Can You Use Auto Paint On Wood? Here’s the Secret!

Can you use auto paint on wood? This is a common question amongst painters, and here’s my take…

Auto paint is one of the most durable paint types on the market.

Besides providing your car’s exterior with an appealing look, manufacturers formulate them to ward off potential structural problems on your vehicle.

The kind of full-proof protection that auto paint provides is what most painters look for when searching for color finishes for wooden surfaces.

Most of the time, painters want a product to keep moisture away from the wood and something that will resist fading, especially for outdoor surfaces.

Car paint may seem like the solution, but can you use auto paint on wood?

You can use auto paint to color wood, but without proper surface preparation, the color will chip and peel from the surface in a short time.

Auto paints are runnier; they cover surfaces thinly than regular house paints.

Therefore, you must apply several layers to obtain the same coverage as house paints.

Furthermore, you will have to use a good quality primer to seal the surface and ensure that the color doesn’t damage the wood.

You can use auto paint on your wood cabinet projects.

If you are renovating at home and hoping to repurpose your old cabinets from the kitchen or washroom, consider giving them a fresh paint finish.

You don’t have to spend on new woodworking paints; instead, use automotive paint at hand.

Even though it is okay to use auto paint for your wood projects, you should remember that it is toxic.

So, I advise you to restrict its use to pieces outside your main living space, away from your family members and pets.

You should avoid using it on kids’ wooden toys or pet houses because children and animals can accidentally swallow the harmful paint chips.

Keep reading this piece for more information regarding the use of automotive painting products on wooden structures and projects you may have at hand.

Will Automotive Clear Coat Work on Wood?

Yes, it will. Painters frequently use automotive clear coats to protect wooden surfaces since they are easy to apply and super tough, offering more protection against damage.

Some of the best clear coats recommended for wood are acrylic urethanes, which are polyurethanes without oil.

These products dry fast and stay clear without chances of yellowing over time.

Most modern automotive clear coats are acrylic urethanes but with a bit of twist because they contain more urethane than acrylic.

The more urethane in the product, the firmer and more durable the clear coat will be after it cures.

And it is this extra factor that drives most painters to use automotive clear coats for wood projects.

Besides its high durability, the glossiness of automotive clear coats also drives homeowners to use them on wood.

Don’t get me wrong; regular clear wood finishes offer an excellent shiny look on surfaces.

However, car topcoats offer a better mirror-like appearance which some people prefer. 

On the downside, automotive clear coats produce pungent fumes during application and as they cure.

Therefore you must apply it in a well-ventilated area of your home to ensure your safety and the well-being of the people and animals around you.

Additionally, always wear gloves, protective goggles, and a respirator mask to protect yourself from the emissions as you work.

I recommend using automotive clear coats on your outdoor wood projects to avoid the fumes circulating in your home.

You can also use it on indoor wooden pieces but make sure they are movable pieces like chairs that you can take to a well-ventilated space, then bring them back inside after the smell goes away.

Will Car Spray Paint Work On Wood?

Car spray paint produces fantastic wood results; some painters even claim that it is a little better than the ordinary spray can paint.

Spray paints for vehicles contain hardeners that allow them to withstand the 24/7 harsh outdoor weather and resist fading caused by constant exposure to UV rays.

These extra protection features make them a better substitute for regular spray paint.

When choosing a car spray paint to use on wood, check the product label for information on the nature of the product.

Suppose you are inexperienced and don’t know what to look for. I recommend using spray paints that manufacturers label as multi-purpose or general-purpose because they are the safest bet.

You can use such products safely on any surface without severe repercussions, which will be good practice for your spray painting journey.

Even though general-purpose spray paints work well, they are less durable than most spray paints.

Therefore, go for enamel car spray paints if you want something more durable.

These paints dry harder than most car spray paints, providing better protection for your wood.

You can use car spray paints on any surface, provided it is outside the main living areas of your home.

I recommend using them on small decorative pieces or difficult areas to paint with a brush but require extra protection – surfaces such as wooden rails or wooden gates and fences.

