Paint Your Car With Rustoleum




Do you have a fun car that you just KNOW will go faster with a brand new paint job?

This method is based on the idea of using a foam paint roller to put many layers of Rustoleum on your car. Except, I used a professional airgun and only 2 coats. The result? Pretty dang good, for the money.


So why Rustoleum? Well, on the internet you can find people who rolled it on, and the cars look pretty good. But most of all, you can get a quart for under $5 at any hardware store, whereas automotive paint can be 20-50 times that much.

I have a neighbor who has a paint shop in his garage, so I got to use his spray gun. You will need a spray gun and air compressor, but if you don't you can still try rolling on the paint.

Other thoughts:

Throughout the project I kept telling myself, "self, if this works'll have to do an Instructable on it," and it worked out, so this is my first instructable.

Note: I'm not liable for....anything. If you ruin your car, my condolences but remember, YOU did it. However you probably won't ruin your car unless you try.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Preparation

First, you'll need some items:

  • A car you're willing to ruin the paint job on
  • 2-4 quarts (depending on size of car) of gloss Rustoleum - color of your choice
  • 4 or more cans of Rustoleum auto primer spray paint
  • 1 quart of acetone
  • 1 can of Bondo (optional)
  • Sand paper - 120, 400, 800 grit (or the closest you can get)
  • Mixing can/bottle/whatever
  • Stir stick
  • Masking tape and paper
  • 4" super-fine foam paint roller (optional)
  • Spray gun - bigger nozzle seems to work better
  • Air compressor - big enough for the spray gun's requirements
  • Dry, well-ventilated area to paint in
  • A bunch of misc. tools - these may include screw drivers, ratchet sets, allen wrenches, a can of liquid wrench
  • 2 gallons of diligence

You'll do well to make sure the primer is Rustoleum, to ensure compatibility (paint can act stupidly if it doens't like the primer). Also, use dark primer if your car color is dark (blue, green, black, etc) and lighter primer if the paint is lighter. This way you won't have to spray on 20 coats to cover it up.

It's also a good idear to handle any bodywork your car needs. If you don't want to do this, get a professional to do it but see if you can have him skip painting it to save money. However, for small dents Bondo (or any number of superior, more expensive fillers) is really quite easy to use. I had to replace a destroyed fender and bondo a big dent on the hood before painting, but it was a lot easier than you'd think.

Step 2: Remove Trim

Look at your car. Especially in the door jams. Imagine masking all those little parts off, one by one....sound like fun? No. Remove them (this may be a long process, but most trim comes off pretty easily with the right tools).

What exactly should you remove?

  • Hood, trunk, gas tank lid (if removable) - these are a lot easier to paint separately
  • Rubber gaskets/trim
  • Lights
  • Reflectors
  • License plates
  • Door latching stuff
  • Pretty much anything that goes over a painted surface, that you can remove safely

Stash all the parts somewhere they won't get lost, stolen, rained on, etc. A nice empty work table is great, then you can lay them out in an organized way - i.e. NOT like this:

Step 3: Sand!

Sanding the car before painting it is like...opening a bank account before making a deposit. Ya just gotta do it. First, use strong soap, wax and grease remover, or whatever you have lying around to clean the heck out of the paint. Then sand it with 300 or 400 grit paper.

For difficult areas, you may want to get some abrasive foam or scouring material that conforms better than regular sand paper. The point is to completely eliminate the shininess of the finish, and get past the clear coat. You don't want to sand down to bare metal, there's no point.

Step 4: Bondo!

In case you do have some dents you'd like to make go away, it's nice and easy. Ask yourself: is this dent really big, like over an inch deep and 6 inches wide? If so, get a dent puller or something ( not my area of expertise ).

For small dents, sand 2 inches all around the dent down to bare metal (use really rough sandpaper, maybe 120 grit). Make sure the metal part is really rough. Then get a can of Bondo - you can find it everywhere - and mix it up on a clean, non-porous surface. Slap it on the dent, cover the whole area past flush.

Try not to get bubbles mixed in, these look terrible. Then you sand the Bondo back down to flush, using really big sanding strokes to make it even with the whole surface. Use progressively finer sand paper to get a nice smooth end product. You shouldn't be able to feel where the Bondo blends into the car.

Step 5: Mask!

