My first house, before Michael and I purchased a home together, was a make-it work kind of space. I didn’t have the money to purchase all new appliances and I had to make do with what I had. Unfortunately, what I had was a hand-me-down, almond-colored fridge with a handle held on with electrical tape.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I was glad to have that fridge. Though it was ugly, it worked like a charm (still does). It was roomy enough for my food, and it fit perfectly into my small kitchen. Of course, I really wanted to fix the electrical-taped handle, and I wanted it to match my white cabinets. Luckily, there’s actually quite a bit that paint can fix.
Everyone told me I’d be nuts to paint my fridge, that it would never look right and it would ruin the appliance. I really had a sneaky suspicion they were making sense, but I figured it couldn’t look much worse than it’s current state, so I made up my mind to paint it. I’m so glad I did.
Along the way, I figure out a few tips and tricks that can make your life a world easier if you want to paint your fridge.
1. Prep is King
This rule pretty much applies to any project, but it’s worth emphasizing again for this one. I needed to do quite a bit of prep on my fridge before it was ready to paint.
I started by thoroughly cleaning the outside of the fridge with some blue Dawn (great for degreasing). I then removed all of the handles and the plastic vent guard at the bottom of the fridge.
The main handle had a broken fixture that had been taped together with electrical tape. I decided to attempt to fix it with some Gorilla Glue. This meant I had to remove all of the sticky goop left behind from the electrical tape. I used a little Goo Gone and some paper towel to clean all of that off. The Goo Gone leaves a bit of an oily residue so I went over the pieces again with some alcohol until it was squeaky clean and dry. I applied a tiny amount of Gorilla glue to both broken ends and pushed them together. I wiped off the excess, held it tight for a few minutes, and then wrapped it in painters tape and let it set overnight. When I removed the tape in the morning, the fixture was solid, even though you could still see some of the cracks.
After I prepped my handles, I needed to get the body of the fridge ready. Refrigerators are painted in a high-gloss epoxy and that kind of surface just won’t grip new paint. You have to scuff up the surface by sanding before you can do anything. I used a wet sanding sponge, soaked in a mixture of water and a little blue Dawn (degreasing). Don’t forget to wear a mask for this part. You really don’t need a lot of sanding. Just enough to take the shine off of the fridge. I also gave my handles a quick sanding. You don’t want to see the metal underneath the paint, though there may be a few spots where that happens inadvertently. As you sand, wipe off the wet residue with some paper towels. When I finished, I thoroughly dried the sanded surface and then wiped it down with a little alcohol. You want to make sure the surface is completely dry and free of residue before you start the next step.
2. Buy the Right Supplies
I’ve already mentioned a few great supplies to use when tackling this project. Sanding sponges are incredibly useful because they allow you to degrease while keeping the airborne dust to a minimum. Gorilla glue is also fantastic for fixing any little broken pieces before you paint. But for this project the most important tools, of course, are used while painting.
Rust-Oleum Appliance Epoxy.
You can paint a refrigerator with high-gloss interior latex paint, but people will know you’ve painted your fridge. You just won’t get a professional look unless you use an appliance epoxy. I used a quart of Rust-Oleum’s Specialty Appliance Epoxy. This brand is also available as a spray paint and a touch up paint, and you can buy it online or at Home Depot. Unfortunately, if you want a color other than white, you’re out of luck. They currently only make Gloss White.
Aside from the tools mentioned above, you’ll need:
Foam weenie roller.
- a small foam roller (weenie roller) with a painter’s tray
- some plastic sheeting or a paint tarp
- paper towels
- rubbing alcohol
- painter’s tape
- a mask
- a small touch-up brush
- a fan (optional but recommended to help speed drying).
3. Painter’s Tape is Your Friend
Painter’s tape makes a huge difference when painting your fridge because there are so many little nooks and crannies that you have to maneuver around. I taped off all of the metal door hinges and attachments and then used an Xacto knife to trim off the excess, leaving a clean line.
I also used painter’s tape to wedge the refrigerator door open just enough to let the paint inside the door frame dry without letting out too much cool air from inside. I just balled up tape to around the size of a golf ball and then secured it to the rubber inside the door with a little more tape. If I didn’t use this technique, I would have had to take all of the food out of my fridge and defrost it, and who has time for that?
Ball up some painter’s tape to leave a gap that doesn’t spoil your food.
4. Light Coats are Best
Nothing screams “I painted my refrigerator” quite like drips. Needless to say, you want to avoid these at all costs. The best way to get a smooth, fresh-from-the-factory look is to use many light coats over a long period of time. Yes, this means that it will take two to three days to finish painting your fridge but trust me, it’ll be worth it.
When you start painting, make sure to roll some of the excess paint out of your foam roller in the tray before you apply it to the fridge. Apply the paint in overlapping zig zags, making sure to smooth out any thick or bubbly spots. You will most-likely see through to the original paint color after the first coat, and this is totally fine. Finally, use a small brush to apply paint to the parts that cannot be reached by the roller. You can also roll the paint right onto your handles and hardware. Just lay them on some plastic sheeting before applying the paint.
You’ll need to wait at least 2 hours depending on the temp and humidity before you apply the second coat, but it may take up to 24 hours to fully dry. Speaking of temps, the paint works best around 75 degrees farenheit but can be used in temps ranging from 50-90 degrees. You can also use a fan to speed up the drying process and help with ventilation, but be careful not to blow debris into the painted surface.
Repeat the painting process until you’ve applied 2-3 coats (my fridge took 3). Remember to apply a minimum amount of paint to avoid drips.
5. Ventilate, Ventilate, Ventilate
Okay, I’m serious when I say that this paint has some hectic fumes. You absolutely do not want to start this project if you can’t leave your windows open and get fresh air moving through your work space.
Even with a painter’s mask, you will feel dizzy without proper ventilation. I opened up my house and put a window fan in the closest window to expel the vapors. Even so, my house smelled like a toxic dump for about a day.
Once you are done painting, let everything completely dry for 24 hours. After it has dried, reattach the handles and take the painter’s tape off of the hinges. Then just stand back and admire your work.
I was seriously shocked by how fantastic my old fridge looked. I basically had a brand new refrigerator for under $30 of supplies and a couple days’ work. It was absolutely worth the time, energy and even noxious fumes. So don’t let naysayers dissuade you from painting your appliances. Just follow the rules above and you’ll have a refrigerator that looks as good as new.
Update: After using the fridge for a while and placing magnets on the surface, I did start to notice that the paint under magnets would yellow a bit. To correct this, I purchased a Rustoleum paint touch up kit that looked like a little bottle of white out. I painted that over the yellow spots, but the touch up paint was not the same color as the original paint and it was difficult to apply without leaving streaks. To correct this, I just lightly sanded the streaky area and went over the door with one more coat of the original appliance paint using a foam roller and that did the trick. It worked beautifully and my refrigerator looked great in my finished kitchen when we staged my house to sell. I even got a full-price offer on the house in the first day of showing!