Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Pinterest Email

A Shipping Container Primer on Paint Application and Maintenance

3 minute read
Jun 6, 2018
A Shipping Container Primer on Paint Application and Maintenance

Painting and maintaining your container’s exterior goes a long way to ensuring your container looks sleek and professional. The paint is especially important if the shipping container is a mobile ambassador for your business’ brand, say as a mobile store front or office. Most modified shipping container manufacturers, including Falcon Structures, will offer to paint the exterior of your container. However, should you decide to tackle painting yourself, we have the following guidelines on what you need to know shipping container paint application and maintenance.


How to Apply a New Coat of Paint to a Used Container


Picking your Paint

The type of paint you select for your container should depend on your intended use. If you’re looking for a clean, uniform color, we recommend using a waterborne paint system which is substantially better for the environment with lower VOC levels and, with proper preparation and quality controls, they are equivalent or better at preventing rust compared to our previous oil-based system. Although, industrial grade alkyd enamel paint is also an option. The hard, shiny finish will last five to ten years. Plus, alkyd enamels are relatively inexpensive and forgiving to work with.

If you plan to paint a mural on the container, use an acrylic paint. While the acrylic paints may not have the longevity or shine of alkyd enamel, they have richer colors and additional coats of paint will have better adhesion. Acrylics are much easier to paint over with art and new colors.

Polyurethane paint lasts for many years but is more appropriate for heavy industrial use than basic retail and storage functions. The chemicals involved tend to be more hazardous, and there may be special procedures for mixing and application. If you have special circumstances that call for polyurethane paint, we recommend consulting a professional for its application.

Yellow_container_transparent background

This container is painted with alkyd enamel paint and has nice shine.

Preparing your Container for Painting

We don’t recommend sandblasting your container for a couple of reasons. One, sandblasting an entire container becomes very expensive. Two, sandblasting strips off a lot of great protection. Not only does sandblasting remove a very high quality marine grade paint, it removes the protective zinc coating that prevents rust. It’s unlikely that a home paint job is going to offer the same protection as the original coating. Instead, prime and paint over the existing marine paint.

Prepare your container for paint by paying special attention to rust patches and pressure wash off any dirt and dust. Sand rust patches down with a wire wheel and then spray a rust inhibiting primer over the affected area.

Painting your Container

We highly recommend painting your container on a dry, sunny morning. Cool damp weather can prevent your paint from properly setting. Even containers painted on a warm afternoon risk being covered in dew before the paint sets. In some cases, water can even become trapped beneath the paint’s surface creating ugly, blister-like pockets.

On that perfect morning, when the container is completely dry, you can either roll or spray your paint on to the container. You will likely have to apply a primer coat. Consult with your paint vender to determine how long the primer coat should dry before applying the pigmented layer—you may need to wait an entire day. Also, be sure to get a thick coating of primer to ensure the top coat with your color sticks to the container.


Falcon Structures did a custom paint job to give this container a distinct look.

Maintaining your Shipping Container’s Paint

Stay on Top of Rust

Over time, rust will inevitably form on your container, but you can keep it to a minimum by treating rust patches as they appear. Like with prepping the original used container, sand down rusted patches and then apply rust inhibiting primer to the affected area. For a clean touch up, mask off the surrounding unaffected area before priming and painting. You can gently sand down the edges of the little square that may appear due to the additional layer of paint.

Removing Graffiti from your Shipping Container

Sadly, many shipping containers will fall victim to graffiti or tagging in their lifetimes. If your container has an alkyd enamel base, there’s a good chance the graffiti paint won’t stick very well, and it’s worth trying a basic graffiti removal product from a hardware store. You may get lucky and manage to scrub off the graffiti.

If the graffiti resists cleaning solutions, your options will depend on your container’s base paint. If the container has an acrylic paint, as we recommended for murals, it’s probably easiest to paint over the tagging. If you’re painting over graffiti on an alkyd enamel base, there’s some extra work. To get proper paint adhesion, you’re going to have to roughen the affected area with sanding, and then reapply your primer and pigmented top coat.  

Don’t want to deal with painting your container? Let us paint your container before it arrives at your site! We have years of experience and offer a variety of colors. Contact us at 877-704-0177 or sales@falconstructures.com.

New call-to-action

Think Inside The Box®


Get everything from shipping container basics, to detailed how-tos and industry news in our weekly blog. Stay inspired and subscribe!