Paint Those Plastic Garden Pots The Right Way
Looking at the same old pots over and over can be boring. People claim that plastic pots can just be painted for a fresh new look—but is it really that simple? As a plant owner that paints in their free time, I’ll help you learn how painting plastic pots can be properly done!
Indoor plastic pots made of plastic #2 and #5 have a waxy coating that must be removed with sandpaper before painting. Clean the pots and paint them with a paint made for plastic and apply multiple light layers for even coats. Outdoor pots must be sanded and primed before painting and sealed with a UV-resistant sealer.
I know many gardeners who just paint their pots directly without any prior treatment and the paint rarely ever lasts more than a few months. It’s not pretty when the paint starts fading or chipping, that’s for certain. Avoid these by following this simple but detailed guide!
4 Steps in Preparing Plastic Pots Before Painting
Before painting plastic pots, gardeners must prepare it by cleaning the pot, checking the plastic type, selecting the right paint, setting up the work area and applying primer.
There is a quote that goes, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” It’s not certain who exactly said this, but the logic still rings true.
Keep reading forward to see how you can make sure you’re prepared for your new painting project!
1. Clean the Pot
Before painting plastic containers, the pot should be cleaned first. Wipe the pot with alcohol or wash it with soap. The pot must be dry and completely free of dirt to prevent ruining the paint job.
Leftover dirt on pots can spoil your design and lead to gross, gritty collections under the paint. To make sure there aren’t any contaminants, make sure the pot is cleaned.
Wash the planter with some warm water and soap to dislodge dirt or wipe the planter clean with some alcohol. If you plan to paint the inside of the pot, be sure to wash that too.
Pots with plants in them can still be painted but will be much harder to work with. You have to be careful not to soak your growing medium with tons of soap or alcohol.
Make sure the pot is completely dry after you clean it. Otherwise, your paint might not properly stick to your plastic containers.
Additionally drainage holes are always a must. So if your pot currently has none, this is a great time to make some!
Learn more in our article on “Drainage in Planter Boxes”
2. Identify the Plastic
Inspect what type of plastic the pot is made of to properly paint it. Most pots are made with plastic #2, 4, 5, and 6. Plastic types #2, high-density polyethylene, and #5, polypropylene, have poor bonding properties and must be treated before painting.
Some types of plastic can be challenging to paint. Luckily, most plastic pots nowadays will have the Resin Identification Coding printed on them, usually at the bottom.
Here’s an easy chart for you to save and identify what type of plastic your pots are made of.
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) are hard materials to work with due to how poorly paint adheres to them.
I was able to check some of my plastic pots and saw they were marked with a #2, indicating they were made of high-density polyethylene. If I decided to paint it, it’d be difficult.
Experts typically need to flame-treat HDPE and PP plastic to improve paint adhesion. This is incredibly dangerous, so I would not suggest replicating this process at home!
But don’t fret. There are other treatment alternatives for both of these hard-to-paint plastics!
Learn more about plastic in our article here on food-safe hydroponic buckets.
The next sections will help you learn how to tackle these 2 types of plastic.
3. Choose the Right Paint
The best paint to use for plastic pots are those made for plastic. Chalk paint, acrylic, spray-paint, and brush paint are all suitable for plastic pots and will remain for years.
Acrylic paints have bright-colored pigments that are excellent for painting containers. Chalk paint is also a good choice that can be applied to plastic—-wonderful for your pots!
Whatever you choose, however, make sure that it specifically says it’s made for plastic. If the paint does not specify this, it’s likely to get scratched and flake over time.
You may also look for paint with a flex agent to ensure the paint doesn’t crack when the plastic is flexed. This is useful if you tend to squeeze your pots to break up the soil as I do.
Spray-Painting vs Brush Painting
Spray-painting is the quickest way to paint plastic pots with a smooth finish, while brush painting offers more control and creativity. Brush painting can also be done indoors with less space. Pots must be spray-painted outside, however, to avoid the accumulation of toxic fumes.
For those looking to give multiple planters a makeover, spray-paint is another popular option for flower pots, mason jars, and more!
This option allows you to quickly coat numerous pots at a time and provide them with a nice and even finish. What’s impressive about spray-paint is that some have a primer built-in, simplifying the process.
One notable example is this great spray-paint that can even be used for pots made of polypropylene or high-density polyethylene plastic!
Another choice would be to use paintbrushes. This might take more time. However, you can control each of your strokes for a more detailed design.
You should also consider the size of your workspace when choosing between these two mediums. Brush painting can easily be done atop a desk indoors, while spray-painting must be done outside.
Neither of these is inherently better or worse; they both have their pros and cons. Decide which option is the best for you.
4. Set Up the Work Area
Plants and surfaces should be covered with plastic or newspaper prior to painting plastic pots. Spray-painting must always be done outside or in a well-ventilated area while wearing safety goggles and masks. Paint brushing, however, can be done indoors on top of a desk for arm support.
Everyone’s workspace for painting will always be different. It will depend on how much space you have and what type of paint you’ve decided to use.
Spray-paint should only be used in a well-ventilated area and is safer done outdoors on a non-windy day.
