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How to paint a stainless steel exhaust

Updated February 21, 2017

If you would like to paint a stainless steel exhaust, there are some critical points you should understand before you begin the application process. Stainless steel is a nonporous, durable surface, ill-suited for paint adhesion. If you apply paint directly over underprepared stainless steel, you will end up with rapid paint failure. You must condition the exhaust with a special aesthetic primer, capable of etching steel surfaces. You must also select a paint that will remain durable over a long period of time.

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  1. Ensure that the exhaust is cool.

  2. Clean the stainless steel exhaust with a trisodium phosphate cleanser, using steel wool. Rinse the exhaust, using a water hose. Wait two to four hours for the exhaust to dry.

  3. Cover areas you do not want painted with masking paper, plastic coverings and painter's tape. Protect the surface beneath the exhaust with heavy-duty dust sheets.

  4. Coat the clean stainless steel exhaust with galvanised metal etching spray primer. Hold the can of etching primer 20 cm (8 inches) from the exhaust as you apply. Wait six hours for the primed exhaust to dry.

  5. Coat the primed exhaust with oil-based spray enamel. Hold the can of enamel 20 cm (8 inches) from the exhaust as you apply. Wait six hours for the enamel to dry.

  6. Tip

    Use an oil-based high temperature spray enamel on exhausts that raise in temperature.


    Never apply etching primer directly over a dirty exhaust or you will have problems with adhesion. Do not apply enamel directly over an unprimed exhaust or the finish will chip. Do not use ordinary acrylic, latex or oil-based primer on stainless steel exhausts or the finish will peel.

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Things You'll Need

  • Trisodium phosphate cleanser
  • Steel wool
  • Water hose
  • Masking paper
  • Plastic coverings
  • Professional painter's tape
  • Heavy-duty fabric dust sheets
  • Galvanised metal etching spray primer
  • Oil-based spray enamel
  • Oil-based high temperature spray enamel

About the Author

Ryan Lawrence

Ryan Lawrence is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado. He has been writing professionally since 1999. He has 10 years of experience as a professional painting contractor. Lawrence writes for High Class Blogs and Yodle. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and public relations with a minor in history from the University of Oklahoma.

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