass means you can’t use the piece for its original purpose. However, if the goal is to create a display piece and never use it for eating or drinking, painting it is fine.
If you were asking yourself, “Can you paint brass?” you should have your answer now. If you use the right approach and properly prepare the metal, painting brass is typically an option. Plus, you can use nearly any type of paint as long as it aligns with the primer you select.
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