Updating Old Brass Hardware & Handles With Spray Paint

How you like them handles?

(Handles, apples. It’s all the same. Right Matt Damon? What? You don’t think Matt Damon reads this blog? Of course he doesn’t.)

Anyway, I’m back to share the hardware makeover play-by-play and a ton of pics that we couldn’t squeeze into our door-painting post on Wednesday. So fasten your seat belts. Oh yeah, it’s gonna get crazy. First I have a secret. The hardware on our sliding doors in the living room looked like this:

Le yikes, right? It’s all sorts of bad with the swoopy handle and the Donald Trump-ish gold finish. Sidenote: remember when I had a dream about The Donald? Memories.

If you look a little closer it’s not even shiny and new looking gold, it’s all rusted and neglected…

So as you can probably tell from the photo above (duh) down they came. We stripped the hardware off of both of the sliding doors in about five minutes (I took one side while John got the other one) by just unscrewing things on the front, back, and side to free them with a regular old philips head screwdriver…

… and then we removed the doorknob and the rusty old door knocker on the front door (also with a screwdriver – there were exposed screws that we just removed from the back).

You can check out our door-painting post for more details on that stuff (like how we sanded the paint around the hardware that we removed so it was nice and smooth before painting).

But back to our pile o’ removed hardware. Here we have the sliding door hardware along with the doorknob, deadbolt, and the door knocker from the front door:

It was like a Gold Hardware “Where Are They Now?” Special on VH1. Some folks weren’t as crusty as others, but they were all well past their prime.

So after some decent amount of online research and chatting up the paint pros at Lowe’s (there’s a woman at the one near us who is phenomenally knowledgeable) we learned that the most recommended method for refinishing hardware (to gain the most durability and long-lasting finish) was:

  1. Sand as much of the hardware as you can with high grit (200+) sandpaper to rough it up
  2. Use a liquid deglosser (like Next, which is low-VOC and biodegradable) to degloss everything to get oils and sanded particles off of the hardware before spraying
  3. Apply one thin and even coat of high quality spray primer meant for metal (we grabbed Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Coverage Primer in gray since we figured it would blend more than white)
  4. Apply two to three thin and even coats of high quality spray paint meant for metal in your color of choice (of course, our poison was: Rustoleum Universal Metallic All-Surface Spray Paint in Oil-Rubbed Bronze)

So I grabbed my high grit sandpaper and started on the first step: sanding.

Ahhhhhhhhh. Baaaad idea. The sandpaper left tons of obvious scratches in the gold finish that I knew wouldn’t completely be covered by thin coats of primer and spray paint. I should have taken a picture of the one side of the doorknob that I thought I ruined with the dumb sanding step but I was too busy freaking out. So naturally I made some sort of sound that resembled a walrus screaming and chucked the sandpaper as far away as possible while cradling/apologizing to my doorknob and promising him that I’d never hurt him like that again. Luckily I realized the knob would be installed with that part underneath, so only Clara-height children may be able to see the slightly roughed up texture on the underside. Whew.

Update: A few smarter-than-me commenters recommended trying steel wool or super high grit automotive sandpaper to rough up the surface, so I plan to try that next time. Just tossing that out there for anyone who might be doing this (who may want extra “insurance” that the spray will hold).

So it was out the window with step one, and on to step two: deglossing. I just used some rubber gloves and a rag to apply Next Liquid Deglosser (which is low-VOC and biodegradable) and then let everything dry a little so it wasn’t soaking wet before moving onto step three: applying one thin coat of spray primer. But when I went to grab the primer I noticed something intriguing on the ORB can next to it. It said “paint & primer in one” right on the label. Duh. No need to beat a dead horse.

So I trusted my beloved ORB spray primer + paint to lead the way and just applied three thin and even coats to all of my hardware (that I strategically placed on cardboard so I could access all of the exposed parts by piercing the long metal interior hardware rods through the cardboard so they stood up). I will now repeat that thin and even is the key when it comes to spray paint. If you apply thin & even coats they won’t be globby and thick, and they’ll bond/cure very strongly, which will greatly reduce any issues with things flaking, scratching, or peeling down the line.

Oh and see that key? That’s a secret.

I decided I didn’t want to muck up the inside of my lock with spray paint, so I used a spare house key to block the spray from getting into the lock (while allowing me to access the rest of the knob). I didn’t push the key all the way in for fear that the top of the key would block some of the outside of the doorknob, so I just stuck it halfway in so it would block the interior part without inhibiting access to the metal facade around it. Then I just removed it and used it on the deadbolt’s keyhole when I sprayed that.