Of course, you can still use spray-paint indoors if you have no other choice. But only do so in a large room with all the doors and windows open while wearing the right goggles and mask for painting.
Pots should be spray-painted on the floor to reduce the risk of you inhaling fumes. Conversely, if you use a brush, you should paint your plastic pots on top of a table so your arms have proper support.
Either way, you need to cover your chosen surface with newspapers. You can place your pot upside down or have it upright as you paint it.
If there’s still a plant inside, try to cover the plant with a plastic or paper bag to ensure none of the paint touches the plant, and you’re ready to go!
5. Apply a Coat of Primer (Optional)
A good primer is critical in ensuring the paint properly adheres to the plastic, especially if the pot is made of high-density polyethylene or polypropylene plastic. Though optional, this procedure is highly recommended.
You might ask, “Why do I need a primer if my paint says it bonds to plastic?”
Many brands use this as a general term. They might work for some types of plastic but may not work well on hard-to-paint plastics #2 and 5.
Unless the paint happens to come with primer, one cannot guarantee the longevity of the paint on the plastic container, especially if the pot will be used outdoors!
Primer can help ensure the paint actually adheres to the plastic.
Whether you’re painting these pots as a gift or if you’re a dedicated plant owner, you might have multiple containers to paint. So save yourself the trouble of having to repaint or touch up all the same pots over again, apply the primer on the pot before painting.
How to Paint Plastic Indoor Pots (3 Easy Steps!)
For optimum success, indoor pots must be painted with a minimum of 2 thin coatings for a cohesive look, with each layer of paint allowed to dry for 30 minutes. When fully painted, allow the plastic pot to dry for a day before use. It is optional to seal the paint with a sealer to help preserve the paint.
Once everything is prepared, you can finally start painting. Here’s how you can properly paint your plastic pots to ensure you colorful designs last for years!
1. Paint the Pot
An indoor plastic pot should be painted with at least 2 thin layers to achieve a smooth coating. Let the pot dry for 30 minutes between each layer and repeat until the pot is fully covered.
When it comes to painting, less is more!
It might be tempting to do one thick layer and paint it all at once but this can lead to an uneven coat of paint that isn’t as pretty to look at.
Pro Tip: Place your pot on top of a piece of cardboard so you can easily rotate the pot without touching the wet paint.
For smooth and streak-free results, spray-paint must be sprayed lightly and held at least 12 inches (30.48 cm) away from the pot. Use swift left-to-right movements to set the base coat using your spray-paint or paint brush.
If the pot has multiple sides, paint it one side at a time. Pot liners do not need to be painted since they won’t be seen but can easily be spray-painted as well.
After you paint the first layer, let it dry for at least 30 minutes. You can patch up the spots you missed by applying another coating for more coverage and continue the process until you’re satisfied!
The beauty of creative projects like this is that you’re free to tailor it as you wish. Some gardeners love to get creative with their containers.
Others like to use simpler patterns so the attention remains on their plant rather than the pot.
As for color, remember that it’s easier to go from light to dark than dark to light. This can be used to your advantage to create an old cement design, so keep reading to find out how!
2. Let the Paint Dry
Freshly painted indoor plastic pots must be left outside for at least 24 hours and allowed to fully dry.
You might be excited to use your personalized plastic pots right away, but give them some time to fully dry first.
When you’ve finished painting, let the entire pot dry for one whole day—minimum—before using it.
Make sure nothing touches it and ruins the paint during this drying period to avoid having your paint job ruined.
To help speed up the drying process, you can leave the pot out in the yard or balcony or place fans in front of it.
3. Seal the Paint (Optional)
The paint on indoor plastic pots can be preserved by applying sealer. At minimum, the bottom and edges of the pot should also be sprayed with a sealant to protect it from damage. Painted saucers must be sealed as well.
Since indoor plants are usually well protected, you may not need to seal the paint as much. You don’t have to do this, but it is highly recommended to help the paint last longer.
If you don’t want to spray the entire pot with sealer, consider at least applying sealer on the edges and bottom of the pot.
After you paint your saucers, they should be sealed as well. Aside from the edges of the pot, saucers frequently get the most wear and tear and must have their interiors sealed.
This will stop the paint from wearing out or even coming off once it gets wet.
How to Paint Outdoor Plastic Pots (3 Easy Steps!)
Outdoor pots made of high-density polyethylene or polypropylene plastic require additional steps to ensure the paint adheres to the plastic. The pot must be sanded. Then, use a durable paint made for outdoor use and seal the paint with a UV-resistant sealer.
When it comes to painting, outdoor pots can be painted the same way.
However, since these pots spend the majority of their time outside, there are a few more extra steps you’ll need to take for optimum success. After all, it’s what you and your garden deserve!
1. Prepare the Pot
High-density polyethylene or polypropylene plastic outdoor pots must be sanded before painting. These plastics come with a protective coating that paint won’t adhere to. Use a scrubbing pad or 600-grit sandpaper to scrub the coating off and ensure the paint will bond. Clean with rubbing alcohol and prime before painting.
