How To Paint Copper Pipes

If you’re trying to colour-code the piping in your home to make repairs easier, you’ve likely come to the conclusion that painting your pipes is the best way forward. Sure, you could use tape or string, but paint is the easiest way to make pipes instantly recognizable. If you’re wondering how to paint copper pipes, you’ve come to the right place. The good news is that it’s definitely doable, but it will take a bit of work before you can get going.

The best way to paint copper pipes is to thoroughly clean them and then apply primer and metal paint.

There are a few things to keep in mind, though – so let’s dive right in.

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Should You Paint Copper Pipes?

This is the first question to ask when considering painting your copper pipes. While it can be done, it also can result in damage further down the line to your piping. There are multiple reasons for this. The first major one is that if you’re not careful, you can paint together junctions and joints. This can result in damage to the piping, leading to you needing to replace or repair the piping in your home.

And when it comes time to service your plumbing, the plumber will need to deal with the paint over the pipes. That can mean that they charge more because they have to work harder to do their job.

Additionally, if copper pipes aren’t properly prepared and cleaned, the paint you use can actually damage the piping. Oxides and other surface impurities that may have built up over time on the outside of your copper piping can prevent the paint from sticking properly. This goes doubly if a plumber has recently serviced the piping. That’s because the lubricants and chemicals they use can interact poorly with paints.

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How to Paint Copper Pipes

This is not too different from your usual painting process, though there are a few steps that vary ever so slightly. Let’s get into it, shall we?

  1. Begin by prepping your area as you normally would. Lay down newspaper or plastic sheeting and tape off the areas you don’t want to paint over. Specifically, tape over the joints and junctions of your piping.
  2. Thoroughly clean the piping you plan on painting. This can be done with fine-grit sandpaper, a wire brush, or abrasive pads designed specifically for copper. Scrub until the surface is shiny, even, and clean.
    1. Use warm water and a gentle degreasing detergent (like Dawn) after this. Dry the pipes when finished. This will remove any grease or surface chemicals that may interfere with painting.
  3. Using heat-restant primer and paint, prime your pipes. It is absolutely vital that you use heat-resitant paint and primer. If you don’t, you can damage the paint and even release toxic chemicals when the pipes heat up. This is especially important if the pipes run from your radiator or heating system.
    1. Apply a thin coat of primer and allow it to fully dry. Only once it’s dry can you continue with painting.
  4. Apply a thin coat of paint. Allow the paint to dry, and then reapply paint layers until you’re satisfied with the finish.

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Tips and Tricks for Painting Copper Pipes

Now, we’ve covered a good amount of ground in a few words. There are a few things to take note of when painting copper pipes, so let’s talk about that for a moment before wrapping for the day.

  1. Use metal paint, do not use vinyl or latex paint. Copper pipes heat up. Metal paint is designed* to be heat resistant – so use it. Vinyl or latex paint (or any other non-heat resistant paint) can drip and/or release toxic fumes when heated.
    1. *This is a general rule of thumb. Always double-check that your paint is heat resistant before applying.
  2. Paint copper pipes in the summer. This will give you time to allow the paint to dry without the pipes getting too hot. You can paint them in the winter, but it may not turn out great.
  3. Brush lengthwise. This is more of an aesthetic thing, but it’s still good to take note of. Painting vertically on a pipe will make the paintjob look, well, not great.
  4. Always clean and rough up your copper pipe before applying primer or paint. Cleaning it removes any surface oxidation or chemicals present. Roughing up the pipe with sandpaper or a wire brush gives the paint a surface to stick to.
  5. Cover your floor and the surrounding area. Nobody wants drips of paint in random places around their home.
  6. Paints like Hammerite Radiator Paint are best for this. They’re specifically designed to do this – so spend the extra few bucks and get the right paint.

Final Thoughts

Painting copper pipes isn’t a super complicated thing to do, but it’s not always the best solution. If your only reason for painting copper pipes is for aesthetic reasons, consider rearranging your home to simply hide the pipes. If it’s for a functional reason like identifying specific pipes, just be sure to paint the pipes properly, rather than quickly. Begin by cleaning and sanding/roughing up your pipes (ever so slightly). You’re not trying to severely scratch the pipes but to make a good surface for the paint to adhere to.

Once they’re clean and prepped, apply a coat of heat resistant primer. This will make it easier for the paint to stick and make it last longer. Now you can apply thin layers of metal paint, such as Hammerite radiator paint. Keep applying layers (allowing them to dry) until you achieve the look you’re aiming for. Beyond these specific steps, be sure to paint lengthwise to get a good look, and try to paint in the summer. This will allow your paint more time to dry than you’d get in the winter. And keep in mind the type of paint you’re using. Latex or vinyl paints can drip and even release toxic fumes, making metal paint even more vital to have.

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