How To Upgrade Your Old Brass Door Knobs With Spray Paint

You down with ORB? Yeah you know me.

The deed has been done. After years (yes nearly two years!) of planning to upgrade every last old brass door knob in our entire house, we finally got ‘er done. Strike up the band! I can’t hear you. Can I at least get some cow bell?

Yup, we removed 19 knobs with the intent of oil-rubbed bronzing (aka: ORBing) those babies. First we tried this method with a few exterior knobs, handles, and even a doorknocker a while back, just to see how they would hold up before doing the whole shebang (and I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t really have energy for the whole shebang up front). Baby steps.

We figured that since those exterior knobs/handles/knockers still look great after a year and a half of being exposed to the elements (remember we did an update on them here?), that bodes well for all 18 (yes 18!) of the interior knobs that we finally got around to removing and ORBing. But we’re so happy with the results! Totally worth the trouble.

Here are the steps we followed:

  • we removed all 18 knobs with a screwdriver, being careful to keep them paired up (we didn’t want to forget what went with what when we had to reinstall them)
  • using super high grit paper (400) we sanded every last knob to rough them up so the paint would stick (if you see small scratches don’t worry, they’ll be covered with paint- but you definitely want to use high grit paper because low grit can leave deep/big scratches that show through)
  • then I wiped down each knob with liquid deglosser (we like Crown’s Next Liquid Deglosser since it’s low-VOC) and laid them all out on a piece of cardboard (with them facing up, not lying on their sides – which sometimes meant piercing through the cardboard with their back parts to make them stand up).

  • I used Universal All-Surface Spray Paint (by Rostoleum) in the oil-rubbed bronze finish. This has a built-in primer and sticks extremely well to things – especially metal – so if you’re contemplating using another brand, you might need to spring for a separate primer to apply first if it’s not already included.
  • When it came to how I sprayed, I just misted everything from all angles. To avoid nasty drips and runny paint, doing several light coats with about 10 minutes of drying time between them was the charm. Mine were so thin it took five coats and I kept the can moving around the whole time – like you’d mist your mane with Aqua-Net. I also squatted on the ground from all sides to be sure I got all of the exposed parts of the knob completely covered.

  • We let everything dry for a full 48 hours before reinstalling them (didn’t want to mark up the finish while wrestling them back into place). After 12 hours outside on a nice day (you don’t want to spray when it’s too cold – check the can for temperature guidelines) we brought them inside to the sunroom so they could continue curing for the rest of the time since it gets too cold outside at night for the paint to dry properly outside.

When it comes to a time breakdown, it took about thirty minutes to remove all the knobs, about two hours to sand and degloss them all, and about an hour to spray paint them. Then after 48 hours of drying time we reinstalled them in all in about half an hour. So the total time spent for what look like new ORB doors = 3 hours and 30 minutes (plus a few passive days of drying time).

And it only took one can of spray paint (actually less than that, since we were using an already-open leftover can). So that’s a lot cheaper than the $185 (!!!) we would have spent at Home Depot buying the exact same knobs in their oil-rubbed bronze finish. Our verdict: so happy with them. Wish we did this about two years sooner. Seriously it wasn’t even that big of a project (in our heads we kept putting it off because messing with every door in the house feels intimidating, but honestly you just remove a few screws, note which ones go together, and they’re all back in a few days later).

Oh and here’s an installation tip for ya: we found that using some painter’s tape while re-installng them kept us from scratching the newly applied finish (then just remove the tape when you’re done and it’s all good).

As for our door hinges, many of them already look ORBed (they’re old and darkened and not bright and shiny brass like the knobs were) or are painted over in white like the door from the previous owners, so we don’t have bright brass hinges clashing with the dark knobs or anything. But if you do you could probably switch them out for a few bucks per door. ORBed doorknobs are muuuch more expensive to buy than hinges or door plates, which is the good news (so I probably wouldn’t attempt to spray paint hinges like the doorknobs, since I’d worry all that grinding over time would make the paint peel and scrape off).

And as for the latch strike plates, a few of those already look ORBed like the hinges (just from darkening over time, which for some reason didn’t seem to happen to the shiiiiny brass knobs themselves) but a few were still brassy and bright, like this one:

…so we picked four of them up from Home Depot for $5 total (they’re a whole lot cheaper than knobs!). Our reasoning for buying new ones to replace any super brassy ones that stood out instead of spray painting them ORB as well, was because the latch bangs against them a lot, so we thought they might scratch over time (whereas the knobs themselves don’t grind against anything else that’s metal, which must by why they hold up so well – even when they’re outside).

So there it is. A “dude get on that already” project that has been in the making for a long arse time. Feels pretty good to check that off! And just as I suspected, every single room/closet that we put them back on looked a little posher and less “ew, eighties brass”-ish than it did before. Hooray for small upgrades that make your whole house feel a little more crisp, new, and loved. What have you guys been checking off your to-do list? Does it involve paint? Sandpaper? A whole lotta procrastination beforehand?


  1. Jennifer A says

    Same here on the latch plates! I only did one and it has scratched already. Now that I know they are so cheap I will go buy an ORB one!

