Spray paint is a popular choice for DIY projects and crafts. Its quick-drying formula allows for fast coverage on all kinds of surfaces. However, cold temperatures can significantly affect spray paint’s application and drying time. Using spray paint in temperatures below 50°F can result in poor adhesion, dripping, tackiness, and other application issues.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using spray paint in cold weather.
How Cold Temperatures Affect Spray Paint
Spray paint consists of pigments, binders, fuels, and other solvents that allow the paint to be sprayed in an aerosol application. The propellants provide the force to push the paint through the nozzle while the solvents evaporate as the paint dries on the surface.
Cold temperatures make the paint and propellants thicker and slower to dry. The colder the temperature, the slower the fuels and solvents can evaporate. Below 50°F, you may experience:
- Poor atomization resulting in a sputtery spray and uneven coverage
- Runs, drips, and smears as paint dries slower
- Tacky finish that stays sticky even days later
- Paint not adhering well to the surface
- Bubbling or cracking as trapped solvents try to evaporate
- Frosting or blushing as moisture condenses on the wet paint
In extreme cold (below 40°F), the paint may not cure. The chemical components need adequate warmth to crosslink and harden fully. Using spray paint below the recommended temperature ranges can lead to a paint finish that remains soft and easily damaged.
Recommended Temperature Ranges for Spray Paint
Most spray paint brands recommend a minimum temperature of 50°F for application. Ideal temperatures tend to be between 70-90°F. Here are the recommended temperature ranges for some popular spray paints:
- Rust-Oleum Spray Paint – Minimum 50°F, ideal 70-90°F
- Krylon Spray Paint – Minimum 50°F, ideal 65-85°F
- Montana Cans – Minimum 59°F, ideal 68-77°F
- Testors Spray Paint – Minimum 50°F, ideal 70-75°F
Avoid spray paint below 40°F as it likely won’t cure properly at this temperature. While some industrial spray paints are formulated for cold temperatures down to 35°F, standard DIY spray paints require warmer conditions.
Pay attention to the ambient air and surface temperatures when spray painting in cold conditions. The spray paint and the surface must be warm enough for proper application and curing.
How to Warm Spray Paint Cans in Cold Weather
If you need to use spray paint in temperatures below 50°F, you must take steps to warm the cans and surface first. Here are some tips:
Warm Water Method
- Fill a bucket, sink, or tub with warm tap water. Heating the water is not necessary.
- Submerge the spray paint cans in the warm water for 15-20 minutes before use.
- This helps warm the paint to improve spraying consistency and drying.
- Ensure the cans are fully dry before shaking and spraying to prevent water entry.
Heating Pad Method
- Place spray paint cans on a heating pad or electric blanket set to low or medium heat.
- Let them warm for 20-30 minutes, turning occasionally.
- Heating pads designed for seed germination or food warming work well.
- Monitor cans closely to prevent overheating or explosion hazard.
Vehicle Heater Method
- Place spray paints inside a car or truck with the heater running.
- Let the vehicle interior warm up for 20+ minutes before retrieving the cans.
- Position the cans near heat vents for fastest warming.
- Never leave spray paint cans unattended in a hot vehicle.
Workshop Space Heater Method
- Use a portable shop heater to warm your garage, shed, or other spray area.
- Let the workspace heat up for 30+ minutes before painting.
- Maintain a temperature around 70°F for ideal spray application.
- Be cautious of flammability and fire risks when using heaters near spray paint.
Warming the spray paint to room temperature before use allows for better paint flow, more consistent spraying, faster drying, and proper curing. Use a thermometer to verify ideal temperature range. Now let’s look at heating options for the surface.
How to Warm the Surface When Spray Painting in Cold Temperatures
Aside from heating the spray paint itself, you must also warm up the object or surface you’re painting. Here are some tips:
Move Surface Indoors
- Move smaller surfaces like crafts, metal, wood, and other projects into a heated room to warm before painting.
- Allow at least 30 minutes for the item to reach room temperature.
- This works well for surfaces that are portable enough to spray indoors.
- Use a portable electric heater to warm the surface right before painting.
- Position the heater near the surface for 15-20 minutes before applying spray paint.
- Avoid overheating the surface as this can cause bleed-through or other issues.
- Use incandescent work lights or heat lamps to warm the surface before painting gently.
- Keep the lights close to the surface for 20-30 minutes to allow warming.
- Avoid excessive heat that can damage the surface.
- Use a hair dryer on low/medium setting to gently heat the area you’ll be painting.
- Slowly wave the dryer over the surface while maintaining a 6-12 inch distance.
- Allow 5-10 minutes of warming time before spray painting.
Hot Water Rinse
- For surfaces like metal or masonry, rinse with hot water before painting.