Oh and another spraying tip would be to put all of your screws into the hardware and pierce them through the cardboard so the ends of them get sprayed to match (like the two that you see below). Also, be sure to move things like latches back and forth between coats to make sure you can access all areas of the hardware with spray paint. Like this…

… and this:

About an hour later (I probably waited 20 minutes between each of my three thin and even coats, just to be sure it was nice and cured before piling more on) I was left with these beauties:

Who sees a winking face? Just me?

I probably waited six full hours after my last coat of spray paint before reinstalling anything. Just to give them a lot of time to fully cure and ensure that I wouldn’t scratch or ding something while putting them back on the doors. I can’t speak to the long-term durability of this process since it has only been… oh, about 48 hours. But I can tell you that reinstalling them went really smoothly and everything works just as well as it used to and nothing was even remotely marred or dinged during installation or in the past two days since.

So I guess we’ll check back in with an update about how they hold up over the long haul (these doors are used every single day thanks to a dog who loves going in and out). But so far, so good. And it definitely beats buying all new hardware (we figured we didn’t have anything to lose in trying to make the old stuff work before resorting to trashing it and splurging for all new hardware).

Oh and it bares noting that things look pretty black in some of these pics, but it’s just because ORB is a mystical creature. So it’s hard to capture the true color that you see in real life (which is a rich metallic-y chocolate). Actually, the exterior sprayed shots above show the true color really well. It still looks like that inside, it’s just seemingly impossible to get it on film.

Perhaps the most exciting thing is that in taking this style quiz, the thing that I loved most about the room they said was “my style” was the white door with the dark hardware. And now it’s mine. All mine. Mwahahaha. (<– yup, I broke out my maniacal laugh)

I think it looks delish with the oil-rubbed bronze curtain rods and the dark beams. And John digs it too (delish just isn’t an adjective he’s apt to use).

Me-ow old sliding door friend. My how you’ve matured. Well, as much as a twisty twirly old 80’s knob can really mature.

And you’ve already seen our freshly sprayed front door hardware, but let’s just revisit it for a moment:

So yeah. We’re happy with our little almost-foiled-by-the-sandpaper process. Although I must admit that after I sprayed the underside of the knob, the scratches were hardly noticeable. So maybe if you’re a staunch rule follower (and not a freaked out walrus impersonator like me) you could get away with the sanding step. Either way, I have high hopes that the deglosser and included-primer will do their job when it comes to adhesion (especially since our old scratched and rusted fixtures weren’t too glossy or shiny to begin with).

As for the ORB finish: Hi my name is Sherry, and I’m addicted to oil-rubbed bronze. They say you can’t help who you love. But it could be worse. I could be addicted to sanding things, which would have been a cruel joke since sandpaper was the kryptonite of this project. I wonder why. Has anyone else successfully sanded their metal hardware before spraying it? Was it not all scratched up? Maybe it just looked “brushed” in the end? I just didn’t trust myself to do it all in one consistent direction (aka: not make a hot mess that was oh so obvious after the spray-job). So in summary, my method was just to: use a liquid deglosser (although I’ll also try steel wool or extra high grit sandpaper next time), lay everything out on cardboard standing up so it could be sprayed evenly from all angles, use a half-inserted key to block any keyholes, spray everything thinly and evenly in 3 coats applied every 20 mins or so, be sure to move toggles and locks so all parts of the hardware were sprayed, and let it cure for about 6 hours before rehanging it.

Oh and the total cost of this project was $6 for the spray paint (I was able to return the unopened can of primer and I already had the deglosser and that dastardly sandpaper on hand). But for someone who needs to purchase deglosser, you might want to budget four more dollars for that. Considering a new knob, deadbolt, knocker, and two locks and four handles for our sliding doors would probably come to about $200, I think we got one heckova deal. So I’ll let you know how they hold up. If they’re anything like our ORBed sofa legs (which we sprayed five months ago, and they still look mint) we’ll have bona fide jazz hands going on. So it’s probably only a matter of time before I really go nuts and remove every last interior brass door and hinge and go to town. Like I said, my name is Sherry, and I’m addicted to oil-rubbed bronze. Holla.

UPDATE: Our handles are still holding steady. Check out the update post here.


  1. Kim Skellenger says

    I refinished our exterior and interior knobs last year, since my capital request for new ones was denied. :) They turned out great, but I used steel wool instead of the deglosser. It has been over a year and the interior doors have held up beautifully, however the front door did not. Lots of scratches and it appears to be just from our keys. With two kids in tow, my aim isn’t quite up to par. I might pull a mulligan and try your method with the deglosser, but it’s going to require a lot of sanding.