  2. Jen says

    You guys should do a blog post (if you haven’t already) of what sandpaper to use when. I never know if I’m supposed to go fine or rough if I’m (for example) sanding for prep of painting, in between coats, to remove gloss, to remove actual finish, etc.

    • says

      Generally if you are refinishing wood go with low grit and then high grit, but for metals you want a very high grit one so you don’t scratch things up! Same with walls (sanding with low grit and then high grit to smooth it seems to work best). Hope it helps! Basically high grit removes finish + gloss and low grit smooths things out so you don’t have scratches.


  3. Shanna says

    I’ve been meaning to do this after your post about your front door’s hardware, but I’ve been procrastinating too. Now you’ve motivated me again. :) And your “like you’d mist your mane with Aqua-Net” comment cracked me up!

  4. says

    looks amazing! i didn’t even know they made a spray paint to look like oil-rubbed bronze!? learn something new everyday!

    we recently tackled adding shelves to our pantry-that-used-to-be-a-bedroom-closet. our brownstone is ANCIENT, and our kitchen used to be a bedroom (that’s why our water heater sits out in the middle of everything in the kitchen, yuck), so there was a bar across for clothes and hooks in the back (because before everyone uses a bar in the closet, they used hooks! those hooks must be 100 years old!!) so we took out the bar and installed shelves on either side for food storage (since we also have no cabinets, only open shelving that we installed ourselves)

    did i mention we have a RENTAL!? that’s what you do, i suppose, when you pay half the market rent, you live in a crappy place and fix it yourself!

    • Meredith says

      My old apartment had a crumbling tile border, and my mom helped me pick out replacement tiles and replace the broken ones. It made me so happy! I think it was a $25 fix, but totally worth it for the 2 years I lived there.

  5. Kathie G says

    Wow, looks great!
    I replaced all my hinges to with real brass that accept screwed in finials on the top and bottom of the hinge. The finials I picked are little brass pineapples. Soooo expensive but those pineapples make my heart skip.
    My doorknobs are all glass and when I replaced them I had to redo all the locksets because the new version was a bigger than the original inset door locks.
    Procrastinating on the last detail; the little plate thingy that goes between the knob and the door. My ol’ house is sucking my checking account dry.

    • says

      They’re all hollow core except for our bedroom door (that was added when they put on an addition in the 70s so we think that’s why it’s different). I’d love solid doors someday!


  6. Stacey T says

    This is great! We are in the middle of updating our circa 1983 condo, which came complete with all original brass hardware. Now I know exactly what to ORB and what to not waste my time on. Especially since we have only 5 interior doors to update hardware on. Thanks for a great tutorial. Can’t wait to finish bringing our place into the 21st century before we list it to sell in 2014!

  7. says

    This looks awesome! A perfect example of how an easy update can make a big difference. I’m going to mention this one to my parents as an easy update! By the way, for our Christmas gift for my parents this year, we’re making over their bedroom which has been long overdue! So excited to begin! And yes, we’ll definitely reference several YHL tutorials. :)

  8. Kristina says

    **Cowbell** I’m dancing around like Will Farell right now. We’re ramping up to repaint the kitchen and finish the painting in our hallway (it’s been half done for 4 years!)

  9. Emily says

    I’m glad you brought up NOT painting the hinges. Our interior doors came with brass hinges when we built our house and I got to pick out the knobs (which I purchased in a satin nickel finish). The clashing is so annoying, although I’m pretty sure no one in my house notices it but me! I’d debated spray painting the hinges, but thought the same thing you did about the possibility of the paint grinding off with multiple open-and-closes over time. I know you can buy lots of hinges at the contractor’s price at most home improvements stores – but I have to admit the thought of removing three hinges from each door is a little intimidating and sounds terribly time consuming. Now that I see how great yours look now that they all match, I just might have to ‘get on that’!! :)

    • Pam says


      Try to replace the hinges one at a time. It’s much easier than removing and having to re-hang the door. And it’s quicker than you think!

  10. says

    This post sparked a few bulbs in my head.

    I wonder if this would work with cabinet pulls too. :) Those things are so high and the existing ones we have are pretty except they are worn out brass.

    • says

      Oh yes, I’ve seen people do that! I would just be sure to sand and degloss them since the oils they might have on them from being in a kitchen could make the spray paint come off if they’re not stripped of it first!


    • says

      Isn’t that always how it is? Something you put off for so long ends up being so simple you wish you tackled it sooner?! But at least that’s better than thinking something will be fast and easy and hitting ten snags (that happens too! haha!).


  11. says

    Looks great! I have finally decided to replace all ours knobs with satin nickel and the ones that are done look so much better than the old beat up brass or the new bright & shiny brass.

    It’s definitely expensive though – so we do 2 at a time.

  12. says

    I’ve been wanting to do this since you did your first few. Haven’t convinved the husband on it yet. We were looking to sell our townhouse but looks like we’ll be sticking around so I might push more for it now since we want to finish the basement and will be buying brand new part for that project. Glad to hear that the hinges and plates are much cheaper.

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