Can You Use Paint Thinner To Clean Metal Before Painting? (Everything You Need To Know)

  • By: homeshacks
  • Date: June 2, 2023
  • Time to read: 5 min.
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Yes. A paint thinner can be used to clean metal before painting, however, it’s not the only way to remove rust and oil from surfaces for painting purposes. It is recommended to use paint thinner sometimes in combination with other methods of cleaning metal before painting.

How does paint thinner work?

Before using paint thinner on metals, you should understand how paint thinner works. Paint thinner is a powerful chemical solvent, and as such it has the potential to dissolve other materials it comes in contact with.  Before using paint thinner on surfaces such as metal, ensure that all of your utensils are either dedicated to the task or disposable so as not to damage your metal pieces.  Paint thinner, as a solvent, is designed to penetrate surface contaminants and dissolve them so that they can be washed away or wiped clean.

What kind of paint will paint thinner work with?

While there are many types of paints on the market today, most modern paints contain either oil or latex compounds as their binder. Therefore, paint thinner is designed to work on surfaces containing either oil-based contaminants or latex-based contaminants. 

Paint thinners can also be used on surfaces containing both types of binders; however, this will make the surface more vulnerable to damage since solvent action against both types of compounds on a single surface is increased.  Paint thinners can be used to remove rust from metal surfaces as well, just as they can be used to dissolve oil and latex compounds. Paint thinners are particularly useful for removing rust from ferrous metals, which is defined as a metal that contains iron.

How do you use paint thinner on surfaces before painting?

Using paint thinner on a surface prior to painting it is easy. Simply pour some paint thinner into a container and submerge your metal pieces or surfaces into the paint thinner. Allow it to soak for at least half an hour before scrubbing off any rust or oil with steel wool, cheesecloth, or other abrasive material.

Are there alternatives to using paint thinner on surfaces before painting?

Yes, there are many alternatives to using paint thinners on surfaces prior to painting them. For example, one could use muriatic acid to clean metal surfaces prior to painting them. Muriatic acid is a strong base that is great for removing stains and paint from concrete. If it is applied to the surface for too long or incorrectly, it can etch the surface. Make sure to be very careful when using muriatic acid as it can lead to skin burns if in direct contact. ALWAYS make sure to wear the appropriate safety wear!

What can you use to clean metal before painting?

Before painting metal surfaces it is important to clean any dirt and grease from the surface. If a surface is not clean, the paint might not stick properly and may even begin to peel away in some areas. Paint has a difficult time adhering to an unclean surface so proper cleaning can ensure that your paint job lasts for several years before fading or needing to be touched up.

There are several different methods you can use to clean metal before painting it. Some of these include using chemicals, non-chemical tools, and steam cleaners.

Chemical Methods

The most popular method for cleaning metal is with chemical solvents because the chemicals will cut through the grease on your surface allowing it to dry and peel away. The downside to this method is that the chemicals may also damage certain types of metal such as aluminum.

Chemicals can be used in several ways depending on what kind of surface you are working with. If you are trying to clean a large area, using a handheld spray bottle will save time while still getting your job done. If you are only cleaning a small area, you can use a microfiber towel to apply the chemical directly to your metal surface.

Chemicals can be purchased just about anywhere that sells automotive supplies or hardware stores. You should be able to find several brands of different solvents suitable for removing grease from metal surfaces.

Non-Chemical Methods

Chemicals are not the only way to clean your metal before painting it. If you are worried about damaging your metal or if you want a more thorough cleaning, there are other ways to get the job done. 

An easy non-chemical method is to use sandpaper or steel wool on your surface. Most people will have these tools lying around the house, but you will need to be careful using sandpaper on softer metals like aluminum. Steel wool works well on just about any metal surface.

If you are worried that sanding or using steel wool may cause more damage to your metal, you can always use a non-abrasive scrub pad instead. This will help remove dirt without doing any damage to the metal’s surface. Just be careful not to rub too hard with the scrub pad or you may end up scratching your metal.

Steam Cleaning Method

The easiest way to clean a metal surface before painting is by using a steam cleaner. This method generally only takes a few minutes and the results are great as it gets rid of even the dirtiest surfaces. You can choose from several different types of steam cleaners depending on your needs.

If you want a handheld version for small surfaces, there are models that can easily be transported from room to room. Steam mops are also available if you need something to clean larger areas quickly and efficiently. Whichever type of steam cleaner you decide to use, it will help rid your metal surface of any dirt and grease so you can get right to painting.


Cleaning metal is an important part of prepping for painting. Without doing this step, the paint will not adhere properly to your surface and will eventually begin to peel away. A variety of chemicals are available which make it easy to cut through grease on most surfaces, but always be careful when using these types of cleaners as they may also damage some metals. 

Using non-chemical tools is also an option, but you will have to be careful not to damage your metal surface. A steam cleaner with a few minutes of your time can help get rid of any dirt on your metal so it is clean and ready for painting. Hope this article clears up some unanswered questions!

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