Spray paint is a popular medium for DIY projects, art, automotive repair, and more. But like any liquid, spray paint is susceptible to freezing in cold temperatures.
This article will explore how freezing affects different types of spray paint, proper storage to prevent freezing, using frozen spray paint, and tips for spray painting in cold weather.
Can Spray Paint Actually Freeze?
Yes, spray paint can freeze if exposed to temperatures below 32°F (0°C). The key factors that determine if spray paint will freeze are:
- Paint base: Water-based paints like acrylics will freeze at 32°F. Oil-based paints can handle slightly colder temps before freezing.
- Propellant type: Aerosol spray cans contain propellants that can also freeze, affecting spray performance.
- Storage conditions: Uncontrolled spaces like garages and sheds often dip below freezing in winter.
- Paint type: Craft paints freeze more readily than automotive and industrial paints designed for cold weather use.
So while spray paint won’t necessarily freeze solid at 32°F, it can thicken, clump, clog, and become unusable at temps slightly below freezing. Let’s look at how different kinds of spray paint handle cold weather.
How Freezing Affects Different Types of Spray Paint
Acrylic Craft Paints
Acrylic-based craft paints from brands like Krylon and Rust-Oleum are water-based, meaning they use water as a solvent. The water content makes acrylic paints more prone to freezing compared to oil-based enamels. At temperatures below 32°F, acrylic paint will thicken and eventually freeze solid. The paint may separate or curdle when thawed after freezing.
Enamel Spray Paints
Enamel paint uses oil as a solvent, so it can withstand colder temperatures than water-based acrylics before freezing. However, enamel spray paint will eventually freeze at temperatures below 15-20°F. The freezing point varies by brand. Similar to acrylics, frozen enamel paint will thicken, clump, and become difficult or impossible to spray.
Automotive and Industrial Paints
Spray paints designed for auto body repair, construction equipment, and industrial applications are engineered to resist freezing in cold working conditions. The resins and solvents used allow these coatings to remain sprayable at temperatures below freezing. So automotive primers, truck bedliners, and similar products are less likely to be affected by cold compared to general-use paints.
Metallic and Specialty Paints
Modern spray paints contain metal flakes, pearlescent pigments, glow-in-the-dark particles, and other additives to create unique effects. While these paints are often oil-based, the additives can alter their freezing properties in some cases. Metallic paints like Rust-Oleum Stops Rust seem slightly more prone to freezing issues based on user reviews.
How Freezing Temperatures Affect Spray Paint Performance
Freezing doesn’t always ruin spray paint, but it can change the paint’s properties and make application more difficult. Here are some common issues caused by freezer temperatures:
- Poor atomization – The paint doesn’t spray out of the nozzle finely and evenly, resulting in a grainy or splattered finish.
- Clogging – Paint thickens and clogs the spray tip, requiring constant cleaning.
- Thinner consistency – After thawing, paint may spray thinner than intended, causing runs and drips.
- Finish flaws – Freezing can affect the glossiness, clarity, and color vibrancy of the dried paint.
- Flaking or chalking – Freezing before the paint fully cures can weaken adhesion, causing the coating to chip or chalk prematurely.
Testing spray paint performance on cardboard is recommended after freezing to check for any issues before painting your actual project.
Does Freezing Ruin Spray Paint?
Freezing alone does not necessarily ruin spray paint. But thawing and using paint that has frozen can produce unpredictable results.
If the paint container is mostly full and hasn’t been opened, then a freeze-thaw cycle will usually just require thorough mixing before use. But paint that freezes after the container is opened or partially used has a higher chance of being compromised.
With latex house paint, freezing permanently damages the polymers, leading to poor adhesion, cracking, and premature failure. But the short-chain polymers in acrylic craft paints seem to be more resilient.
One saving grace is that water-based spray paint freezes slowly, even at very cold temperatures. So paint sitting in a freezing garage for a few days may avoid permanent damage. But allowing opened containers of paint to repeatedly freeze and thaw is asking for trouble.
Proper Spray Paint Storage to Prevent Freezing
Storing spray paint above 40°F (4°C) will prevent freezing issues in most cases. Some tips for keeping spray paint from freezing include:
- Store paint indoors in a heated space when temps drop below 40°F.
- A refrigerator set to 40-50°F makes an ideal cold weather paint locker.
- Insulate garage or shed walls to protect from freezing overnight temps.
- Place paint cans in an insulated cooler inside an unheated outbuilding.
