Rounding up paint options for Operation Spray Booth

I said last time that I need a good, durable paint for my radiators, and also for a half dozen pieces of furniture, most of which my dad sprayed about 30 years ago.


You can see that although it was a great paint job, it’s ready for a redo. (Also, you’re welcome, Mom, that I took the random Christmas decorations away before taking this photo.) Trouble is, it may be hard to get an equally great job this time around. Environmental regulations mean that good oil based paint, the kind that kills brain cells, destroys the ozone layer, and creates smog, is no longer available. Some reformulated versions are available by the quart at a much higher cost. Or I could buy spray cans. But I don’t like spending extra money for nothing. So let’s look at my other options.

  • Rustoleum industrial enamel. This is available by the gallon. It’s oil based, so it’s probably the closest you can get to an old fashioned oil based paint. It also contains rust inhibitors, which would be helpful on the radiators. I could use the same paint on the furniture. I could also use the same paint on the woodwork if I wanted to. The downsides? I’ve read that the more environmentally friendly oils used today yellow faster than the older ones. And this might be the most environmentally unfriendly product I could use overall. And spraying this stuff will mean I’ll have to sleep on a nearby friend’s couch since my house will reek of paint fumes and I’ll probably be in no condition to drive to my parents’ place afterwards. On the other hand, being high as a kite might allow me to go dancing.
  • Latex paint. The usual choice for residential painting is easy to get, low odor, relatively good for the environment, and dries fast. This makes it the most convenient option for woodwork, though not necessarily the best. It has latex plant fibers in it, so it isn’t super smooth, and it’s not durable enough for the heat of radiators or to perform properly on furniture. Some people polyurethane over it for furniture projects. Also, cast iron needs to at least be primed with oil or rust spots will bleed through the paint.
  • Waterborne alkyds. A few new paints have been developed that use the same alkyd resin that used to be in oil based paint, but with water instead. They’re supposed to be easier to clean up than latex, very low odor, and as hard as traditional oils. Benjamin Moore makes one that’s pure alkyd; some manufacturers make latex/alkyd hybrids. But I’ve read mixed reviews. Ironically, DIY’er blogs say they’re amazing but professional painters say they’re hard to use. They apparently don’t level out quite as smoothly as traditional oil paints, might require more coats, and take several months to cure to full hardness. This last part isn’t a huge deal since I can be delicate with my woodwork and what not. I thought about getting a dog, but may want a few months of no responsibilities anyway.
  • Pigmented polyurethane. General finishes makes a water based polyurethane that’s very hard and contains pigments to color it black or white (and the white can be tinted to custom colors). This is low odor and cures extremely hard and smooth. It works beautifully with a sprayer. And although it’s not available in the big boxes, I found a place where I can get it. Sadly, it doesn’t look like it will adhere to cast iron or previously painted wood. But I’m glad I read about it because it might be a good choice for my future kitchen cabinets. We’ll see.
  • General Finishes milk paint. I e-mailed for advice about the pigmented poly and they referred me to this. It’s not real milk paint but an acrylic that’s supposed to be very durable. It’s flat but you can coat it with polyurethane (not the poly that’s available pigmented) to make it sturdier and glossier. This is also an extra step, but I could possibly use the same poly on the doors. I’d also still need to use an oil based primer on the radiators. And… it’s a smaller brand and I don’t know that there are equivalents to compare it to.

I just wish I didn’t have to experiment on my own stuff.


4 thoughts on “Rounding up paint options for Operation Spray Booth

  1. Julia at Home on 129 Acres

    I’ve used BM’s Advance (after previously using super stinky industrial oil paints formulated for floors to paint all my furniture). I’ve been impressed by Advance. It wasn’t hard to use in my opinion, but I’ve only used it with a brush or roller, never a sprayer, and so far only on cabinets and furniture (no metal). It’s true that my brushed finish is not as smooth as oil, although I see brush strokes on some of my oil-coated furniture too. I have a couple of chips along the edge of one drawer, which holds me back from wholeheartedly recommending it. The prep/sanding job could be the culprit though and the paint may not be to blame. The clean up is super easy, and I’ve had no issue with the curing time (I’m not super patient).


  2. Mary Elizabeth

    I have mentioned this paint to you before:

    No problems with it if you use brush or roller. It is really not designed for spray painting radiators, but it will do for walls and woodwork. Really, we did our whole new addition with it, doing all the painting ourselves, and the color choices are huge.

    For spray painting furniture, reread the RetroRenovation site on painting mid-century modern furniture.

    Best of luck.


  3. Jason

    Hi Chad,
    I’ve been checking your blog out occasionally and have been enjoying the stories. Years ago my first house was a 1901 home…crooked to say the least!
    As a hardware store owner, I feel your pain with the paint dilemma. If you’re looking for oil (which is going to be more durable), try looking for industrial enamels. I don’t know about PA, (they tend to go overkill on consumer protection) but here in Ohio oil paint can still be sold for industrial applications, since the newer stuff just doesn’t cut it in some applications. Valspar (the line at independent hardware stores, not the line at Lowes) has some really nice enamels. They come in bases for custom mixing too. Good luck and keep posting!



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