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How to Restore Metal File Cabinets

Kimberly Johnson

Filing cabinets serve a functional office purpose and often take quite a bit of abuse. Over time, the constant slamming of drawers and contact with metal hanging files can cause the finish of the filing cabinet to become scratched and unsightly. Although filing cabinets can be purchased at any office supply store, you can restore the old filing cabinet rather inexpensively. In addition, restoring it yourself allows you to customize the cabinet to your home's decor.

Paint can restore a metal filing cabinet.
  1. Remove all files, papers and other items from the interior of the filing cabinet. Get a friend to help you carry the filing cabinet to an outdoor location.

  2. Lay a plastic drop cloth on the ground and set the filing cabinet on top of the drop cloth. Remove each of the drawers from the filing cabinet by pulling them out as far as they will go and then lifting up slightly to pull them out of the internal track. Set each drawer on the drop cloth beside the filing cabinet.

  3. Examine the surface of the filing cabinet for deep scratches with flaking paint or areas of rust. Sand these areas with a 120 to 150-grit sandpaper until all of the rust or paint flakes are removed. The surface should feel smooth to the touch when you rub your hand over it.

  4. Fill a bucket with 1 gallon of water and 2 to 3 tbsp. of liquid dish soap. Insert a sponge into the bucket and use the soapy water to clean the entire exterior and interior of the filing cabinet and each drawer. Rinse the filing cabinet with a garden hose to remove all of the soap residue and allow the filing cabinet to dry completely before proceeding.

  5. Remove all of the handles and other hardware from the filing cabinet drawers using a screwdriver. If you cannot easily remove the hardware, such as with recessed handles, cover them completely with small pieces of painter's tape.

  6. Open a can of primer that is designed for metal surfaces and pour it into a paint tray. Apply the primer to all surfaces of the filing cabinet and drawers using a paint roller. Allow the primer to dry for two to three hours.

  7. Shake a can of metal spray paint in the desired color to thoroughly mix the paint pigments. Position the can about12 inches away from the filing cabinet and spray the cabinet with a light coat of paint. Keep your hand moving at all times and use a side-to-side motion. It is fine if there are bare spots in this first coat.

  8. Spray the filing cabinet drawers in the same manner as you did the main body of the filing cabinet.

  9. Wait approximately 20 to 30 minutes and apply a second coat of spray paint to both the main filing cabinet body and each of the drawers.

  10. Allow the spray paint to dry overnight and then replace the hardware using a screwdriver. Reinsert the drawers back into the cabinet, remove all painter's tape and move the filing cabinet back indoors.