Why You Should Not Paint Cabinet Hardware

Few details freshen up a space quite like new hardware, and it’s no surprise! The glint and polish of their finishes, their metallic sheens and their buffet of styles and shapes harmonize the feel of any space.

Plus, hardware exists in nearly every room of our homes. We rely on the ease and functionality of knobshandleshinges and pulls far more than we notice — and usually only start to once they wear down.

Whether you’ve recently painted your kitchen cabinets, added an appliance or installed new doors, it’s tempting to top off your project with freshly painted metal hardware. Doing so could synchronize the room, add finishing touches to its revitalized aesthetic and even add value to your house, all while supposedly saving time and money.

While it’s tempting during remodels to give hardware a “facelift” with fresh paint, you’ll end up with more problems than when you began. From surface to structural troubles, here’s exactly why you should never paint metal hardware.

Initial Cons of Painting Hardware

There are a number of early, practical concerns that come to mind when wondering whether you should paint hardware.

With metal pieces in particular, painting and finishing is often more involved than people think. They approach it like any other paint job, with a quick sanding and a few coats of chosen color applied and then dried. After a few hours, the work is done.

With metal hardware, the job is never that simple — or quite so straightforward. Whether you’re looking to revamp knobs, hinges, pulls or bin handles — or a combination of these — you’ll face a few cosmetic difficulties when it comes to metal hardware:

1. Shape

Hardware’s vast array of shapes means it’s difficult to achieve a smooth, even paint coat across its entire surface. Think the cylinder curve of contemporary hinges, the thin design of handles or the molded detailing on doorknobs. Every piece is different, and you must find a way to grip, prop up or hang multi-shaped sets to attempt a uniform coat.

vast array of shapes

Even using convenient spray paints will pool and streak in areas, as you have to constantly turn and rotate a hardware piece to cover completely. This runs the risk of leaving fingerprints, smudges and flaws on your final paint coat — which, in turn, can only be fixed with more sanding and paint.

2. Size

The small and delicate size of most hardware makes it a difficult paint task to approach. Like its shapes, hardware’s range in sizing is part of the reason pieces can be so unique yet so difficult to handle on your own. Finding a way for cohesive application on hardware sets is the first of many functional problems you’ll have to navigate. Plus, you also need to make sure you’re properly grouping and labeling all disassembled parts. Many do-it-yourself projects have been thwarted by a lost hinge or misplaced hardware screw.

3. Age

The older the hardware, the more difficult it’ll be to remove intact. Particularly if a piece has rusted or corroded, it removal can compromise both its surface and interior with metal-specific damage. If hardware is chipped or stripped during removal, it will need to be replaced immediately. Damage to the surrounding walls, doors or appliances on which the hardware was attached is also likely with older pieces.

4. Materials

Many people underestimate the materials they’ll need to properly paint metal hardware. Sandpaper alone won’t remove all the dust and flecks that accumulate on metal over time, and regular brushes or spray paints won’t cut it for a one-and-done coat. The wire brushes, sandpaper, cleaning products, metal-specific primers, paints and finishes all add up when redoing hardware, plus any other safety and convenience-related painting materials you may need.

tools needed

5. Expense

To get long-lasting results, you’ll need to use top-of-the-line paint materials. Many retailers sell metal-specific paints and primers, which are your best bet for durable and professional-looking results. Yet in picking these products, you might not save as much money as originally anticipated.

6. Handling

There’s a great deal of care and finesse required for redoing metal hardware. Consider the initial sanding step alone. You need to be delicate yet firm to smooth chips and imperfections, but sanding too hard can easily contribute new, additional marks paint won’t cover.

You must also thoroughly wash and dry all metal hardware pieces from the beginning. If you don’t remove all dirt, residue and oils from hardware, your paint will not adhere properly. Cleaning is especially important for knobs, pulls and handles on doors — the things that get touched by hands every single day.

7. Time

Between wire brushing, sanding, cleaning, priming, primer drying, painting across multiple coats, paint drying and reinstallation, you’ll invest hours into resurfacing metal hardware. This doesn’t even factor the setup and clean up time for a properly ventilated painting space, nor the time it takes to cautiously remove hardware from their original locations.

too much time

Why You Should Never Paint Metal Hardware

Can you paint hardware, and should you paint hardware are two separate questions.

It’s important to weight the list of pros and cons of painting hardware to make your most informed decision. You want to be as confident and cost-effective as possible, without sacrificing a final project vision.

product issues

Beyond the time-consuming and technical hurdles described above, you will face serious and inevitable product issues with self-decorated and painted metal hardware — issues that stem well beyond a sloppy paint job. These include:

  • Voiding your hardware’s warranty.
  • Using a temporary, surface fix for a permanent problem.
  • Discoloring and damaging your hardware.
  • Encountering inevitable wear and tear from chipped or peeling paint.
  • Exposing yourself to possible toxicity from improperly handled metal primers, paints, dust and metal rust residues.
  • Creating non-uniform finished products.
  • Facing unexpectedly time-consuming painting, application and installation steps.
  • Covering up important hardware detailing.
  • Destroying hardware’s protective finishes.