You don't want to paint your window now do you? No...that wouldn't be very smart. But never fear, masking tape is here! You'll need painters tape (blue) or extra strong auto masking tape (green) to cover all the areas that are already the right color.

Some things to mask:

  • Windshield
  • Side windows
  • Rear window
  • Mirrors
  • Rubber gaskets that you weren't able to remove in step 2
  • Door handles
  • The inside of the car (you'll have the doors open when you paint)
  • Tail pipe
  • Engine bay
  • Radiator (believe me, it looks quite retarded if paint gets on there when you paint the front of the car)
  • Tires
  • Any important-looking labels inside the door that have important car information

Again, things like tail lights, head lights, rubber gaskets, car logos, etc should really be removed before you paint, or it will end up looking like a noob did it with finger paint.

For big areas use quality masking paper or cardboard, and garbage bags work well for tires.

The quality of the mask job is immeasurably important. If you do super crisp accurate masking, your paint job will look like the car was always that color. Spend as much time on this step as possible.

Step 6: Prime!

You put primer on the car so the regular paint stays on. Pretty straight forward. I used spray paint, since this doesn't really affect the final finish. Rustoleum makes "automotive primer" so I figured that was appropriate. I'm not qualified to give any advice on spraying, other than do it outside and wear a mask so you don't get cancer.

Prepare the surface

Use some tack cloth and clean off all the loose paint and dust on the car.


The coat doesn't need to be thick, but it has to cover everything. Spray it on, have fun.
Let the stuff dry...maybe an hour or 2 before you paint a second coat (if it needs it). Let it dry for a day or two.

Sand it!

According to my professional car painter neighbor, you should sand the primer before painting on the top coat. Since fresh primer is extremely "soft", you can use 800 or so grit and get a really smooth surface. Be very careful not to sand through the primer though, or you'll have to spray on some more.

Step 7: Paint!!!

This is the big showdown. You'll have spent many hours preparing by now, and this is the moment you've all been waiting for! If you want to try rolling on the Rustoleum, be my guest. People have had success with that in the past, but I have a feeling that doing the door jams would be hell and half compared to spraying it on.

You may want to re-mask everything, because dust and paint on the used masking paper can find its way onto your new finish. And remember to clean off all dust on the car by hitting it with compressed air or using tack cloth.

For rolling on paint:

Get a foam paint roller - 4" wide should do, and make sure it's as fine as possible. This creates a very smooth finish if the paint is thin enough.

Mix acetone into the rustoleum in a mixing can. I've read that you want something around the consistency of water, which means a LOT of acetone. You'll probably need more than 1 quart to do the whole car. When mixing paint, stir it with a stick, DON'T shake it or bubbles will happen.

Note: This method requires a lot more patience than spraying, as you're supposed to do 8 or 10 coats, sanding in between each one if orange peel starts happening. I highly reccomend you read the original source of this method (which inspired this entire project) here:

For spraying it on:

To spray on paint, mix a little acetone into the paint. The can recommends no more than 5%, but don't worry about that since the thinner the paint, the smoother it goes on. However, it is also more likely to run on vertical surfaces so be careful.

This process is somewhat risky, but has great potential. Hard to get areas like door jams, cracks, etc will look amazing when the paint is sprayed on. On the other hand, the entire car may turn out looking like an orange. If that happens, you probably need to mix in more acetone.

If you get lots of orange peel, fish eyes, or other demonic paint problems, you can always sand them away and try again, and in hard to get to areas it won't matter anyway. Spraying on multiple coats also makes for a smoother finish. Wait a few hours between coats to allow drying.

Leave the paint to dry peacefully for at least a few days. I let my car sit in a dry garage for over a week before putting any of the trim back.

Step 8: Finish the Job

After your paint is nice and dry (it should be invulnerable to you pressing your fingernail into it), you can put all the trim back on. Admire your work, and make sure not to scratch it! I did while carrying the hood, and got rather upset.


There were a few flaws in the paint, such as the occasional fish eye or scratch (a cat decided to use the door as a scratching post, god I hate cats) but overall looked excellent. I plan on putting two 6-inch white stripes down the car later, which I will probably use Rustoleum spray paint to do.

All in all this was very fun, very experimental, but also quite satisfying. The trick is to have a positive attitude about it...since you don't know it's going to turn out well, you have to just assume it will. If the finish looks bad, sand it and try again. The forces of good will prevail.