How to Use Car Spray Paint on Wood

Check the steps highlighted below for the best results:

Step 1: Cleaning

  • Put a drop cloth in a well-ventilated area, then place your wood piece on it. Remove dirt and dust with a vacuum or a brush, then wipe the wood with a damp rag.
  • Next, mix some degreasing soap and water in a bucket, dip a clean towel in the mixture then wipe the surface. Remember to wring out excess water to avoid moisture soaking into the wood.
  • Rinse the surface with pure water, then leave it to dry. Once dry, wipe away any remaining debris or dust with a clean, lint-free cloth. 

Step 2: Repair Damages

  • Inspect your piece for imperfections, then sand down any standing splinters and loose paint, if any.
  • Next, use a quick-drying wood filler to seal dents and cracks on the wood, then let it sit and dry. Once dry, sand the filled spots smooth, then vacuum away all dust and debris. 
  • If your surface has metal parts, use sandpaper and a wire brush to remove rust, and loose paint, then repair any damaged metal parts with a metal repair filler.

Step 3: Prime the Wood

A good quality primer will help your car spray paint spread evenly on the surface resulting in a stunning finish. Additionally, it will improve the spray paint’s grip on the wood, giving you a longer-lasting finish.

  • Start by covering areas you don’t want to stain with paint using painter’s tape.
  • Next, shake the primer spray until the little ball rattles, then keep shaking for about one minute to ensure that the product mixes well. Press the nozzle in the air to test clog resistance and proceed if the spray is smooth. If you feel resistance, keep shaking and spraying until the spray mist becomes consistent.
  • Hold the spray can about one foot from the surface, then spray in straight, steady lines. Make sure to overlap each previous pass to reduce the chances of missing a spot. Also, do not focus the mist on one part of the surface for too long to avoid paint runs, and shake the can occasionally to keep the product mixed.
  • Once you lay the first coat, allow the primer to dry as instructed on the can before moving on.

Step 4: Paint the Surface

  • Once the primer dries, wipe down the surface with a lint-free cloth to remove any dust that has settled.

Some manufacturers recommend sanding their products before painting over them, so ensure that you read the label to determine if it is a requirement. 

  • Following the same spraying procedure as the primer, apply light coats of car spray paint, allowing each coat to dry properly before recoating.

Once you achieve your desired level of coating, allow the paint to cure for the specified time before touching it or putting things on it.

Can I Use Car Paint Primer On Wood?

I do not recommend putting car paint primer on Wood because their formulation only allows you to use them on metallic surfaces.

A primer is an essential preparatory coating that painters put on surfaces before applying paint.

They ensure proper grip of the paint to the surface, enhance the color’s durability, and protect the surface from harmful chemicals and stains in paint. 

Even though all primers perform similar jobs of preparing the surface for painting, you cannot substitute a product meant for one surface with another.

The reason is that manufacturers make paint primers to suit specific purposes, and each primer serves its purpose differently per the properties of its intended surface.

Take vehicles, for instance. Their bodies are made of metal, a highly reactive surface that chemically repels all types of bonds, including one with paint.

Getting paint to grip bare metal is challenging, and manufacturers had to develop metal paint primers to solve the problem.

They made primers compatible with the paint’s chemistry and the metal surface.

These products react with the metal to form a stable layer for the color to grip, thus boosting the paint and surface bond.

On the other hand, Wood has an entirely inverse reaction to paint.

Paint grips it easily, soaking deep into the layers raising the grain and causing unwanted stains.

So, manufacturers developed wood primers to seal the Wood, ensuring that the paint stays on its surface.

I have experimented with car paint primers on some of my small wooden projects.

And from my findings, the substitution’s only advantage was that the car primers dried faster than wood primers.

Below are some reasons why I recommend that you stay away from preparing your wooden surfaces for paint using car paint primers:

  • Car Primers Are Too Rigid

Wooden structures expand and contract with every change in temperature and other climatic conditions.

