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How to Paint a Metal Filing Cabinet?

How to paint a metal filing cabinet

How to Paint a Metal Filing Cabinet? If you are tired of your dull and plain filing cabinet and want to bring some color and creativity to it, you are at the right place. A plain metal filing cabinet can be changed into an aesthetic piece of furniture by simply painting it with a new color.
The process of painting a metal filing cabinet is quite delicate but it can be made easier with the right tools and techniques. In this article, therefore, we are providing you with a step-by-step process of painting the metal filing cabinet and transforming its overall look.

Materials Required

Once we decide to renovate our metal cabinet ourselves, the next thing that comes to our mind is “how to paint a metal filing cabinet?”. To paint a metal filing cabinet, you need to have the following materials:

  • A piece of cloth
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint
  • Paintbrush/ paint spray/ paint roller
  • Old newspapers
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Face Mask

Once you have gathered the required materials, let’s jump into the process of painting the metal filing cabinet.

How to Paint a Metal Filing Cabinet?

Here is the step-by-step process of painting a metal filing cabinet.

1. Prepare the Space

First of all, prepare the space in which you want to paint the metal filing cabinet so that surrounding objects and surfaces remain protected. Spread some old pieces of clothes, newspapers, or cardboard on the floor before carrying out the paint job.

Cover the office chair, computer, lamp, and other costly equipment with a piece of cloth so that it remains protected from getting any paint marks. This will be more relevant in case you want to spray paint metal file cabinets as spray paints can destroy things from far off as well.

Also, it is highly recommended to paint the filing cabinet in a properly ventilated room as aerosol-based spray paints can cause respiratory problems. Moreover, wear gloves and a safety mask to protect yourself from the vapors or mist of the paint.

2. Dismantle the Hardware Parts

Next, you have to remove all the hardware components such as knobs, locks and handles from the cabinet. It would not only allow you to paint more easily but also helps in protecting the hardware components from any damage. In case you are unable to remove hardware parts, cover them with masking tape so that they remain protected from any stains.

3. Clean the Metal Surface

In the next step, remove the dust and dirt from the metal cabinet using a piece of a damp cloth. You can also use a soft brush or a small vacuum cleaner for removing the dust. Also removed any extra labels and stickers from the surface of the cabinet.

Smoothing the surface with sandpaper is also critical for giving an even and clear finish to the paint. It helps in removing the previous coating of the paint and ensures that the new coating sticks perfectly to the surface.

It also removes any oil or grease from the surface. Before proceeding to the next step, allow the surface of the metal filing cabinet to completely dry out.

4. Apply Primer

Next, apply a thin coat of primer on the surface of the metal filing cabinet as it helps in covering the bare metal spots. Applying primer also allows the paint to stick well to the metal surface. You can either apply a separate coat of primer or use the paint that already contains a primer in it. In the case of separate primers, choose spray primers as the manual coating may leave brush stains on the surface. Also, check for any holes or dents on the surface of the cabinet and fill it with a relevant filler before applying paint.

5. Paint the Filing Cabinet



Now, paint the metal filing cabinet using a paintbrush or spray gun. Some tips for selecting the right paint are:

  • Choose the paint specifically formulated for the metal surfaces such as rust-resistant paint.
  • Select the color of paint based on your office decor and your likes and preferences. If your office has no exposure to direct sunlight, you can use bright colors. On the other hand, if your office has enough exposure to sunlight, go with dark colors.
  • Shake the paint well for about 40 to 60 seconds

If you are using spray paint, keep the can several inches away from the cabinet. Spray the paint in a constant back-and-forth motion so that it adheres well to the surface. Two or three coats of paint are sufficient for covering the entire surface.

Allow the first coat to completely dry out before applying the next coat. Avoid covering the surface with too much paint as it would eventually drip and leave stains on the surface.

6. Let the Paint Dry

After applying the paint, allow it to completely dry. Typically, paint takes 24 hours to completely dry out. However, read the instructions given on your paint can to know the exact time required for drying.

7. Reattach the Hardware Parts

Once the paint completely dries out, reattach all the dismantled parts. Attach the dismantled handles and knobs carefully to the right spot.

Spray Paint or Brush Paint? Which one is Better?

Several factors must be kept in mind while choosing between spray paint or brush paint. Some of these factors have been briefly explained in the following table:

In addition to spray and brush paint, there is another alternative as well. This is the use of rollers for painting the file cabinet. A 4” roller would be enough for painting the metal cabinet. Roller painting also gives a neat and smooth finish in contrast to the other two methods.


In a nutshell,  a plain and boring filing cabinet can be changed into an aesthetic piece of furniture by painting it with a new color. For painting a file cabinet, remove all the hardware components from their place. Clean the metal surface with a damp piece of cloth or a brush followed by smoothing it with sandpaper.

Next, apply primer and let it dry before coating it with paint. Finally, allow the paint to completely dry out and reattach all the dismantled parts to the cabinet.

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