Step 9: Long-Term Results

After almost 2 years, I have finally washed the car for the first time! Lots of people have been asking for new pictures of the car, so on America's birthday I washed off a thick layer of dust to find looks as good as new! When compared to the original photos, the paint looks as bright, shiny and clean as ever.

For a while I kept the car under a UV-shielded car cover, and for the last 6 months it's been under a carport, to minimize the UV exposure (a good practice for regular automotive paint too). Note that there are a few one or two locations the paint has cracked from impacts, but more noticeably there are a few spots where bird droppings dissolved the paint. This happened because I neglected to wash off said droppings for several weeks. I will probably touch up these spots with the spray-paint version of Rustoleum.

Anyway....below are the photos, which speak for themselves! They are not altered in any way besides resizing and blurring the plates. Also, it was much sunnier out (July at 2:00 vs December at 5:00) when I took the new pics, so the color doesn't look exactly the same as the old ones.

5 People Made This Project!


  • Furniture Contest

    Furniture Contest
  • Reuse Contest

    Reuse Contest
  • Hot Glue Speed Challenge

    Hot Glue Speed Challenge

380 Discussions


Question 9 days ago

Using a standard viscosity meter, what numbers would you say are good for a mixed medium spray job? Thank You, JD (Rt 66 Race cars)


3 months ago

Thanks for the post! I had a good result.


5 months ago

Very nice result, friend !
I just wanted to throw in a few small jibes, maybe if you edit the instructable later you can address these:
* No clear coat applied. Why or why not? Your end result speaks emphatically for "no clear needed," yet every other internet tip says "end it with a clear". Maybe more of your own thoughts on the idea, especially as it applies to matching cars' factory color on part-replacement, such as dented corners.
* Never have I heard the tip to add acetone for a better result. Maybe you can get some tips from a chemist or pro painter on what this actually does.
* Your instructable started with heavy emphasis on 'finishing your job with aerosol cans of Rust-O-leum'. But midway through, you noted that a friend loaned you an air-compressor spray kit. This ran contrary to the term "spray can auto paint" which I internet-searched for. I know it's a failing on my own search engine, but your instructable really did change its own emphasis once it had been written out and photographed.

Again, a fine job, and I am envious that you applied the multiple gallons of diligence.


1 year ago

Did you place a gloss on it after the painting? If so did you need to sand down the paint?

1 reply

Reply 7 months ago

You can clear coat anything. But when using Rustoleum, or any ENAMEL, you have to be careful. It has to be 100% cured. If you're using a compressor and spray gun and thinning with acetone usually 24 hours at 70 is fine. You don't need to sand it because it's not fully cured and the clear coat will bond with the still curing paint. This is how I paint economy cars. I use cheap - but good - enamel (, then clear this with 5 Star Clear. You have to be a good painter because you can't sand the enamel or it will show under the clear


7 months ago on Step 6

If you're doing a job like this there's ABSOLUTELY no reason to sand the primer. I hear this all the time. Unless there are defects or runs I don't sand the primer on my professional car paint jobs. It's a completely unnecessary time waster. Primer is there to PRIME IT. And, again, unless there are glaring defects - or you're doing a #1 or showroom job where you need to spray a guide coat and then block sand it, there's no reason to sand primer on an economy low end car paint job


Question 1 year ago on Step 9

Your instruction was great
My question is why not use spray cans?
That was my plan
Did you clear coat after?