- When transporting paint, wrap cans in insulating material like blankets or foam.
Avoid storing paint long-term in places with fluctuating temps below 40°F. Repeated partial freezing and thawing can destabilize the paint over time.
And never leave spray paint cans in a freezing vehicle overnight. The combination of cold and vibration from the idling engine is hard on aerosol propellants.
Using Spray Paint After Freezing
If you discover a can of spray paint has frozen, here are some tips for using it:
1. Allow paint to thaw fully. Letting the paint warm gradually to room temperature before use gives the best results. Do not thaw paint rapidly near heat or flames.
2. Mix or shake the paint thoroughly. Agitate for at least 2-3 minutes to blend any separated pigment or binders. Listen for the mixing ball rattling freely to ensure paint is liquefied.
3. Check consistency and test spray. Paint may spray thinner after freezing. Test on cardboard to check for clogs, splatter, running, or other issues.
4. Use immediately after thawing. Do not refreeze paint after thawing or performance issues are more likely.
5. Filter paint if necessary. For bad clumping or clogging, strain paint through a paint filter or nylon stocking before spraying. Cheesecloth also works in a pinch.
Thawed acrylic paint often sprays acceptably if shaken vigorously. But unusual results are always possible. So testing on an inconspicuous spot first is advised.
Spray Painting in Cold Weather Below 50°F
Spraying paint in cold temperatures below 50°F (10°C) can also impact results. Paint dries slower and is more viscous in the cold. Plus the propellant may not fully atomize the paint. Here are some tips for getting good results with spray paint in colder weather:
- Use oil-based paints instead of acrylics when possible. Enamels handle cold better.
- Keep paint cans warm before use. Store nearby in a bucket of warm water.
- Paint during the warmest part of the day and out of the wind.
- Allow for extended drying time between coats.
- Bring painted items indoors to warm up and cure if possible.
- Use a portable paint warmer to heat paint while spraying outdoors.
- Adjust your spray technique for thicker, slower-drying paint. Hold can closer and use lighter coats.
While not ideal, spray painting in cold temps can be done successfully by following these precautions. Having patience for extended drying times is key.
Troubleshooting Spray Paint Problems After Freezing
Here are solutions for some common spray paint problems that may occur after freezing:
Clogged nozzle – Remove nozzle and soak tip in warm soapy water. Use a straightened paperclip to clear clogs. Rinse thoroughly before reattaching.
Poor atomization – Thin paint by stirring in a few teaspoons of paint thinner if an oil-based enamel. Improves sprayability.
Grainy or splattered finish – Strain paint through a paint filter or nylon stocking to remove clumps.
Runs, sags, or drips – Allow extra drying time between coats to prevent drips. Hold can further away and apply lighter coats.
Flaking/chalking – Lightly sand damaged areas and recoat after proper drying time. Ensure paint fully cures before exposing to weather.
Color or sheen issues – Shake paint very thoroughly before use. Stir in a compatible paint of similar color to improve consistency.
With extra care, spray paint that has frozen can often still be used effectively. But unusual results are always a possibility after freezing.
Does the Can Matter? Metal vs Plastic Spray Paint Cans
The material of the spray paint can itself can also be a factor when it comes to freezing temperatures.
Metal Spray Paint Cans
The traditional metal paint can is a thin steel canister. Metal conducts cold well, so paint in a metal can will cool to the surrounding temperature quickly. In very cold conditions, the paint is at high risk of freezing.
However, metal cans are also durable and withstand freezing better than plastic. Just allow paint in metal cans to thoroughly thaw and remix before use after freezing.
Plastic Spray Paint Bottles
In recent years, more spray paint brands offer plastic bottle options as well. Plastic insulates better than metal, so it keeps paint warmer in cold conditions.
For example, a metal can may reach 35°F in a shed overnight. But a plastic bottle may only cool to 40-45°F in the same conditions, staying above the freezing point.
The downside is plastic bottles are more prone to cracking and leaking if the paint does freeze. So check plastic bottles carefully for damage if they become frozen.
For winter use, plastic offers slightly better freeze protection, while metal is more durable long-term. Both have risks in cold temperatures that require proper storage.
Ideal Spray Paint Storage Temperature
So what is the ideal temperature range to store spray paint? Here are some tips:
- Short-term storage – For paint that will be used within 2-3 months, aim for minimum temperatures no colder than 45-50°F. Acrylic and enamel paints can handle brief drops to 40°F when necessary.