Each of these issues is explained in full below. They make up the list of why it’s so difficult to accurately paint hardware, as well as the damage you can unintentionally cause:

1. Painting Metal Hardware Can Void Its Warranty

Many hardware centers and distributors will offer product warranties based on the manufacturer. Additional safety and maintenance elements can be discussed, with common warranty features including repairing and replacing defective hardware as well as full price refunds if you so choose.

However, to benefit from these warranties, you have to prove you’ve followed all hardware safety, care and installation directions since the time of ownership. Your claim must also be filed and approved within a specific window of time, with any claimed damage proven to be the fault of the manufacturer — not you or third parties.

It’s this last bit that’s important. Painting metal hardware runs the risk of surface scratches, chips and marks in addition to eroding manufactured tints and finishes. You render your warranty void as a result, even if you have no intention of ever filing a claim.

Painting your metal hardware does not adhere to most products’ safety and care instructions. As such, you lose the safety net warranties provide both in the short and long term.

2. Painting Hardware Is Only a Temporary Fix for a Permanent Problem

Most individuals who decide to paint their hardware do so with a cosmetic end goal in mind. They’ve recently painted a room, redone cabinets and drawers or purchased new appliances. They want every detail of a space to match the labor and vision they had in mind from the beginning, including hardware.

Likewise, many new homeowners and remodels decide to paint hardware to fix flaws and damage they’ve noted on many pieces. Priming and painting mean covering hardware’s imperfection in the quickest amount of time and with the least amount of worry — or so they assume.

deeper issues

Yet painting hardware is a surface treatment for deeper problems. It’s probable that scratched and surface damages are indicative of other, more pressing concerns about the age and quality of your hardware. Painting only puts aBAND-AID® on these structural questions. Worst-case scenario, they can even amplify and cause further damage if you don’t safely treat, clean and apply the right chemicals and paint to your metal hardware.

With the rise in recent years of do-it-yourself home projects, fashionable renovations and house flipping, it’s no surprise folks take one look at hardware and see an easy fix. Take care to thoroughly review existing warranties, consult experts and inspect hardware to truly comprehend your restoration options.

3. Paint Will Discolor and Wear Off

Fading and discoloration are not only inconvenient for the look of painted hardware — it’s inevitable. These multifaceted and amply used pieces go under the radar and are under-appreciated in most homes, leading to quick surface treatments and paint jobs that don’t look or last like a professional’s.

This is both an approach and execution issue. Because hardware is often seen as a detail and not a room’s central, highlighted feature, it receives minimal care and maintenance. Then when it comes time to buy products to paint and re-finish metal hardware, this attitude carries over.

Most paints do not adhere well to the kind of wear and tear hardware receives. Even metal-specific paint formulas that advertise correct adhesion can be fussy and cumbersome — not to mention expensive. Many hardware painters opt for spray paints rather than traditional liquid paint, which helps with smooth coverage but will inevitably discolor and chip over time.

Metal hardware painters also contest with paint that doesn’t dry to the color they thought it would. Unexpected shades and tones often appear on metals once dried, given the chemical interactions that take place on metallic surfaces and the various adhesion processes they enact.

What’s more, reinstalling hardware back onto its door, drawers or cabinets means using tools like screwdrivers. These utensils easily knick and chip the paint you just applied. Even if you manage to finesse pieces back into place, small dents and marks are nearly unavoidable and will require touch-up paint on your doors and walls.

4. Painting Can Add Toxicity to Your Home

Even the most careful and steady painters know the dangers poorly managed paint jobs carry. Whether it’s an unsecure work environment or a wide, reckless application, there are reasons for the safety gear and steps recommended when painting.

Traditional cans of commercial paints are bulky and labor intensive. Yet smaller-scale purchases will likely provide more paint than your hardware requires, even after a few coats.

If living in a home with pets and children, you must ensure leftover paint is stored safely and securely, out of reach from curious hands or paws. Environment plays a role as well. You don’t want to store paint in hot or humid areas, or in a spot that receives direct sunlight.

no spray paint

Spray paints carry their own safety and toxicity concerns. While painting anything requires open space, spray paints in particular need a wide berth and well-ventilated area to remain clean and contained.

For many residential projects, the only well-ventilated spaces commonly found are outside, in yards, sheds or garages. Elements like wind and water easily affect these areas, catching and carrying toxic paint away from the work zone. Paint can also splatter and cause runoff if not diligently handled.

5. Painting Creates Non-Uniformed Hardware

Different metals take and react to paint — well — differently. To add to the complication, choosing a paint type for metal surfaces comes with its own list of pros and cons.

Traditional latex paint, for example, will not hold up over the years against the wear and tear metal hardware might face. Certain types can actually rust metal if applied directly onto it, plus the paint won’t adhere as you need it to on the shiny, glossy surfaces of common hardware metals like brass and nickel.

