Choosing the Right Type of Paint for All Types of Materials

Paint is the ultimate designer's medium. For only a few dollars, paint transforms nearly anything into something fresh, dazzling and new. Discover the materials that accept paint and those that you should avoid.
By: John Riha
Related To:
Mix Well the Venetian Plaster

Stir Venetian Plaster

This home improvement project will use Venetian plaster. Make sure to mix the contents well for a consistent look and smooth application.

Learn how to give your stuff new life with a few good strokes. Note: Many manufacturers make specialty paints for specific applications; ask your paint dealer.


Set-up and Prep: Clean brick with a wire brush to remove dirt and grime; be careful not to dig out any mortar. Scrub the masonry with soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Let dry for 48 hours.

Painting: Use a first coat of quality latex primer. When the primer is dry, apply top-quality latex paint that's formulated for use on masonry. Use a long-nap roller to cover most of the surface, and a brush to get into grout lines and crevices. Watch for drips – there's a lot of texture to a brick surface, so keep an eye out for runs. A second coat is recommended.

Heads-up: Don't use a pressure-washer to clean your brick; the risk of gouging out mortar is too great. Note that painting brick is a one-way decision — it's almost impossible to remove paint from brick surfaces.

Exterior Brick Is Prepared And Painted

Preparing And Painting Exterior Brick

Brick siding is painted bright white on the exterior of a home.

Ceramic Tile and Porcelain

Set up and Prep: Sand with 150-grit sandpaper to improve adhesion. Clean the tile surfaces with TSP or other non-residue cleaner.

Painting: Use a top-quality acrylic primer. Finish with semi-gloss acrylic interior paint. If you want, paint the grout a contrasting color — but you'll need patience and a steady hand.

Heads up: For best adhesion, allow the paint to cure for 10 days to two weeks before using the surfaces. Don't paint tile floors; there's just too much traffic and abrasion.

Concrete Slabs

Set up and Prep: Wash the slab with TSP or other non-residue cleaner. Remove any old, flaking paint. Treat oily spots with a degreaser. Let everything dry for 48 hours. Etch the surface of the concrete with a mild (10 percent) solution of muriatic acid (make sure you have plenty of ventilation).

Painting: Use a primer and paint specifically formulated for concrete floors. Apply the paint according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Heads up: Make sure your concrete isn't wicking moisture up from underneath. Tape a 2x2-foot piece of plastic to the floor (tape all edges) and wait a couple of days. Check underneath the plastic to make sure no moisture has formed on the underside of the plastic. If it has, your slab isn't a good candidate for paint.

Concrete Block

Set up and Prep: Remove any loose particles and mortar, using a wire brush. Remove efflorescence with a bleach solution made from 1 cup bleach in 1 gallon of water. Clean the entire surface with TSP or other non-residue cleaner. Let everything dry 48 hours before painting.

Painting: Prepare raw block with a masonry sealer. Let dry thoroughly, then apply a high-quality acrylic latex primer. Finish with acrylic latex paint.

Heads up: For new concrete and block installations: Wait 90 days before applying paint.

Paint-Ready Concrete Breeze Blocks

Concrete Blocks Ready For Painting

These concrete breeze blocks are ready for painting prep.

Photo by: Ken Welsh

Ken Welsh


Set up and Prep: Make sure the drywall is free of dust (there's usually a lot of it from sanding). Wipe the surfaces lightly with a damp rag. For painted drywall, repair any cracks and holes with spackling compound.

Painting: Use a top-quality acrylic latex primer. For previously painted drywall, use a stain-blocking primer to cover any marks or blotches. Finish with a good-quality acrylic latex paint.

Heads up: The higher the paint sheen, the easier it is to wash and clean the surface. Semi-gloss is good for kids' rooms and kitchens.

Roller And Extension Pole Used To Paint Drywall

Painting Drywall With Roller And Extension Pole

Drywall is painted white with a roller and extension pole.


Set up and Prep: Wash fabrics without detergent and let dry. If possible, stretch out the fabric and lay it flat.

Painting: Use a water-based paint specifically formulated for use with fabrics. Check your local crafts store.

Heads up: You may have to fix the paint by putting the material in a dryer. Read the paint manufacturer's instructions carefully.

Paint-Ready White Fabric

White Fabric Ready For Painting

It might seem like a stretch, but fabric can be painted if it's cleaned and prepared correctly.

Photo by: supergabur


Fiber-Cement Siding

Set up and Prep: Don't pre-sand fiber-cement; the dust may cause respiratory ailments.

Painting: Use a primer specifically formulated for cement and masonry products. Apply top-quality exterior paint according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Heads up: Don't apply oil-based paint directly to fiber-cement without priming — you may void the manufacturer's warranty.

Fiberglass Exterior Doors

Set up and Prep: Set the door flat on a pair of saw horses. Remove all hardware. Lightly sand with 320-grit sandpaper. Remove the dust using a rag dampened with acetone. Allow to dry thoroughly.

