How to paint outlet covers

If you need to know how to paint outlet covers, there are right and wrong ways to do it.

Many years ago, I was helping to renovate a soup kitchen in Belle Glade, Florida. One of the things I did was paint it. I’ve never been a great painter, but I took pains to stay away from the outlet covers so the room would look neat.

“David!” the leader, a guy named John, barked. I looked up.

“Paint that cover plate.”

He was in charge, so I did what I was told. I slapped a thick coat of latex paint onto that cover plate to blend it into the wall. I’m sure John thought it looked spectacular. But I guarantee you, by the end of the summer, it looked terrible.

Here’s the thing. Painting outlet covers rarely works out. You’re almost always better off removing the covers, cleaning them–running them through the dishwasher does wonders, but even a dunk in the sink with regular soap and water is effective–and then replacing them after they dry thoroughly. They’ll look much better that way, and for much longer.

If you must paint them, the second best bet is to paint them with a plastic-bonding paint like Krylon Fusion or its Valspar equivalent for plastic–but clean it first. Plastic tends to be oily anyway, but decades of human beings touching them make it much worse. The plastic has to be clean for the paint to bond to it. These paints chemically bond to the plastic, so they’ll tend to hold up reasonably well. Always use a gloss finish since dirt sticks to glossy finishes much worse than duller ones.

If you can’t get the color you need in a plastic-bonding paint, clean the plastic first, then paint it with a good quality primer. Not wall primer–Rustoleum makes a special primer for plastic, but if you can’t find that, use a primer for metals. Let it dry according to the instructions on the can, then paint the plate the color you want on top of the primer. Expect to have to repeat the process in a couple of years, but at least if you do that, the paint will stick for more than a few weeks before it starts flaking off. Again, use gloss for durability and cleanliness.

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