How to paint with enamel paint

Enamel paint is a general term for paints that dry to a firm and durable finish. They are an excellent option to paint things that are going to be used outdoors or in places prone to a lot of wear, such as garden furniture, molding and stairs. To work with enamel paint, it is necessary to know if it is the most suitable for your project, and to learn where and how to apply it.

Select the right materials for the job

Decide if enamel paint is appropriate for your project. Enamel paints are best suited for outdoor places that are exposed to adverse weather conditions and temperature fluctuations. They are also useful indoors in areas exposed to much wear. Due to its dense and high gloss finish, surfaces painted with enamel paints are easy to clean and resistant to stains and damage.

  • If the project you are going to work with must withstand a lot of wear and tear, it is likely that enamel paints are your best option.
  • Enamel paints are also a good choice for any material that needs an impeccable finish that protects the surface. Bathroom accessories and metal appliances are often painted with enamel paints.

Choose the right type of paint. Normally, enamel paints are made from oil. The oil content allows the paint to mix and be applied more smoothly, as well as adhere to surfaces for longer. With the recent increase in demand for non-toxic paint alternatives, water-based enamel paints have become more common. Water-based enamel paints may be easier to work with, since they dry faster and are not very difficult to clean, while oil-based enamel paints last longer and provide a softer finish and are more durable.

  • The decision to use water-based or oil-based paint basically depends on your preferences. Water-based paints will serve you for basic projects, while high-strength oil-based paints will withstand constant wear and tear and rigorous exterior conditions.
  • There is a wide variety of enamel paints. Before buying the paint, check out the different types until you find the one that best suits your project.

Use good quality brushes. You should not just use any type of brush to work with enamel paints. To get the best results, choose a brush with the correct type of filament and the proper stiffness for the paint you are going to use. For example, a Chinese or ox hair brush has soft bristles that help to spread the thick oil-based paints effortlessly. When working with water-based enamel paints, it is better to use synthetic fiber brushes, as the filaments will not absorb the water contained in the paint or become soaked.

  • Some brushes are designed with angled bristles which help paint softer lines. This type of brush would be ideal to work with enamel paint since it requires a uniformed finish.
  • Use only one type of brush for a particular type of paint. For example, although you can use a synthetic filament brush with oil-based enamel paint, it is better to opt for a new brush if you have already used that same synthetic brush with a water-based paint.

Apply enamel paint

Start with a primer. Primers are special products that prepare the surfaces that you will be painting later with a last layer. A primer coat will fill the cracks in the grain of the wood, cover inconsistencies in the unfinished materials and give the paint a more uniform area to adhere to. Most of the primers are made with oil, which allows them to seal better against the wood and, after drying, helps the paint to adhere in a better way. It is recommended to use a layer of primer before applying the enamel paint, especially on interior surfaces, furniture, cabinets and molding.

  • Look for approved primers to be used on the type of surface you are going to paint. Some brands of enamel paint are even formulated with built-in primers that improve adhesion.
  • You should always use a primer when painting wood and other irregular natural elements, as well as walls, cabinets, moldings and any surface with different dimensions and textures.

Use the right type of brush. Due to their smooth and shiny consistency, enamel paints tend to make the imperfections more noticeable when painting. For this reason, it is better to use a second brush after applying the last coat of paint. To do this, make sure that the bristles of the brush are full of paint (but not saturated) and tilt the brush as you take the second pass, so that only the tips pass along the area you just painted.

  • When using the tip technique, be sure to drag the brush along the entire length of the surface you painted (following the direction of the natural grain if you are painting wood) to maintain the thickness and orientation of each smooth brush.
  • Try to make your brushstrokes as fluid and uniform as possible. Some surfaces, such as furniture and handmade crafts, will be more difficult to paint than others due to their irregular contours.

Use a sprayer. Enamel paints can also be applied with a sprayer, which is a manual device that sprays paint through small holes in the end of a nozzle. A sprayer will help you apply the paint in even layers. Using a sprayer can save you time in jobs where there is a large area to cover, such as redoing the finish of outdoor furniture and appliances.

  • A sprayer will help you work quickly on painting projects on uneven surfaces.
  • You may have to dilute thicker types of enamel paint before you can use them in a sprayer.

Apply two layers. Most experts recommend applying a second coat on home improvement projects, where enamel paints are used because they need a protective cover. Let the paint dry between layers and apply the last layer with the tip of the brush to achieve a uniform finish. If you are looking for absolute continuity, durability and color integrity, then two layers of paint will be better than one.

  • Use two layers of paint on stairs, outdoor work spaces and any surface that is regularly exposed to weather conditions.
  • Although you must apply the first layer in the most uniform way you can, it is not necessary to use the tip technique of the brush, since it must be reserved for the last layer.

Dry, clean and remove paint

Take into account drying time. Under normal conditions, oil-based enamel paints will need between 8 and 24 hours to dry completely due to their thickness. Water-based paint may become dry to the touch in 1 to 2 hours (or less). Temperature and humidity affect the drying time, so outdoor projects can take longer to dry. Freshly painted surfaces should not be handled while drying to avoid stains and other contact imperfections.

  • Whenever possible, time the outdoor painting projects to coincide with a warm and dry climate, thus avoid excessive humidity, temperature peaks or precipitation ruining the drying process.
  • Some companies produce special quick-drying enamel paint formulas that dry in only 15 to 20 minutes.

Retouch the worn paint with great care. When you re-apply enamel paint in worn and discolored areas, use only one thin layer at a time. Apply the new coat carefully to make sure the surface stays even. It is not necessary to use primer to do retouching, unless you intend to remove the previous paint first.

  • In general, it is a good idea to apply a new coat on the entire surface you are going to paint, as long as it is not too large. This way you can avoid variations in thickness or an uneven “line” in the place where you applied the new layer.

Clean enamel paint when necessary. Another benefit of the smooth finish created with enamel paints is that they can be cleaned without problems. In case an enamel painted surface gets dirty, simply wet a towel with a mixture of warm water and mild liquid detergent and clean the debris adhered to the outside of the paint. Oil-based enamel paints can be more difficult to clean and require the use of mineral spirits or diluted acetone.

  • Mineral spirits are delicate solvents that are used to dilute and remove paints. You can apply them with a brush or a damp towel. Due to their solvent properties, mineral spirits are very effective in removing dust and dirt from dry enamel paint.

Remove the paint using chemical strippers. If you have to remove a layer of paint, you will most likely need a very strong paint stripper. Chemical strippers come in a variety of forms and are one of the few methods strong enough to remove thick paint that has already hardened. Apply the stripper on large amounts instead of even coats and give the solvent time to act. After the chemical stripper has dissolved into the enamel paint, remove any remaining paint by passing an intermediate grain sandpaper over the area.

  • Chemical strippers tend to be very caustic and some types can emit toxic fumes. You must be careful when using chemical strippers if you are going to remove the enamel on your own.
  • If possible, hire the services of a professional to remove surface paint with an enamel paint finish.


  • Use primer whenever possible before working with enamel paint. Paint applied without a primer base is more susceptible to squeezing, cracking and peeling.
  • Some enamel paints have lacquer components that increase the gloss and waterproof the finish.
  • Be sure to cover the work area with painter’s tape before painting precise lines and corners.
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