How to Paint a Stainless Steel Exhaust

You can identify painter's tape by its blue color.
You can identify painter's tape by its blue color. (Image: blue painters tape image by Jim Mills from

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 under-prepared 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.

Things You'll Need

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

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Ensure that the exhaust is cool.

Clean the stainless steel exhaust with a trisodium phosphate cleanser, using steel wool. Rinse the exhaust, using a water hose. Wait 2 to 4 hours for the exhaust to dry.

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 drop cloths.

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

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

Tips & Warnings

  • 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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