Because of the movement, you have to apply flexible finishes to flow with it without cracking.

Car primers, however, dry too hard and are too rigid to cope with the constant swelling and shrinking.

So if you use them to prepare your wood for painting, you will see cracks and chips in the paint coat after a few months.

  • You Cannot Apply them With a Brush

Car primers are too runny; hence you will have to use a professional-level paint sprayer to get the job done.

Furthermore, you will have to rent or purchase a powerful sprayer to deliver the product evenly on the surface.

Such spray guns cost a fortune, and spending that much money on a small one-time project is not worth it.

  • They Are More Toxic

Car paints primers contain more Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) than wood primers; hence they release dangerous fumes as you spray them.

Your ordinary gas mask and gloves may not be enough to protect you from harmful fumes.

Therefore, you must purchase a proper respirator mask and industrial-quality eye goggles to keep you safe as you work.

How to Use Automotive Paint on Wood Cabinetry

Automotive paint is not the best choice to color wooden cabinets, especially in the central parts of your house, like the kitchen or the bathroom.

However, if you must use it, make sure to color cabinets that you plan to repurpose and put them outside or in your garage.

Coloring wood cabinets with automotive paint requires the same procedures as other house paints.

There are some crucial precautions that you have to take to ensure a successful paint job with auto paint. 

  • Work In a Well Ventilated Area

Car paints contain harmful VOC levels like auto primers, and you release them into the atmosphere once you open the paint can.

After applying the product, the fumes may take up to 3 days to clear the air.

Even if your garage seems to meet the strict ventilation standards for regular painting, I still recommend spraying your wooden items in an open space. 

Put your pieces outside, paint them, then put them back.

If you must work inside your garage, keep the door open and install box fans on all windows to remove the harmful fumes.

  • Don’t Skip the Primer

You should always apply a good quality primer on your wood surface, and an oil-based wood primer is the best choice.

Even though oil-based primers have a strong smell, they adhere well to laminates and slightly glossy finishes.

Latex primers, however, aren’t the best choice for wooden cabinets, especially those with a sheen. Additionally, they often peel in sheets meaning your car paint will come off after a short period.

  • Smooth Out Bristle Marks As You Work

Since auto paint is so thin, any imperfections missed during application will be very noticeable.

Therefore, I advise using a spray gun to apply it. However, if you must use a brush, ensure you go over each stroke to remove brush marks.

You may have to put on several thin coats to achieve good coverage for the wood, so allow the paint enough time to dry between coats to ensure a perfect finish.

Can I Use Rustoleum Automotive Primer on Wood?

Yes, you can. Unlike other car primers, Rustoleum automotive primer/Rustoleum Primer surfacer is a multipurpose primer which means it is suited to use on wood, metal, and fiberglass.

This product is perfect for use on wood because it is sandable and will fill up small cracks and uneven areas on the wood.

You can apply Rustoleum auto primer with a brush or a sprayer, but the manufacturers recommend spraying it on the surface to ensure flawless coverage.

They also advise users to use the brush application for this product only for touch-up jobs without adding the reducer. 

To use Rustoleum on wood:

  1. Stir the product thoroughly to re-disperse any settled pigments in the can.
  2. Combine equal parts of the primer and Rust-Oleum Specialty Reducer, then put it in a spray gun. If you use a standard spray gun, adjust the air pressure to 30 or 40 PSI, then spray two coats on the wood.
  3. Let each coat dry to the touch before applying the next one. And finally, after you achieve full coverage, give the primer a minimum of 90 minutes to dry before block sanding it in preparation for painting.

After applying the Rustoleum automotive primer, you can clean your tools and spray equipment with the Rust-Oleum Specialty Reducer.

You can also use the reducer to clean up paint drips, splatters, and oversprays.

However, it is best to clean everything immediately because the dried auto primer is hard to remove.

Do You Wet Sand Auto Primer?

Sanding auto primer is a crucial step in the painting process.

