Polished brass is a true beauty. The shiny yellow gold-tone makes it super attractive, not to mention more accessible and affordable than gold. Its malleability makes it easy to work with and a go-to metal for many crafters.
On the flip side, brass tarnishes over time. And if the aged antique (or super shiny) appearance is not the exact vibe you want, you may think of other options such as painting it.
Painting metals successfully is not the easiest job in the world, and brass is especially challenging due to its slick and smooth surface.
So, can you paint brass? Yes, you can paint brass with acrylic, latex, or enamel paints, but only after thorough prepping of the surface. It needs to be cleaned and primed well for the paint to hold up.
In this post, we take you through the process of painting brass properly, the pitfalls you may encounter, and the ways around them. There are tons of other helpful tips for choosing paint for brass, so keep on reading!
Preparing The Brass Surface For Painting
Before you begin preparing the brass, test that what you have is indeed brass. If you are uncertain whether the metal is pure brass, introduce a magnet to it. Due to lack of iron content, brass will not be attracted to a magnet.
Another trick is to scratch the brass in a hidden part of the object. If the color underneath is grey or white, you have a brass-coated object probably made of steel or another metal and not solid brass.
Now, we prepare brass for three reasons. One, brass is a zinc and copper alloy. And even though it appears really shiny while new, with time, it begins tarnishing.
It is the copper content in the brass that oxidizes when exposed to oxygen, forming a dark patina. This tarnish must be removed before painting.
Secondly, whether the brass in your home is a decorative piece or a functional fixture, it is probably lined with dust, dirt, fingerprints, smudge, and other debris. If left unattended, these hamper adherence of the paint on the brass.
Lastly, being a metal, brass surfaces are smooth. Consequently, paint has nothing to adhere to. The preparation involves giving brass some tooth for the paint to hold onto. That said, preparing brass involves two activities; cleaning and priming.
Cleaning brass is straightforward, and if you’ve cleaned other metals in preparation for painting, the procedure is more or less the same.
If the brass is detachable and has areas you do not wish to paint, you must first disassemble the item or mask those non-brass parts.
To clean brass, you will need:
- lint-free rags
- steel wool or fine-grit sandpaper
- rubbing alcohol or degreaser
- soap and water.
Here’s how to clean brass:
- If the brass shows signs of tarnish or corrosion, scrub those particular areas using the steel wool or fine-grit sandpaper to reveal a fresh surface. You may also use a commercial tarnish remover, but scuffing using steel wool is preferred since it also roughs up the surface in readiness for paint.
- Next is cleaning brass using soapy water and a rag. Wipe it down well and rinse with clean water.
- In case of a grease or oily surface, you may bring in some rubbing alcohol or a degreaser. It is a sure-fire way of removing all traces of stubborn residue. Allow drying.
Make sure that you and the surface are protected from the brass dust and other dirt. Wear a respirator and cover the work table with a drop cloth to catch everything that comes off the brass for careful disposal.
After the brass is cleaned and thoroughly dried, priming it is the next step. There are lots of primers out there, but only a few work great with brass.
What is the best primer for brass? The best primer for brass is bonding primer. You may also be familiar with its other name, self-etching primer.
This primer is made from zinc and acid, and it adheres more satisfactorily to brass than any other primer. Apply multiple coats of a thin layer of primer instead of one thick one.
Give the primer ample drying time in between coats and make sure they are as evenly as possible. Light sand the primer after it dries.
After the primer is dry, it’s time to paint the brass. If you haven’t bought paint for the job yet or have a variety of leftover paint from previous paint projects, you might be wondering which one to use.
Which is the best type of paint for brass? Any permanent paint can be used in painting brass adequately as long as you did an excellent prep job.
You can go with acrylic paint, latex paint, or enamel paint. Your choice should be based on the size of the brass, its use, and whether it is indoor or outdoor placement.
Of course, there are also personal preferences with regards to budget, chemical exposure, etc. Let’s go through some considerations when choosing which paint to use.
When To Use Oil-Based Paint For Brass
Oil-based paints are not so popular lately, thanks to the availability of less toxic options. Still, they are the longest-lasting paints you will find.
These paints are hard wearing and also do not contain water. This minimize chances of corrosion and tarnish. When cured, they form a tough coating that withstands everyday scuffing and scratching.
Therefore, you can use oil-based paints on heavily used brass items that get a lot of touch, movement, or impact. This includes doorknobs, taps, faucets, cabinet and drawer handles, brass placed outdoors, etc.
However, oil-based paints are the most expensive and take the longest to dry compared to water-based paints.
When To Use Water-Based Paints On Brass
Water-based paints are the less toxic paint option that threw oil-based paints off many home crafters’ radars. There are water-based acrylic paints and latex paints.
Water-based paints are relatively cheaper compared to oil-based paints, and fast-drying too. They emit fewer VOCs, so they are less toxic and bearable for indoor use.
The coating of water-based paints is also more flexible and has the ability to contract and expand with the object, resulting in fewer cracks. However, it is not as tough as an oil-based coat.
Consequently, this type of paint would be ideal for brass items that receive light to moderate use indoors. This includes decorative centerpieces, bedposts, tabletop lamps, nightstands, chandeliers, candlesticks, etc.
For small brass crafts such as jewelry or ornamental pieces, you can use acrylic paint specified for use with brass or metal. These come in smaller quantities. But for extensive applications such as a vast chest, you may consider latex paint.
You’ll also need special heat-resistant paint for brass set up in places that get extremely high temperatures, such as a fireplace.
When it comes to the paint application method, we suggest going with spray paint. It is easier to use, reaches every corner, and gives smoother results. Brushing leaves visible stroke marks on metals.
From a reasonable distance, spray paint the brass using horizontal motions, making sure the coats are thin. Leave adequate drying periods between coats. Vertical drips mean you are too close or applying too much paint.
Maintaining Your Painted Brass
If you want your brass paint job to remain pristine and durable, you should seal it so that air and moisture do not damage the paint. A tough sealer is particularly helpful for brass that is constantly in use. The sealer will protect it from everyday wear and tear.
Another way of maintaining the integrity of painted brass is to avoid touching it unnecessarily, dropping it, or banging it against other objects. You may also dust or wipe it regularly to prevent the accumulation of dust.
In some situations, such as with brass doorknobs, handles, and furniture, you will have to apply a fresh coat periodically to cover scratches and nicks from the frequent stress on the paint.
When Shouldn’t You Paint Brass?
Now you are well familiar with how to paint and which paint to use with brass. But there is one final consideration before you paint any brass.
If the brass is for aesthetic purposes, you can absolutely paint it. However, if the brass is serving a conducting function, then painting it may not be ok.
Some lamps, for example, are made of brass which is designed to conduct electricity. Painting over them may hinder their effectiveness and performance. So, be cautious before painting over any electric brass item.
Brass vessels used for food preparation, eating, and drinking from are also not ok to paint. This includes brass cups, plates, bowls, knives, and cutlery.
On occasion, you’ll find brass that is lacquered. This is particularly evident in modern brass items to maintain their pristine aesthetic.
Can you paint over lacquered brass? No, you cannot paint over lacquered brass. You must remove the lacquer first using a lacquer thinner before you proceed with cleaning, priming, and painting.
To sum up, it is possible to paint brass. Adequate surface preparation is crucial for ensuring long-lasting paint on brass.
A high-quality primer is paramount for paint adherence on brass. And just because you can paint brass does not mean you should. Some brass items are best left as they are.
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