Painting: Prime with an acrylic latex primer. When dry, apply two coats of top-quality, exterior-grade latex paint, using a brush. Sand lightly between coats.

Heads up: Don't use regular household cleaners to prep your door — they may leave a residue.

Fiberglass Tubs and Showers

Set up and Prep: Sudden blasts of hot water are hard on painted fiberglass baths and showers, and various DIY methods for refinishing have mixed results. The most effective way we've found calls for finishing with automotive paint. The paint should be applied with a high-volume, low-pressure paint (HVLP) sprayer.

Sand the surfaces lightly with 220-grit sandpaper. Wash the surfaces thoroughly with TSP or non-residue cleaner, and rinse with water. When dry, wipe all surfaces with lacquer thinner. Make sure you have plenty of ventilation.

Painting: Apply an auto primer. When dry, lightly sand with 320-grit sandpaper, and wipe away the dust with damp rags. Apply a polyurethane-based automotive paint, using an HVLP.

Heads up: Another solution is to opt for Rust-Oleum's Tub and Tile Refinishing Kit.


Set up and Prep: Clean the surface with a glass cleaner.

Painting: Glass painting is a popular hobby or craft project. Check your local hobby store for paints formulated to use with glass. Some may require an undercoating or special surface application.

Heads up: Lighter colors are better for light transmission.

Laminate Countertops and Cabinet Faces

Set up and Prep: Rough up the surfaces with 150-grit sandpaper. Remove all dust and wash with TSP or other non-residue cleaner.

Painting: Use a primer specifically formulated for non-porous surfaces. Finish with at least two coats of acrylic latex enamel, using a short-nap roller.

Heads up: Painting laminate countertops isn't a permanent solution; consider it a stopgap until you can replace the countertops.


Set up and Prep: Remove any rust and flaking with a wire brush. Sand with 220-grit sandpaper. Rinse with plain water, let dry.

Painting: Use an exterior-grade primer and paint that are formulated for metal.

Heads up: The method is the same for steel, aluminum and iron.

Painting Metal After Preparation

Preparing And Painting Metal

Metal can be prepared with wire brushing and sanding and then painted with exterior primer.


Set up and Prep: Sand lightly with 320-grit sandpaper. Wash with TSP or other non-residue cleaner, and rinse thoroughly.

Painting: Use a spray paint formulated for plastic. Alternative: Use exterior-grade acrylic enamel.

Heads up: After prep, don't touch the plastic with your bare hands — you'll leave oil residue that keeps the paint from sticking.

Vinyl Flooring

Painting: Sorry, not a good candidate. The surface offers poor adhesion, and flexing from foot traffic and day-to-day abrasion soon wears away paint.

Vinyl Shutters

Set up and Prep: New shutters should be wiped with mineral spirits to remove any factory-applied mold-release agents, then washed with a mild detergent. If your shutters have been outside for more than two years, you can skip the mineral spirits wipe.

Painting: Prime the shutters, using a primer specifically made for plastic and vinyl. Finish with a top-quality latex paint.

Heads up: Vinyl products are tricky to paint. Once painted, you'll want to keep your shutters undisturbed for five days in a protected location — a garage is great — to let the paint cure thoroughly. Avoid dark paint colors that absorb heat and make the vinyl expand and warp.

Vinyl Siding

Painting: The debate rages here, but the best advice is: Don't do it. A big surface area and a tricky material add up to lots of opportunities for paint failure. A lot of work for a result that could deteriorate in a year or two.


Set up and Prep: With all its cracks and crevices, the important prep for wicker furniture is to make sure it's clean. On a warm day, give the wicker piece a hard spritz with a garden hose and wipe it dry immediately. If previously painted, sand lightly to remove any gloss.

Painting: Prime with a top quality primer. Paint with exterior-grade acrylic latex paint; a brush helps get into the crevices.

Heads up: Make any repairs prior to painting.

Wood (Bare)

Set up and Prep: Sand with progressively fine sandpaper until the surface is smooth. Remove dust with a tack rag.

Painting: Coat entire surface with a stain-blocking primer. Finish with high-quality latex or oil-based paint. Sand between coats with 320-grit sandpaper.

Heads up: After priming, check to make sure any knots aren't showing through. If they are, spot prime.

Bare Wood Is Prepared For Painting

Painting Prep For Bare Wood

Painting prep for bare wood involves sanding and priming.

Photo by: J.M. Guyon - Copyright 2010

J.M. Guyon - Copyright 2010

Wood and Paneling (Painted or Sealed)

Set up and Prep: Clean surfaces with TSP or other non-residue cleaner. Roughen the surfaces with 150-grit sandpaper; clean off the dust with a damp rag.

Painting: Coat surfaces with stain-blocking primer. Finish with topcoats of latex paint.

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