How to paint a metal file cabinet

Updated February 21, 2017

You may have an old file cabinet that's still in working shape, but doesn't look good. Or maybe you just want a new look in your home office. There's no need to buy a new file cabinent. It's very simple to repaint the old one.

Select a well-ventilated area to paint in. Lay a drop cloth to protect the space.

Put the cabinet on the drop cloth. Remove any drawer pulls or other hardware. If it can't be removed, cover it with painter's tape or electrical tape. The hardware can be thin, so use an Exacto knife to carefully trim away any extra tape.

Clean and dry the cabinets. Remove the drawers, if possible. Treat rust spots with rust primer, if necessary.

Prime the cabinets with the metal primer. Use a spray primer if you can find it, as spray painting the cabinet will be easier than using a brush. Priming the cabinet will create a surface the paint can stick to and should prevent future rust.

Allow the primer to dry according to the package directions.

Spray paint the cabinet with your color choice. Use a rust-resistant paint.


You might not need a primer. Some brands have incorporated the primer into the paint. Check the label for more information. You don't have to use spray paint. Brushable paint will work, too. However, spray paint will create a smoother surface and it is harder to find metallic finishes in brushable paints. For a more personal touch, you paint your cabinet with chalkboard paint. Not only will you have a great storage cabinet, but you can also set up a message center on one side.

Things You'll Need

  • Metal File Cabinet
  • Drop Cloth
  • Metal Primer
  • Spray Paint
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