- Long-term storage – For paint stored 6 months or longer, try to keep temperatures consistently above 60°F. Time weakens the stability of the paint polymers, so protect from extended cold.
- Avoid temperature swings – Stable temps are safer than fluctuating cold and warmth. Letting paint freeze overnight then thaw during the day repeatedly accelerates breakdown over time.
- Follow the can – Check the paint can label for any specified storage temperature ranges and heed the manufacturer’s recommendations.
The most practical solution for maintaining ideal paint storage temperatures is keeping cans in a heated indoor room during cold months. But for those without suitable indoor space, the strategies mentioned earlier like insulation, heaters, and coolers can help shield paint from the cold.
Signs Spray Paint Has Frozen
How can you tell if a can of spray paint has frozen? Here are the common signs to check for:
- Bulging can – Freezing causes paint to expand, creating internal pressure that bulges the can. Plastic bottles may also show stress cracks.
- Shaking noise – No rattling sound when shaken means the mixing ball is stuck in frozen paint.
- Crusty nozzle tip – Paint that oozed out and froze on the nozzle during freezing.
- Color separation – Shake the can and watch for the paint tint separating out rather than remixing uniformly.
- Grainy consistency – Shake a small amount onto cardboard. Paint should spray smoothly, not clumpy or splattered.
- Poor atomization – Paint sprays in an irregular, coarse pattern rather than a fine mist.
Before attempting to use paint that exhibits these warning signs, let it fully thaw and mix thoroughly to see if normal performance is restored. But unusual results are common with previously frozen paint.
Special Tips for Freezing Temperatures
Painting or storing spray paint in freezing conditions requires extra precautions:
- Keep paint stored off concrete floors – Concrete draws heat away. Elevate on wood blocks or pallets.
- Insulate bottoms of metal paint cans – Glue foam cups or corks to the bottom to reduce chilling.
- Wrap cans in insulation – Bubble wrap, foam sleeves, or rags help retain warmth.
- Place cans on south facing wall – Maximizes daytime sun exposure and warmth. Avoid shady areas.
- Avoid storing paint inside vehicles – Cars and trucks can become ice boxes overnight in winter.
- Bring paint indoors before storms – If heavy frosts or blizzards are forecast, protect paint from the extreme cold.
- Limit opening cans – Leaving lids sealed helps retain heat until paint is needed for use.
With preparation and proper storage, spray painting can continue through cold seasons. Just be ready to thaw and remix paint as needed before spraying.
Tips for Spray Painting in Hot Weather
While freezing spray paint is a concern in winter, heat can also cause issues during hot summer months. Here are some tips for spray painting when temps rise above 80°F:
- Store paint out of direct sunlight to avoid heating the cans.
- Chill paint before use by placing cans in a bucket of cool water.
- Spray during cooler mornings and evenings when possible.
- Shade painted surfaces from direct sun to prevent blistering.
- Allow for extra drying time between coats since humidity slows curing.
- Apply lighter mist coats to avoid paint running due to heat.
- Use oil-based enamels instead of acrylics if painting in direct sunlight.
With proper preparation and timing, spray painting through a range of temperatures is certainly possible. Just account for the current conditions to get the best results from your paint.
Key Takeaways on Freezing Spray Paint
- Water-based acrylic paints have the highest risk of freezing damage. Oil-based paints can better withstand cold temps.
- Freezing alone does not always destroy paint. But freezing opened containers or repeated freeze-thaw cycles degrades quality over time.
- Allow paint to fully thaw and mix thoroughly before use after freezing. Test performance on cardboard before painting the final surface.
- Try to store spray paint above 40°F. Indoors, heated spaces, insulated containers, and temperature monitors help prevent freezing.
- Adjust your spray painting techniques for cold weather. Use lighter coats, keep paint warm, and allow for extended drying time.
- Be aware of ingredients and properties when selecting paint. Automotive and specialty paints designed for cold weather resist freezing better.
With the proper storage precautions and handling, spray paint can be successfully used even in cold winter conditions. Just be ready to put in a little extra work to thaw and remix paint stored below freezing.
Freezing temperatures bring unique challenges when working with spray paints. But understanding how cold affects paint and following suitable storage methods can prevent freezing damage. Always thoroughly mix and test paint after any exposure to freezing or near-freezing conditions to check performance before use on important projects. With extra care taken to keep spray paint cans warm, even cold weather painting is possible. Just be ready to make adjustments to handle thicker, slower-drying paint when spray painting below 50°F.