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How to Paint a Metal Return Vent Cover

Ryan Lawrence

An unfinished metal return vent cover may stand out from the painted walls surrounding it. Finishing it with paint can help it blend in. Metal vent covers are nonporous, which makes them poorly suited for adhesion.

And they are too durable for the friction-based abrasion methods painters use to increase the adhesive qualities of other nonporous surfaces, such as vinyl and fiberglass. If you want the paint to stick to the vent cover, pre-treat it with a primer specifically manufactured to etch metal.

  1. Remove the vent cover, using a screwdriver.

  2. Wash the vent cover with a degreasing soap, using a coarse brush. Rinse the cover with wet rags and dry it with a clean towel.

  3. Place the vent cover on a fabric drop cloth.

  4. Apply self-etching spray primer to the vent cover. Hold the spray nozzle 8 inches away from the vent cover. Wait at least three hours before proceeding.

  5. Apply gloss latex spray paint or enamel to the vent cover. Again, keep the nozzle 8 inches away from the cover. Wait at least three hours before reattaching the cover.

  6. Warning

    Do not prime a metal return vent cover with acrylic or latex primer, or it will shed its new finish.
    Do not paint an unprimed vent cover, or the enamel will flake or peel. It's critical that you maintain an 8-inch space between the vent cover and spray nozzle, or the paint is likely to sag.