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. LisaOK says

    Love this! Have been thinking about doing the same thing at our house–now I have the courage to try. I noticed you have simple, flat doors (at least in the bathroom). Have you thought about upgrading them with some trim or anything? We have the same doors and I’m dying to gussy them up a bit.

  2. Caroline says

    We had a big dude-get-on-that-already moment this weekend. After living in our house for almost three years, we finally replaced an atrocious old storm door on the back patio and the cheapo, hollow, totally uninsulated door leading from the house into the garage. Both of their replacements are b-e-a-yootiful and better at their respective jobs! And we thought: why did it take us three years to do this?? Hooray for progress!

  3. Lucy says

    This is motivating me to figure out how to get the paint off all our door hardware. We have the old glass doorknobs (1920s house), and, while the knobs themselves are fine, the plates and hinges have been painted over regularly for 90 years… Seems you can use a pan of hot/boiling water – better head to Goodwill to pick up a disposable one, since 90 years and multiple layers of paint also means lead…

  4. Eileen says

    Looks great guys! We’re moving into a new house this weekend with brass knobs and I’m thinking of doing the same thing once we get settled.

    My one big question though is whether the spray affect the side of the knob with the lock on it. Do the locks still turn after they’ve been sprayed?

    Absolutely loving your book! I already have so many pages bookmarked with projects I want to try in our new place. Still riding the high of getting to meet you guys at the signing in NJ! Good luck on your upcoming book tour trips!

    • says

      Oh yes, the spray is a very thin coat if you’re misting it! It won’t gum up a lock or effect how the door functions/turns at all! Just be sure not to gum it on! Thin and even, baby!

      And so glad you’re loving our book. Yay! And it was awesome to meet you in NJ!


    • Anika says

      Such a dramatic change – I need to get on this too. It’s such a worth-while difference and much cheaper than buying all new ones.

      Sherry, I’m so glad you answered this question; I was also wondering about protecting the key hole so you put my mind at easy. Thanks!

  5. says

    Love this! I’ve been wondering if my knobs would hold the spray paint for a while now, and I have the same ugly brass ones. Going to do this soon, maybe this weekend if weather permits ;) Thanks for the tips!!!

  6. Olivia says

    I’ve ORB’d so many things around here, it’s good to know I can do the doorknobs, too! Now I just need the patience for the drying time… Don’t let the excitement get the best of you, ORBers – the wait is worth it!

  7. says

    I LOVE THEM!! I cringe at my brass door knobs every day, wondering why the owner before me would have updated every other piece of the house and left these as-is…or worse, bought them new. I priced the ORB knobs at Home Depot and had yet to bite the bullet. However, sanding and spraying, I can totally do! Latch plates and hinges will be an issue since they are so obvious, so thanks for the tip (and commenters’ tips) on that simply buying those.

  8. says

    I have been planning to do this in my apartment for months, but my hardware store doesn’t sell ORB!! I finally ordered a can through amazon and also had a long talk with the hardware store’s manager about how it’s imperative that they start stocking it. I guaranteed him that if no one bought them, I’d be happy to take them off his hands. He seemed to be on board!

  9. Emily G. says

    Seems like such a small thing compared to say…the kitchen makeover, but matching door hardware makes me giddy. There’s nothing worse than gross, worn, fake gold door knobs. Ok, maybe almond colored switch plates and outlet covers are, but that’s just me. :)

  10. says

    The transformation is amazing! We replaced all our shiny brass knobs with ORB levers three years ago throughout our house and it cost a lot $$$. I wish I knew about this spray paint option back then. Thanks for the step-by-step guide!

  11. Katie B. says

    Love it – congrats – and totally economical!

    We have brass door knobs everywhere and we’d love to change them out to a satin nickel finish. If you think that this technique could be applied to make satin nickel knobs, please let me know!! :)

    • says

      Oh yes, they sell the same spray paint in satin nickel finish, so I would just do the rest of the steps of this tutorial (sand, degloss, apply thin and even coats, wait the allotted time before installing, etc) and it should be awesome!


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