    I have to say, that is one beautiful door! Nice work! :)

  2. Heather Snyder says

    We forgot to sand some cabinet knobs that were very glossy. It chipped off with in minutes if they were bumped. Went back through and sanded all of them to get the other paint off and rough up the surface. We were particular about it….just did it. The paint stuck and you can’t tell the difference between the sanded and nonsanded (minus the chipping of course). So you don’t have to be neat or nice about it. The spray paint will fill in the scratches.

  3. janie says

    FYI when things say “paint and primer in one” it just means they cover well, not that you can throw them onto a slick surface and have them adhere.

    I was so relieved when you not only prepped your front door properly, but were going to do the same with your handles. And then you didn’t. Really, guys, you know you come up in google searches. Have a thought for the people who find you by google and think you’re authoritative, and for the future owners of their houses who’ll have to deal with the mess. Sandpaper and primer are your friends for oil painted surfaces and metal. And removing the paint that hasn’t stuck properly to your trim and panelling (not so much doorknobs, you’ll probably just ditch them) will be an absolute bitch of a job.

    • says

      Check out the post for an update both in the middle and end about using steel wool to sand (which is what we plan to do next time, but weren’t smart enough to think of this time). Hope it helps!


  4. Kate says

    I so wish I had known it was possible to paint hardware — I could have saved a fortune! Instead we replaced all of our old brass stuff with an ORB version. Of all of the work we have done, I really think that the hardware update made one of the biggest differences in the overall feel of the place. Love it!

  5. Stephanie says

    Do you think this same process would work well for painting old patio furniture that has painted flaky off all over the place? I’ve been wanting to re-paint it but I want the new paint job to last a while and not have to re-do it every year.

    • says

      You’d definitely have to get it smooth before spraying it, so maybe try sanding it down to a smooth base and then spray it? If you get it smooth and use the high quality spray paint it should last for years (we’re counting on our iron patio furniture holding the ORB that we gave it for at least the next 5+).


  6. Stephanie says

    It was like a Gold Hardware “Where Are They Now?” Special on VH1. :) :) :) hahahahaha That was so funny! :)

  7. says

    I’d say that there must be something in the water except that I don’t live anywhere near Richmond. I first jumped on the ORB boat a couple months ago when we were doing a cheapo kitchen makeover on a rental unit we own. http://thejohnstonkids.blogspot.com/2011/07/kitchen-cabinets.html Then just a few days later we spied a fantastic piece of original artwork at Goodwill that we loved but the frame was ugly. I wondered if I could ORB it and that Monday you posted your twigs and berries art. And after today’s post I may go and finish off the can on some of our doorknobs.

  8. Leah says

    I also have an addiction to the ORB. I’m getting ready to spray paint my fireplace front/doors/whatever-you-call-that-thing in ORB tonight. Right now it’s a truly awful shiny gold and black. I’m really, really hoping it turns out!

  9. says

    When we did all of the door hardware in our house a few weeks ago I skipped the sanding step. I also skipped the degloss, but that’s because our hardware was so NOT glossy that deglossing would’ve been a joke. We did have to take off 7+ layers of paint to get down to the base though. The trusty crockpot with water and laundry detergent paint stripping method did the trick. And now every single knob in our house (except the front door, which we’re still trying to figure out a plan for) is ORB and beautiful.

  10. bridget b. says

    looks great! definitely worth a try before springing for all new knobs. we replaced every brass knob and fixture in our house with brushed nickel and it cost a pretty penny. if i hadn’t wanted lever knobs instead of the round ones, i would have tried spray paint.

    quick question: i would be worried that the spray paint would dry on the external movable part of the knobs in such a way that it would keep them from being able to turn. did you experience that at all?

    • says

      Just apply thin and even coats and turn everything as you spray (like how I moved that toggle lock in the pics, I also turned the little locks and moved handles between coats, etc). Everything functions as smoothly as before!


  11. says

    I am SO glad that you posted this! I have been trying to convince my husband that we really can re-finish our ugly brass knobs and he thinks I am nuts! Not now! THANK YOU!

  12. alexa says

    We have been meaning to do this with all our doorknobs and hinges. They have paint on them from previous owners, however, so we will need to add that to our list of steps, most likely before sanding. Any recommendations on that?

    • says

      We’ve heard that sanding the paint off can work, or soaking them in hot water (someone mentioned using a crock pot) can also work. I’d be nervous to get paint in my crock pot though. Haha. Maybe use an old one that you don’t use for food if you have one (or find one for $5 at a secondhand store for that purpose)?


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