- The residual heat left behind will provide short-term warming.
- Wipe dry immediately and spray paint as soon as possible before cooling.
Once the spray paint cans and the surface are adequately warmed, you can proceed with painting in cold temperatures as long as you follow proper application techniques.
How to Apply Spray Paint in Cold Conditions
Painting in lower temperatures requires some adjustments to your technique. Work in layers using light coats and allow extra drying time between coats.
Shake the Can Vigorously
- Shake the spray paint for at least 5 minutes before use. This helps properly mix the paint in cold conditions.
- Continue shaking intermittently during the job to maintain smooth flow.
Keep the Can Warm
- If working large projects, keep spare cans warm indoors or place in a bucket of warm water.
- Swap cold cans for warm ones as needed to maintain ideal temperature.
Apply Thin, Light Layers
- Use quick, light sweeps instead of wet, heavy coats when spray painting in cold weather.
- Several thin coats are better than thick, wet coats which won’t atomize well.
Allow Extra Drying Time
- Provide longer drying time between coats to account for slowed solvent evaporation.
- If the paint remains tacky, allow it to dry indoors before adding another coat.
Stay Within Recommended Distance
- Hold the can 6-12 inches from the surface when spraying. Don’t be tempted to get closer.
- Closer application can lead to drips and runs. Maintain proper distance for best results.
Bring Items Indoors to Cure Fully
- If possible, move freshly painted items into a heated space overnight.
- This allows the paint to cure fully and prevents damage to tacky paint.
While spray painting in cold temperatures takes more effort, the above tips will help you be successful. Now let’s look at some recommended spray paints.
Best Spray Paints for Cold Weather Use
Certain formulations of spray paint hold up better than others when used in colder temperatures. Here are some top options:
Rust-Oleum Winter Paint
- Specifically designed to spray at temperatures down to 35°F.
- Formulated to resist frosting and cracking in cold weather.
- Provides rust prevention and long-lasting finish.
Krylon Short Cuts Multi-Purpose Spray Paint
- Features advanced acrylic formula for low temp use down to 50°F.
- Dries quickly within 10-15 minutes.
- Provides durable color and protection for indoor and outdoor projects.
Montana BLACK 400ml Spray Paint
- High quality, low pressure formula ideal for 35-95°F.
- Designed for graffiti and street art but works great for other uses.
- Provides excellent flow control and vivid, lightfast colors.
Seymour EN-150 Hi Heat Spray Paint
- Withstands temperatures up to 1200°F when fully cured.
- Can be applied to hot surfaces up to 500°F.
- Excellent for engines, woodstoves, radiators, and grills.
- Provides durable color and finish that resists fading and chipping.
Krylon Industrial QD 11 oz. Spray Paint
- Formulated for use down to 35°F.
- Bonds tightly and dries quickly.
- Provides long-lasting protection and color for equipment.
- Popular for machinery, toolboxes, trailers, and other items.
PlastiKote 624 Fast Dry Enamel Spray Paint
- Features a fast-dry formula ideal for 50-90°F.
- Provides a smooth, durable, rust-resistant finish.
- Works great for metal, wicker, wood, plastic and more.
- Enamel finish is chip, fade, and abrasion resistant.
Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Protective Enamel
- Can be applied in temps as low as 40°F.
- Provides excellent rust prevention and color retention.
- Ideal for automotive, farm equipment, metal fabrication, and more.
- Available in a wide range of gloss, metallic, primer and enamel finishes.
Proper Storage of Leftover Spray Paint
Once you’ve finished your spray painting project in the cold, be sure to properly store any leftover paint:
- Leave lids tightly sealed and store cans upright to prevent leaking.
- Keep in a temperature stable environment – avoid freezing or overheating.
- Store in a locked cabinet away from children and pets.
- Use leftovers within 1-2 years for best quality. The propellants can dissipate over time.
- Dispose of old spray paint responsibly. Don’t simply throw in trash. Check local regulations for guidance.
Key Takeaways for Spray Painting in Cold Weather
- Cold temperatures below 50°F can negatively affect spray paint application and curing.
- Warm cans in warm tap water or with heating pads/heaters before use.
- Warm the surface with space heaters, heat lamps, hair dryers or other methods.
- Shake the can vigorously, apply light coats, and allow extra drying time between coats.
- Bring items indoors overnight to fully cure if needed.
- Look for spray paints specifically formulated for cold weather use down to 35°F or lower.
Proper preparation and technique adjustments allow you to use spray paint for your projects even during cold weather. Just read the manufacturer’s recommendations and test your application process on scrap material first. Taking the time to warm the paint and surface is well worth the effort. Follow these tips for beautiful, long-lasting results with spray paint all winter long.