How To Repaint Metal Filing Cabinets

If you have a faded metal filing cabinet in your office, you don't have to discard it. Maybe you got a great deal on a used cabinet that needs a touch up or doesn't match the office decor. It is possible for even a novice DIY person to give faded filing cabinets a new look with a coat of paint. Here are tips to paint a metal filing cabinet.

Prepare to Work

For this project, you need:

  • work gloves
  • breathing apparatus
  • rags
  • drop cloths
  • painter's tape
  • putty knife
  • denatured alcohol
  • 220-grit and 150-grit wet/dry sandpaper
  • white vinegar or paint thinner
  • auto body filler
  • spray primer and spray paint for metal

If possible, paint the cabinet outside. Otherwise, open a window to ventilate, and lay drop cloths on the floor around the work area. Apply painter's tape to areas of the cabinet you don't want touched by paint.

Remove cabinet drawers, and set them aside separately on the drop cloth. Wipe the cabinet down with a rag and denatured alcohol, then let it dry.

Sand and Prime

Sand rusty areas of the cabinet body and drawers with the 220-grit wet/dry sandpaper. Light sanding helps the paint stick better. Clean sand dust with a cloth dabbed in white vinegar or paint thinner.

Apply auto body filler to holes with a putty knife. Let it set, then sand it lightly with 150-grit wet.dry sand paper. Clean sand dust.

Spray a layer of primer on the cabinet body and drawers. Spray primer is easier to apply. If you can't find spray primer, paint a metal primer on with a brush. The primer should dry in one to three hours.


Be creative. You may prefer to use chalk paint for the cabinet sides to make a place for messages. To save time, use a metal paint with primer.

Shake the can of spray paint, and spray a light layer for the base coat. Hold the can about a foot away from the cabinet surface, and work in a side-to side motion. Repeat the process for the drawers. Let the first layer dry, and add a second coat, if needed.

If you are painting multi-colors, tape off the design on the body and drawers. Apply the spray paint in the same manner. Let the first coat dry for twenty to thirty minutes, then spray again, if needed. To fix drips, wait on the drips to dry, sand, and reapply paint.

Replace the drawers. Your cabinet should look as good as new. If you don't trust your skill, or you need your whole office painted, consider hiring a paint service like APC Services of New England