How to Paint a Metal Filing Cabinet

How to Paint a Metal Filing Cabinet?

Not everybody buys a brand-new file cabinet for office use. Some of you might pick a cabinet from a second-hand store while others go back to their storage rooms and get their hands on some old cabinet. At the same time, we want that cabinet to look new as well.  

One paint can change the overall look of your cabinet and it will start looking anew. Painting your filing cabinet will also satisfy the creative and aesthetic side of your personality. Without wasting further time, let’s jump straight into the step-by-step guide on how to paint a metal filing cabinet.

Step-by-Step Guide for Painting a Metal Filing Cabinet

If you are among those who have never tried painting their filing cabinets, stick around as after reading this article you will know exactly how to paint a metal filing cabinet. Here we will discuss all the steps necessary for the file cabinet makeover.

Preparing the space for painting the metal file cabinet

Preparing the space for painting the metal file cabinet

Before you start painting your metal filing cabinet, it’s important to think about the space you will paint your filing cabinet in. As you don’t want to destroy your expensive furniture or floors, so it’s crucial to protect them before you begin with the first step of “how to paint a metal filing cabinet”.

For this, you can use any old cloth or newspapers to spread on the floor and then put your metal filing cabinet on it. This way, your floor will not get paint stains. The ideal scenario should be to have a separate paint room where you don’t have to worry about space preparation but that’s not possible for the majority. So, it’s better if you prepare the space for doing the job.

Emptying your metal cabinet

Now remove all that is inside your filing cabinet. Remove the cabinet drawers if possible for a deep clean-up of your cabinet. Emptying your cabinets will not only save all your documents and files but also give you a wholesome painting experience. 

Sanding the file cabinet to remove rust

Sanding the file cabinet to remove rust

After you empty your filing cabinet, look if rust removal is required or not. Remove the rusty spots and existing paint with dry sandpaper. This will smooth the file cabinet’s entire surface which will allow even paint coverage.

Sanding will also remove any oil or grease stains on your file cabinet. A clean and smooth surface better allows the paint to stick well to the metal surface without any lumps. 

Removing dust from your drawers 

Now that you’ve removed all the rust from your filing cabinet, it’s time to clean the dust and dirt as well. For this, you can either use a dusting cloth or a vacuum cleaner. In case of thorough cleaning, you should always go with vacuum cleaning. We’ve already written a detailed article on how to clean an office file cabinet, you check that as well. 

It is the last step before you finally start painting your file cabinet. As we all know that a neat and clean surface gives better adherence to the paint and allows it to last longer.

Applying metal paint primer 

Applying metal paint primer 

Applying primer to your metal cabinet is mandatory for a lasting and smooth paint application. If your paint has already a primer mixed in, then you don’t need to use a separate primer.

But if your paint doesn’t have a primer in it, buy a good metal primer. Primer covers bare metal spots on your cabinet so that when you apply paint, it sticks directly to the metal surface. 

While choosing primes, you can also look for fast-drying primers. They save a lot of time as a slow-drying primer takes quite some time to dry up. Moreover, try using spray primers. They give an even coverage to your metal surface as compared to the brush finish. 

Painting the metal filing cabinet  

Now that you have prepped your filing cabinet, it’s time to dive straight into painting the first coat. If you don’t want to paint your handles and knobs, remove them, if possible. Otherwise, cover them with a painter’s tape well to secure them from getting any paint stains. Do cover your locks as well before you start off with painting.

Now spray paint your metal filing cabinet carefully and let the first coat dry for 24 hours before you paint the second coat.

If you want a third coat of paint, wait for another 24 hours, and then go for it. The finishing coat requires 3 to 5 very light and thin coats for better finishing. Wait for 48 hours before you finally use your cabinet. 

Spray paint vs brush painting: Which One is Better?

Spray paint vs brush painting

You might be thinking about how to paint a metal file cabinet without spray paint. Spray paint is a good alternative but some people like to paint their cabinets with a brush. However, brush painting leaves brush marks on the file cabinet and doesn’t give a neat finish.

Spray paint on the other hand provides smooth and even coverage to your metal file cabinet. In addition, spray paint also gives better protection from rust. 

Apart from spray painting or painting with a paint brush, there is a third option as well. This is the use of rollers for painting the filing cabinets. For metal file cabinets, a small 4” foam roller does the job perfectly.

It’s convenient to use with its small handles which allow you total control over where the paint goes. It also lets you cover smaller spaces on the cabinet and frees you from the issue of brush marks. Roller painting gives a smooth and fine coverage as compared to both spray painting and brush painting.  

Best Paint for a Metal Filing Cabinet

Many people believe that regular paint can be used on metal surfaces. This isn’t the case as regular paint peels off over time and doesn’t give long-lasting coverage.

Hence, oil-based paint is the perfect fit for your metal cabinets as they stick well to metal surfaces. However, oil-based paints can also be used but they are not as durable as oil-based paints.  

How to Achieve a Fine Finish?

For achieving a fine finish paint, keep these things in mind:

  1. Shake the spray paint bottle for a good 20 to 30 seconds before you start painting your filing cabinet. This will mix all the ingredients well and will give a nice finish. You can also keep shaking the bottle time and again while you paint.
  2. It’s better to paint the filing cabinet in two to three coats with gaps instead of a back-to-back coating. This will cause drip marks on your cabinet’s surface. Do the first coat on your file cabinet and let it dry before applying the second coat. Once it dries up, apply the second coat. Once the second coat dries up, then coat for the third time. This will give a fine finish to your metal cabinet. 

Precautionary Measures:

For having a safe painting experience, you should always follow some safety measures.

Firstly, make sure to paint your filing cabinet in an open and well-ventilated room. This is because the paint will get to your head if there isn’t enough air crossing in the room. So, it’s very important to choose a room where there is sufficient airflow. Keep all the windows and doors of the room open and allow the air to pass through.

Secondly, always wear gloves while painting metal cabinet drawers as they will protect your hands from getting paint stains. You can use rubber gloves for this purpose.

Third and the most important step is to use a face mask. No matter how well-ventilated your space is, you should always put a full respirator mask on. This will especially help in case you are using spray paint. The face mask will prevent paint particles from entering your body and causing you health issues.


To sum up, metal file cabinets can go a long way if you take care of them properly. A regular repair can add to the life of metal file cabinets.

In this detailed article, we’ve discussed the complete process of a metal file cabinet makeover. How are you going to paint your metal cabinet? Did this article help you do a better job at painting? Share your experience.

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