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How to permanently keep paint on plastic surfaces

Updated January 12, 2019

Sometimes it seems like everything around us is made of some sort of plastic, but that's OK. Inexpensive and durable, plastic is the material of the future. Unfortunately, some colours belong firmly in the past. If you have a plastic item that needs a makeover, don't fret. Painting over plastic is tricky, but it can be done. Plastic paints come in a variety of brands and colours, so the first step to paint plastic is to talk to the people at your local home improvement store or paint centre. The more you know about the surface you are painting and the kinds of paints available, the more chance you have of success. Once you've got that sorted out, you can move on to the steps below.

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  1. Clean the plastic you are going to paint with Simple green and a sponge. Rinse it thoroughly and let it dry completely.

  2. Rough up the surface of the plastic with 400-grit sandpaper. Be gentle. You don't want to damage the surface, just to give the primer a less slick surface to adhere to.

  3. Put some rubbing alcohol on a clean, white towel and wipe down the surface to be painted, making sure you remove all dust created by the sanding.

  4. Spray the surface with a primer made specifically for plastic. Ask the experts at your home improvement centre for a recommendations, because there are several brands.

  5. Let the primer dry according to the manufacturer's instructions. If any of the former colour is still visible through the primer, spray on another coat and let it dry completely.

  6. Use a spray or roll-on paint designed specifically for plastic. Cover the primer completely and let the paint dry according to the manufacturer's suggestions. Do not try to cut corners on this step; the longer you let the paint dry, the more likely it is to adhere permanently.

  7. Apply a second coat of paint if any of the primer is still showing through. Let it dry as long as the label tells you to.

  8. Apply a spray sealer that is specifically formulated for use with plastic paint. Allow this to dry for at least 24 hours before applying a second coat, unless the label specifies a longer drying time. Apply a second coat, and let it cure for at least one week before using the painted item.

  9. Tip

    Do a small test spot on a hidden part of your item so that you can be certain the primer will adhere and the colour will dry to the correct shade.


    Always make sure your painting area is well-ventilated; spray paint fumes are highly toxic.

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Things You'll Need

  • Simple green or other de-greasing cleaner
  • Sponge
  • Clean, white towels or rags
  • 400-grit sandpaper
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Paint mask
  • Spray primer
  • Spray paint
  • Spray sealer

About the Author

Emmy-award nominated screenwriter Brynne Chandler is a single mother of three who divides her time between professional research and varied cooking, fitness and home & gardening enterprises. A running enthusiast who regularly participates in San Francisco's Bay to Breakers run, Chandler works as an independent caterer, preparing healthy, nutritious meals for Phoenix area residents.

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