4 years ago

I gotta agree that rust oleum or tremclad how it's called is a rather surprisingly nice product. I'd like to share my experience with using inexpensive methods of spraying a car. And trust me there is a way to paint a car with good quality in under 100$ worth of material. I spray for living. Once I have decided to spray a car with plasti dip. I won't be talking about plasti dip here because I don't wanna promote this product as my personal opinion on it is not the best. But as soon as I peeped that off and while having my car still masked and in a booth I wanted to experiment. I heard some guys roll on themclad with good results. I will begin with the fact that difference between rolled on and sprayed on product is huge. I wouldn't attempt rolling my car. So back to the story. I went to the store and got a can of rustoleum/tremclad in white matte. Thinned it down about 20% and sprayed it. What I discovered that it payed down and flowed very nice. But there was something I did not like about it. Even dry and cured it was still a bit gummy. So my curiosity did not end there. And I am very happy I continued pursuing the search for ultimate cheap method to spray a car. So I went to the store Sherwin Williams and got Sher-Kem metal finishing enamel. I'll be honest I used this product before and it sticks to anything as long as the surface is pre sanded and degreased. so there we go I masked my car in the booth again thinned it down to an appropriate viscosity and did couple testing pieces on a waste pieces of metal. This product is amazing and I will choose it again in the future. So when I sprayed it I got same result at rustoleum. But on the other piece I have added catalyst to it (yes they sell catalyst for it) and the difference in hardness and speed of drying was night and day. I even added pearls in there and they flowed very nice. So if you guys are planning to use rust oleum on a car take this in consideration. Sher-Kem from Sherwin Williams plus catalyst and it comes in different sheens and you can get them to Color match to what u want. Adding pearls to it is very much acceptable and durability and scratch resistance on my opinion isn't any worse than autobody clear. The bottom line is that you get a professional looking pain job with the product that is easier to apply than auto body clear/base and that stands up to weather and every day wear like a champ. (Where I live in winter it gets to below 40 Celsius). And forgot to mention that it's roughly the same price as rustoleum. I hope my experience will help somebody.

1 reply

Reply 2 years ago

What paint have you used on the above?

Im look to respray my small pickup brigjt yellow! Ideally I wanted to do a matt metalic yellow.


4 years ago

Few comments to people that want to do this to their car. Rustoluem is a good product at a fair price. That being said if you paint your car with Rustoluem the paint is porous. any bird poop get on it will eat into the paint then you go to the car wash to wash it off all the detergents in the soap will get into the paint and it will chalk the paint after awhile. The paint will look good for a period of time. The Rustoluem need a clear coat to protect it from the elements. A tip for the guys wanting to go with a satin or flat black paint job buy a good quality epoxy primer. It seals itself and is not porous and you will not have the problems with it like you do with Rustoluem. I like to use Montana "big sky epoxy prime" it flows out of a gun so nice lays down great. Even a cheap gun will work. it been a few years since I've had to buy any but I paid 50 bucks for a half gallon which would cover a average car with a gun.

2 replies

Reply 3 years ago

i dont understand do you put it on top of the paint? or as the primer? also how many coats is good?


Reply 2 years ago

clear coat always goes on last by itself. it is the protector of the underlying color. lay it on thick and it will serve you well


2 years ago

Nice car, see some more cars here:


2 years ago

This my 03 cvpi, decent I thought. Chrome trim needed treated better though


Reply 3 years ago

Hey, nice! How many coats is that?


Reply 3 years ago

I used a total of 8cans of rustoleum Spray paint


3 years ago

DirtCheapDaily on YouTube did this too. He spray painted his car in his driveway. Gotta love this blue, it looks totally wicked.


3 years ago

Hoping I can ask some advice from you fine people...

In Cyprus I cant get white primer let alone a spray gun and
psi compressor etc. Cypriots here have hit off both wing mirrors for parking in
their (public parking) space. Scratched side of car for parking in their
(public parking) preferred space, and the sun damage to bonnet and roof was
terrible. The guy I bought the car from used a cheap scratch hider so about a
month later all these scratches came up... Anyway car doesn't feel great and none of this was any fault
of my own so took matters into own hands. Wanted to know if a normal
non-professional could pick up spray cans and revitalize his car. Here's how I
got on:

Today went to check on car and some Cypriot guys shouting at
me to move the car. Then noticed the same guy had stolen my new polishing
cloths and scrapers etc... I just smiled.

So far: Tape car -> prime car -> paint white on primer
-> sandpaper drips -> paint white until drips gone.

No clear coat, no buffing, no rubbing compound, no wet
sanding... just primer and 27 cans of white gloss and lots of care and
attention. My problem is I have shadows of white despite having a thick
base coat. Probably just because its an outside job and spray paint in wind etc
isn't great. Should I use a thick foam block by hand lightly skim the top
surface with rubbing compound, then buff and clear coat? Or wet sand, then buff
and clear coat? I've never wet sanded before and doesn't feel right on a thick
base coat...

Car 10.1.jpgCar 9.1.jpgCar 8.1.jpgCar 6.1.jpgCar 5.1.jpgCar 3.1.jpgCar 2.1.jpg

3 years ago

were do i find 2 gallons of diligence ive looked everywere for it!!!