Good preparation is the key to successful painting, no matter what the surface


March 21, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

Paint seems like one of the simpler elements in a house, but when it doesn't stick, it can be one of the more complicated things to fix.

Case in point: A reader in Shaker Heights, Ohio, who had trouble getting touch-up paint to adhere to worn places on her metal kitchen cabinets wants to know how to refinish them completely.

It can be done, but it's not a job for the faint of heart.

The secret to successful painting, no matter what the surface, is good preparation. The surface must be thoroughly clean. Metal surfaces must be completely free of loose paint, rust, grease and grime. It may take sanding or even grinding to get them perfectly clean. (We don't recommend painting over rust, whatever the paint can says.) Then the surface should be primed with a good metal primer that is compatible with the type of metal. (For instance, steel and galvanized steel require different primers.)

The top-coat paint should also be paint designed for use on metal. Lightly scuff the entire surface with fine-grit sandpaper (to promote adhesion). Touch up the worn spots first, using the top-coat paint. When the touch-ups are dry, sand them lightly. Then paint the entire surface with the top-coat paint. Follow the directions on the container for recoating. Some metal paints require rapid recoating, others need 24 hours between recoats.

Another paint problem comes from a Baltimore reader who's had trouble with paint peeling off her living room walls for the past 15 years. She was advised to remove all the old paint before trying to paint the room again, but the scraping isn't going well -- the paint's coming off unevenly.

It's hard to diagnose the underlying problem here. Paint incompatibility -- latex over oil-base, for instance -- is one likely culprit, but there could also be moisture getting into the walls somehow. The house is stucco, notorious for leaking -- so it wouldn't hurt to check the exterior and repair cracks and gaps and caulk around windows and doors. Insulating the walls won't help if there's moisture coming in from outside.

Our best advice is to scrape away all the loose paint, repair the plaster where needed, and make sure it is completely dry. Then prime the entire surface with oil-based primer. (Oil-based primer should be compatible with whatever is under it, and it provides a neutral surface for whatever is applied over it.)

Let the primer dry completely, then check for stains coming through. If there is a stain, paint just that area with a pigmented shellac sealer (one brand name is Kilz).

Let the surface dry completely, then apply two top coats -- either oil or latex should work. (It's good general advice that if you're not sure what the underlying paint layers are, use oil-based primer before top coating.)

Without knowing for sure what's wrong, we can't promise that this is the cure. At least the paint will be compatible. But if there's another problem, even this may not be a long-term solution.

Finally, everybody who is dealing with old paint needs to be aware of the danger of lead. If you don't know whether the paint contains lead, have it tested. And don't scrape, sand or otherwise disturb the surface without taking adequate precautions.

Next: A report on the recent home builders' trade show.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is a home writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.

Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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