How to renovate a metal filing cabinet

Updated February 21, 2017

If you have an old metal filing cabinet that is showing its age with rust and peeling paint, you can restore it to its original condition. This is not a difficult task but is a bit time-consuming. In fact, restoring an old metal filing cabinet is very much like restoring an old car -- both are made of metal, so the process is nearly identical. You'll need a well-ventilated work area and some common tools.

Empty the contents of the metal filing cabinet if you have not already done so. Leave nothing inside, as the restoration process will damage or destroy the contents.

Lay out polythene sheeting in a well-ventilated area such as an open garage or shed with doors and windows. Stand the old metal filing cabinet on the sheeting.

Put on gloves, safety goggles and a respirator. Brush the entire inner and outer surfaces of the metal cabinet with a wire brush. Scrub thoroughly on the outside and inside the drawers. Try to remove as much rust and loose paint as possible.

Dampen wet/dry sandpaper and sand after brushing. Sand over the entire metal filing cabinet until you reach the bare metal. Attempt to take all the old paint off the metal cabinet.

Spray the metal filing cabinet down thoroughly with a garden hose to rinse it. Fill a bucket with water and add dish soap. Wash the cabinet with a stiff-bristled brush. Rinse with the hose and let air dry.

Remove the old hardware handles with a screwdriver and discard. Spray a coat of metal primer paint onto the cabinet and allow to dry for three to four hours, or as long as suggested by the manufacturer.

Apply an even coat of metal spray paint to the cabinet and let dry. Apply a second coat of metal spray paint. Let the second coat dry thoroughly and then replace the old handles with new ones, fastening them to the cabinet with a screwdriver.

Things You'll Need

  • Polythene sheeting (plastic sheeting)
  • Respirator
  • Safety goggles
  • Gloves
  • Wire brush
  • Wet/dry sandpaper
  • Bucket
  • Garden hose
  • Dish soap
  • Stiff-bristled brush
  • Screwdriver
  • Metal primer paint
  • Metal spray paint
  • Replacement handles
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About the Author

Owen Richason grew up working in his family's small contracting business. He later became an outplacement consultant, then a retail business consultant. Richason is a former personal finance and business writer for "Tampa Bay Business and Financier." He now writes for various publications, websites and blogs.