How to paint outlet covers

Last Updated on January 16, 2021 by Dave Farquhar

If you need to know how to paint outlet covers, there are right and wrong ways to do it. Can you paint outlet covers? Yes you can. Should I paint outlet covers? Painting switch plates and outlet covers frequently doesn’t work out well, but I can give you some tips to do it and get a reasonably durable paint job.

If you just slap a coat of latex wall paint on a switch plate, don’t expect it to look good for very long. Painting switch plates requires prep work, and the kind of paint you use makes a difference too.

Painting switch plates

paint a cover plate
I don’t recommend painting cover plates, but I couldn’t get this one in brown to match the other ones in that room. So I cleaned it, primed it, then painted it. It’s held up OK, at least until I can find a proper brown plate.

Painting starts with prep work. If you don’t do the prep work, you shouldn’t paint outlet covers. It’ll just look a lot worse when the paint starts to peel in a few weeks.

Prep work for painting switch plates and outlet covers starts with taking it off the wall and cleaning the dirt and oil off the plate so your paint can actually stick to it. Even a dunk in the sink with regular soap and water is effective. I prefer to clean it off with alcohol or mineral spirits. They do a better job of removing oils and they dry almost immediately. In a pinch, I’ve thrown them in the dishwasher too.

You may even find after cleaning it, you don’t need to paint it. But if you still want to go through with it, you need to start with a clean, oil-free surface.

The best option: Plastic-bonding paint

The best option for painting cover plates is to use a plastic-bonding paint like Krylon Fusion. These paints chemically bond to the plastic, so they’ll tend to hold up reasonably well. Almost as well as plastic molded in that color in the first place. Always use a gloss finish since dirt sticks to glossy finishes much worse than duller ones.

With this paint, skip the primer. These paints bond to plastic, and primer just gets in the way of that. You can do multiple coats. So if it’s not as smooth as you like the first time, you can sand it lightly, then clean off the paint dust, and then spray a subsequent coat to get a smoother, more consistent finish. Multiple thin coats generally work out better than one thick coat.

How to paint outlet covers with regular paint

painting switch plates
I painted these switch plates with a coat of metal primer. After this dried, it was ready for a topcoat.

Painting switch plates with regular paint requires primer. 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, or 24 hours if in doubt. Then paint the plate the color you want on top of the primer. If people are going to touch it a lot, expect to have to repeat the process in a couple of years. But at least if you prime, the paint will stick for more than a few weeks before it starts flaking off. Again, use gloss for durability and cleanliness.

Once you have the primer in place, you can use latex wall paint with a brush, but I think paint from a spray can gives a more durable finish.

As with plastic paint, you can sand the paint lightly after it dries, then apply a second coat to get a smoother, more even finish if you need.

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