What Kind of Paint Stays on Plastic?

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Some paint is better than others when using it on plastic.
Image Credit: serezniy/iStock/GettyImages

The plastic flowerpot sitting on your patio has seen better days. The color has faded, but you do not want to throw it away, as its shape is unique, and it fits the plant sitting inside it. Also, the playset in your backyard has suffered from too much sun exposure.

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Instead of buying new products, a fresh paint job will revive them and add years to their life span. Using oil paint on plastic vs. latex-based paint is a matter of choice, with oil paint requiring more steps. However, it will last longer and will create a higher gloss for the finished product.

Using Oil Paint on Plastic

The base of oil paint usually contains natural oils such as linseed oil or a synthetic polyester. Both work as binders in the paint to connect them to the pigment. An oil-based paint creates a hard surface, making it ideal for a plastic product that is not flexible and that won't create cracks through use.

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Because of its hard, nonbreathable surface, an oil-based paint over plastic resists rust and stains, making it ideal for outdoor planters and décor items. Choosing an oil paint requires more cleaning up, and it has an odor that takes time to eliminate. It also takes longer to dry than latex paints. You will also need paint thinner, turpentine or even nail polish remover to cure any mistakes.

Using Latex Paint on Plastic

A spray can of latex paint specially formulated for plastic is the easiest way to turn your old plastic items into shiny new pieces. However, the gloss and the intensity of the color with this water-based paint are less than that when using oil paint on plastic. It will dry quicker, requires less preparation and has little odor. It is also more environmentally friendly.

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Since water-based paint holds its color longer, it is recommended for products that are outside or that are exposed to high humidity. If you intend to wash the item frequently, use a water-based latex paint. One benefit for using latex paint on plastic is that you can paint over an oil-based paint, but you cannot use an oil-based paint over latex.

Preparation and Painting on Plastic

With either oil or latex paint, you will need to spend time preparing your target:

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  • Place your item on a dropcloth and cover any surrounding surfaces.

  • Outside is the ideal location for spray painting but be sure the wind is nonexistent.

  • Wash the product thoroughly with dish soap and warm water. Rinse and dry well.

  • Apply rubbing alcohol to the surface to remove any leftover residue.

  • Plastic is not porous, and it needs a rough surface for the paint to adhere. Use a fine-grit sandpaper over all surfaces and brush away the leftover grit.

  • Wearing goggles or a face mask is recommended.

Shake the can of paint and practice the spraying technique to get an even spray. Spray a light coat on the item, let it dry and then spray another coat. It will take several coats to create the finish you desire. The big-box hardware stores sell liquid sandpaper, which eliminates the time and muscle power needed to sand your item.

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