Oil-based paints are the next common alternative, though they have a tradeoff. While oil paints adhere to metal better, last longer and won’t chip or crack as readily as latex paint, their tones fade much quicker. Oil-based paints are also flammable due to chemical solvents in their formulas and will be harder to apply evenly by hand.

Without primer, it’s virtually impossible to achieve a smooth, uniform paint application. You may see metal paints advertising primer-less applications, but be cautious. Primers are a must to encourage proper paint and metal binding as well as fight against corrosion and rust.

For the most professional and uniform look, you can’t beat selecting matching metal hardware collections from local retailers. These suites are formulated to achieve what priming, painting and finishing at home do — a tailored, unique and personalized set of hardware as distinct as you are.

6. Painting Hardware Is Time Consuming

There’s no argument about it. The sizes and shapes of hardware, as well as their natural divots, lines, curves and detailing, make them a hard paint project to dive into. In fact, depending on the mixed-and-matched array of hardware set for painting, you may need multiple types of paints and primers to get the entire job done.

The durability of any finished hardware product runs in direct proportion to the amount of time put into it. This means planning, prepping and following step-by-step directions for each individualized piece, doing all the necessary research into products and metal-relevant liquids, giving pieces adequate sanding, cleaning and drying time plus working in the right indoor or outdoor conditions. This doesn’t even take into account uninstalling and reinstalling metal hardware back in their proper locations, which should always be executed methodically, with care.

not a quick job

Many assume painting a few handles and hinges will take an hour or two tops, plus a quick trip to the store for materials. The reality is far different. Swiftly painted hardware will swiftly chip and fade. It will not have the luster or quality finish you want in your home, and if done poorly, it can actually expedite your hardware’s deterioration.

7. Paint Covers Any Hardware Detailing

The best hardware comes with ornate and elegant accents or features, ones that make each piece look like a custom design.

From geometric and textured waves on metal knobs to bell-inspired handlebar shapes to ultra-contemporary, long and sleek monochrome hardware sheens, painting will negate any detail work on your hardware. If you’re using thicker, oil-based paints, in particular, you can fill in fine lines without noticing, leaving your final hardware looking flat, one dimensioned and potentially mismatched.

It’s this very detailing that makes interior designers call hardware the “jewel of cabinets.” When you paint over all this on old hardware, even with the best intentions, you hide the very textures and finishes that make hardware special.

Rather than covering up, pick a metal hardware suite you love from the get-go. Customize and finish your pieces precisely to your liking. Select a warranty that protects the look, and take care to correctly install each piece in its right place, using the right tools.

You’ll have just as much fun mixing and matching new, detailed metal hardware as you would picking out those primers and paint colors. Plus you get more bang for your buck in the long run, as you won’t risk wasting time or losing on your investment through unexpected damage.

You’re guaranteed quality and longevity with your metal hardware if you avoid painting, all while maintaining the integrity of its detailing.

8. Paint Destroys Hardware Finishes

Hardware finishes do more than add an aesthetic flair. The right finish on the right layer of nickel, brass, aluminum, copper or steel hardware prevents all the rust and corrosion that compromises its very makeup. They further act as a shield against nicks, scratches and dents. This is a necessary and practical application for hardware used every day.

hardware finishes

Just as you risk discoloration and changing the natural hues of your metal base, painting completely alters the finish of hardware. It’s a surprising element people don’t take into account, meaning they have one more application to research and apply themselves — or a problematic step they miss altogether.

Destroying your finish only hurts you in the long run. Most metal hardware is sourced from ferrous metals. These are metal types that rust and oxidize when they come into prolonged contact with moisture and oxygen — an inescapable reality in rooms like the bathroom and kitchen.

Ferrous metals will also lose strength and sheen through contact with oils and dirt. Unless your hardware is stainless steel, all this damage can be significantly prevented through its finish type. Yet when you apply primer and paint, you cover that protective layer of finish, rendering it useless.

Quality New Metal Hardware Without the Cons of Painting

This list of reasons for why you should never paint your metal hardware is hardly conclusive. The final decision should factor in the longevity and look you want from your hardware set, as well as your project’s ultimate vision and needs.

If you’re looking for cost-effective and creative solutions, painting hardware might seem like the initial answer. Don’t fall victim to corner-cutting DIY hacks or misleading up-front costs. If a project looks too good to be true, it likely is.

With painting your metal hardware in particular, the risks outweigh the rewards. There are just too many practical and aesthetic issues to address, both in the short and long term.

At Cliffside, we showcase the most inspiring, craftsman-style quality hardware in the industry. We see each piece — from a simple, classic doorknob to the most ornate designer hardware set — as an extension of you.

Shop our catalog of metal hardware to see what we mean. You can further explore some of our award-winning hardware industry brand partners to see the full selection of cabinet and door metal hardware we have to offer.

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