Shipping Container Paint - Application Tips and Maintenance


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Using the right kind of shipping container paint is essential to your business. Container shops, offices, and even storage containers must look aesthetically pleasing and professional, so nothing less than a great paint job will do. In this article, you'll learn about the types of shipping container paint, the benefits of painting, and best practices.

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Why Paint Shipping Containers?

All shipping containers contain a protective layer over the “weathering” steel designed to rust and protect the body. While functional, it isn’t the most attractive way to present your business.

Fortunately, you can correct things with a generous coat of paint. It will give your shipping container a longer lifespan as well as a more aesthetic appearance. Once you have painted the container, you can create designs or use business colors on the container and brand it with your company logo.


Best Types of Shipping Container Paint

The type of paint you'll need depends on the container's application.

Waterborne Paint

Waterborne paint has resins and pigments that disperse in water. It gives a clean and uniform finish and is environmentally friendly with lower VOC levels. With proper maintenance and quality control, it is better at preventing rust than an oil-based painting system.

Alkyd Enamel Paint

Industrial-grade alkyd enamel gives a glossy finish and can last between five and ten years. In addition, it is inexpensive and is easy to work with.

Acrylic Paint

If you plan to paint a mural or need some visual branding for your business, we recommend acrylic paints. They come in various, vibrant shades and make for easier painting over. Apply multiple coats for better adhesion.

Polyurethane Paint

Polyurethane paint lasts for many years, but it's more suitable for heavy industrial use than regular retail and storage. The contents in polyurethane paint tend to be more hazardous, and you may need special techniques or professionals to mix and apply the paint.


How to Paint a Shipping Container?

You could use a simple brush or a paint roller, but imagine the time it would take! Instead, we recommend spray paint for a high-quality finish and excellent gloss.

It is essential to protect the container from wind and dust before doing the paint job. See if you can move the container indoors to paint. If you don't have enough space to do so, you can cordon off the container using plastic sheets and protect it from dust.

  • Stripping off the old paint - Focus only on removing dirt, dust, and patches of rust. We suggest using an orbital sander with high grit sandpaper or a wire wheel, wire brush, or pressure washer to remove rusted patches. Scrubbing with sandpaper or using a chemical paint stripper may take too much time and could be toxic.
  • Before you sandblast - We don't recommend sandblasting because it is expensive and can remove the original marine-grade paint or the zinc coating on the container. Instead, you can clean and then prime or paint over the marine paint coat.
  • Cleaning - It is important to clean the surface with an alcohol-based rubbing solvent to remove microscopic paint flakes and dust. This allows for superior paint adhesion.
  • Container ID markings - If you plan to export the container after painting, you can retain the markings. Else, remove them altogether.
  • Do you need a primer? - A primer is essential as it helps form the bond between the paint and the steel surface. But for a shipping container, we recommend marine-grade self-priming paints that don't need a separate coat of primer. You can also use a “rust reformer” primer to apply directly without the need to sand the exterior surface.  
  • Before you paint - Ensure the container is dry before you apply the primer. After applying the primer, remember to leave it to dry as recommended by your paint vendor or container provider (it might take as long as a day).
  • When you paint - Paint the container on a sunny morning when the weather is dry. We recommend that you do multiple coats of paint for a good finish and longer life.

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Safety Tips

Stripping off the rust and spray painting the shipping container can be a messy job. Besides, paint particles and solvents are not safe to inhale, so you’ll need to take preventive measures. You’ll also need to look out for flying bits of steel wire brush, as they can hurt your eyes while cleaning rusted patches.

We suggest using a full-body protection suit, eye protection glasses, and an anti-dust respiratory mask. A regular cloth mask will not suffice.

If you need to paint inside the container, remember to keep the unit open and ventilated. Use a zinc-rich primer first and then a waterborne epoxy high-build coating.

Do not spray shipping container paint on wooden floors.



Maintenance begins right when you start painting the unit.

We recommend painting on a dry and sunny morning to prevent evening dew from setting on the surface. Dew can get under the paint and cause ugly blisters. This can reduce the life of the painted surfaces.

If you choose to apply primer, it is best to use a thick coating and let it dry completely before spraying the paint. This ensures a long-lasting bond between the paint and primer.

Keep an eye out for corrosion. Over time small patches of rust can appear. It is best to remove rust patches before they get too big. You can shield the surrounding surface with masking tape and gently scrub the affected area before repainting.


How Much Paint Do You Need?

It depends on the size of the container. Assuming you use DTM waterborne paint, here's an estimate of the amount of paint that you'll need:

  • 10 ft. container - 1.5 - 2 gallons
  • 20 ft. container - 3 - 4 gallons
  • 40 ft. container - 6 - 8 gallons

Additionally, you will need primer and cleaning supplies.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is shipping container paint toxic?

Solvent-based paints can be toxic with high VOC emissions and may require special permission from the state authorities. It is easier to apply and has less drying time but tends to release lead and asbestos. You can, instead, choose Direct-to-Metal (DTM) waterborne paints that are environment-friendly.

How do I minimize the cost of painting a container?

Painting an entire container can be expensive because a 20' size can take up to 4 gallons of paint. If you are short on budget, clean the areas with rust and target-paint them. For better results, apply at least two coatings.

How can we help as a container provider?

  • High-Quality Paint - We use a beige shipping container paint for our standard rental options. This lets your container blend with most business surroundings.
  • Used Containers - If you plan to paint your container from scratch, save money with our range of used containers for sale in various sizes.
  • Fast and safe delivery - We have our own fleet of trucks, which means we don't depend on external suppliers for delivery. Our drivers, with years of experience, ensure timely and smooth container deliveries.
  • Customization - Our in-house design and sales teams will guide you from buying to customizing the container unit.
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