Other than ensuring the pot is clean, there is one additional task that needs to be done.
To ensure the paint adheres to the surface of the plastic, you’ll need to sand off the glossy and waxy layer that prevents the paint from staying.
Sanding is required to successfully apply coats of paint on plastic plant pots made of high-density polyethylene or polypropylene.
Scruff up the surface of your pot using 600-grit sandpaper or a clean scrubbing pad, like Scotch-brite. Gently scrub the pot in circular motions to remove the plastic’s protective coating. But don’t make any dips or grooves in the plastic.
Be sure not to neglect the edges and bottom of the pot that frequently makes contact with other things. These are usually the first areas where paint chips or fades away.
After the plastic container has been sanded down and is no longer glossy, clean off all the dust. A microfiber cloth with 70% rubbing alcohol will completely remove any remaining dirt and leftover grease from your hands.
Lastly, apply a layer of primer to the pot once it has dried to ensure it is completely ready and that the paint will better bond and stay on the plastic.
2. Select the Right Paint
Plastic pots that will be placed outdoors must be painted with a strong type of paint that can handle extreme weather. Cuprinol and epoxy are suitable paints that can be used for outdoor planters.
You can still use the same paint you used for your indoor gardening pots. It must be remembered, however, that it likely won’t last long.
Outdoor containers have to endure sun and ever-changing weather. So unless you have the right paint to match, the paint will only chip and crack over time.
Can potted plants be left in the rain? Find out in our article!
Epoxy paint was originally made for industrial use since it’s an extremely durable paint. Additionally, Cuprinol, typically used for exterior painting, can also be suitable for outdoor pots.
If these are not available to you, consider looking for a paint that specifically states it’s for outdoor use.
3. Apply Sealer After Painting
Shield outdoor plastic pots from the weather by applying UV-resistant sealer after painting. This will protect the paint from intense weather and sun and extend its life by several years.
After the outdoor pots are painted to your liking, there’s just one more step. The sealer!
While this is optional for inside planters, it’s important to apply a UV-resistant sealer to your outdoor pots. This will help shield the new paint from UV rays and other outdoor concerns. High exposure to UV will cause the paint to fade at faster rates, so be careful.
This high-quality sealer on Amazon comes with 6 cans and is also UV resistant!
Top all of your paint off with a good-quality sealer and you can admire the hard work you put into your outdoor pots for years to come.
Easy DIY Faux Concrete Pots
Add baking soda to gray paint and brush the mixture on plastic pots to achieve a gritty texture and make pots look like concrete. Paint a minimum of 2 coats or continue adding layers for additional texture and protect it with a matte sealer.
If you enjoy the look of concrete containers but can’t get your hands on any, there’s a way to reproduce that same look using plastic pots!
For a cement-like appearance, pour a couple of drops of black or gray paint into white paint. If you prefer an aged look, add a drop of yellow or brown paint to the mixture or simply rub some dirt on the pot after the paint has dried.
[quote] The key is to add baking soda to the paint for a rough and gritty texture similar to that of concrete. The baking soda should not dissolve and should stay clumpy.
After applying the base coat, paint the pot with the baking soda mixture using a flat, stiff brush to create naturalistic patterns.
It’s recommended to paint at least 2 layers for coverage but you can easily give the planter more depth and texture by adding even more layers. Finally, apply a matte sealer and enjoy your new faux concrete pot!
Can you paint plastic plant pots with emulsion paint?
Emulsion paint is a type of paint that typically consists of water and oil and will have difficulty adhering to nonporous plastic materials. This type of paint can be used for decorative indoor pots but will eventually come off over time.
Can 55-gallon plastic drums be painted?
A 55-gallon drum used for outdoor gardening can be painted. If the drum will be used to store food or water, avoid painting the inside of the drum so that the paint won’t eventually leach. These drums are commonly made with HDPE and must be sanded and primed before painting and then sealed for protection.
How do you remove paint from plants?
Wet paint can quickly be wiped off plants with a damp cloth or paper towel. If the paint has dried, it can gently be removed from leaves and stems with warm water and a toothbrush. Avoid scraping the paint off, as this can damage the plant and potentially harm it.
Summary of Painting Plastic Pots
Plastic is a versatile but non-porous material but its color can fade quickly. Gardeners can paint plastic pots by first cleaning the pots out and identifying what type of plastic it is made of. Plastic types #2 and #5 come with a protective wax and must be scrubbed with sandpaper, cleaned, and primed prior to painting.
Apply multiple thin coats of paint to plastic pots with paint specifically made for it. Thick, single layers of paint will lead to uneven coats and must be avoided.
When painting outdoor plant pots, ensure the paint adheres by spraying them with prime before and preserving it with a sealer that is UV-resistant.
- “Containers for Growing Plants” by William T. Kemper in Missouri Botanical Garden
- “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made” by Roland Geyer, Jenna R. Jambeck, and Kara Lavender Law in National Center for Biotechnology Information
- “Recycling Codes” by n/a in Plastic Soup Foundation
- “Preparing Plastics for Painting” by A. J. Piller in DuBois Chemicals