It is an activity that allows you to remove flaws from the primer coat without drawing too much product from the surface.

This process is best left for the final coat of the primer to correct any coating mistakes such as drips and remove dirt and specks that may cause bumps and other imperfections on your topcoat. 

Wet sanding is much like dry sanding because they do the same thing – scuffing an area to remove some material and make the surface smoother.

However, you must use water for lubrication while wet sanding to help remove the smallest particles without too much scratching the primer.

The best lubricating combo for wet sanding surfaces is a mixture of water and detergent.

The detergent reduces the water’s surface tension allowing it to wet the sandpaper and the surface more effectively, making it a better lubricant.

You can also use plain water, but I advise against it because primer clogs sandpaper quickly, and adding the detergent will keep the paper cleaner for longer.

Apart from proper lubrication, you must use the appropriate material when wet sanding auto primer to achieve a flawless finish.

You cannot use regular sandpaper for wet sanding because manufacturers did not design them to be used with water.

The adhesive that holds the grit onto standard sandpaper is not waterproof.

So, when you drench the sandpaper as much as wet sanding requires, the bond will loosen and release the grit particles onto the surface.

I recommend using silicone carbide sandpaper because it has a waterproof backing and is gentler on the surface.

Another critical factor you should consider when wet sanding primer is the grit of the sandpaper.

You do not need rough sandpaper for wet sanding because you’re not trying to level dented or sharp edges on the surface.

Instead, you require sandpaper with higher grit to get the job done. Grit refers to the abrasive particles glued to the paper.

The higher the grit, the tinier the particles, therefore finer scratches on the surface.

When wet sanding auto primer, I recommend sandpaper with grits between 600-1500.

Start sanding with the 600-grit paper, then work your way up the figures like you do when dry sanding.

You can purchase sandpaper up to 3000 grit if you love perfection, but most people have achieved satisfactory results with 1500 grit.

Should I Sand Paint Before Clear Coat On Wood?

It is the level of freshness of the paint on your wooden surface that will determine whether you will sand it before a clear coat or not.

If you have recently put on the base coat, there is not much preparation to do before applying the clear – let the last layer dry for at least 24 hours or, as per the manufacturer’s suggestion, then put on the topcoat.

However, if you intend to apply clear over old paint on wood or touch up a damaged clear coat, you will have to wet sand the color until smooth before applying the topcoat.

Before wet sand, your painted wood, use some TSP to remove grease and debris that may be stuck in the old paint coat.

If you start wetting sand on a dirty surface, some of the solid dirt may leave ghastly scratches on the paint’s surface, which you want to avoid.

After cleaning the surface, you should wet sand the paint with 400-grit sandpaper.

I specifically use 400 grit paper for my painted wood projects because it scuffs the color enough for a clear coat to grip properly without leaving visible scratches in the finish.

After wet sanding, clean the painted wood with a quality finish cleaner, then use a tack cloth to wipe any dust.

Finally, allow the surface to dry before applying your clear coat.

Here’s How to Use Automotive Paint On Wood


Automotive paint is the most durable of all surface coating products. Its formulation keeps it from fading quickly, and it dries so hard to protect its surface from mechanical damage.

It is not unusual to find painters looking to substitute their regular paint with auto paint, especially when working with wood. But the question remains…

Can You Use Auto Paint on Wood?

You can use auto paint to color wooden surfaces, but you have to sand the surface and prime it with a quality product to prevent the paint from cracking and chipping quickly.

Using an auto primer to prepare wood for color may seem right, but it’s wrong.

Car primers dry into a robust and rigid coat that cannot keep up with the constant expansion and contraction of wooden surfaces, so it is best to keep them off your wood. 

On the other hand, auto clear coats are perfect for protecting your wooden surface.

However, I suggest that you use them on wooden surfaces away from your main living areas and avoid using them on children’s toys.

I hope this article has all the details you need concerning automotive coating products and how they work on wooden surfaces.

If you have any tips to share with us or need clarification on anything, please reach out in the comments section below.