Q: We have had two bright red/orange Calligaris Hero chairs from Italy on our backyard patio for more than 10 years. They need to be repainted. Because they are made of polypropylene, most paints will chip off. We are trying to find a primer that will adhere to the chairs and a paint that will adhere to the primer. Both would need to come in a spray form, because the Swiss-cheese-like “holes” in the chairs make them almost impossible to paint with a brush.

It has been suggested that we use XIM’s Plastic & Vinyl Bonding Primer or something in a spray can that is designed to adhere to plastic, then apply a topcoat with something tough that’s made for outdoor furniture, such as Rust-Oleum in a spray can. What paint should we use, and is there a way to find someone who will do the job for us? We don’t feel confident in our ability to have a successful outcome.

A: Luckily, options for painting plastic outdoor furniture are better than they were decades ago, when paint would flake off because the plastic was too slick for a coating to grip. At least two companies now make primer-plus-paint formulas that stick well to most plastics, including polypropylene, the type of plastic in your chairs.

Krylon was first when it introduced its Fusion for Plastic spray paint in 2004. In 2018, the company added corrosion inhibitors, making the primer-plus-paint also suitable for use on metals. It now markets the product as Fusion All-In-One. Rust-Oleum also offers primer-plus-paint that sticks to most plastics with its Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra Cover.

Paint that sticks to both plastic and metal, as well as to wood and a wide array of other surfaces, is especially useful for refinishing outdoor furnishings or other items that have components made of a variety of materials, said Susan Biasiotta, product manager for Sherwin-Williams, which owns the Krylon brand.

Krylon’s Fusion covers up to 25 square feet per can, while the technical data sheet for Rust-Oleum’s 2X says it covers 8–12 square feet, with an allowance of losing about 15% of the paint due to overspray. The 2X in the product name signifies that one coat creates a finish that would need two coats if you used a different brand’s paint, although the coverage on an item depends on your technique and how much twisting and turning you need to do to get all of the surfaces painted evenly. Both brands have spray cans with nozzles that work at whatever angle you tilt the can.


However, there are a couple of important caveats.

Even paints that stick to most plastics don’t grip to everything, especially polyethylene. Rust-Oleum warns that its paint may not stick to polyethylene storage boxes. And Luann Pawlak, the technical research and development manager for Sherwin-Williams, said it’s important to test to ensure paint will stick. Do this in an area that isn’t very noticeable. For example, tip over the chair and mask off all but a small section, where the paint won’t get into one of the chair’s holes.

Also, as with any spray paint, you need to set up a workspace where overspray won’t be a problem. Protect your eyes, too, and work where there is abundant ventilation.

If you need to apply more than one coat to get good coverage, pay attention to the manufacturer’s specifications about recoat time. With Fusion, a second coat needs to be applied within two hours, or you must wait at least 48 hours. With Rust-Oleum’s 2X, recoat within one hour or wait at least 48 hours. In both cases, wait to repaint until the first coat is dry to the touch, which should happen within 20 to 25 minutes.

You might also consider using brush-on paint, which doesn’t have overspray issues and is easier to control. The brushstrokes level out as the paint dries. The XIM primer you mentioned has been discontinued, but Rust-Oleum still makes Specialty Plastic Primer in a brush-on formula. There is also a spray version. Using either primer allows you to use any kind of paint as a topcoat. So if you have paint left over from painting tables or other projects, you could make the chairs match.

If you don’t want to tackle the job yourself, a company that refinishes kitchen cabinets might be able to help you. (Look for one that sprays on new finishes, not one set up only for refacing, which means covering the cabinets with new laminate.) Williams Professional Painting in Alexandria, Virginia, has occasionally painted lawn furniture as part of a larger painting job. But it isn’t cost-effective to bring in a professional painter for just a couple of chairs, especially because most plastic chairs are inexpensive, said Rick Williams, the company’s president. If you do want professional painting, Williams suggested you bundle that task with another painting job, so you get more value out of the daily rate ($680) the company charges to send a painter to a site. “For that $680, we could do a whole bedroom, a bathroom, power-wash — whatever they want,” he said.

Whether you paint your chairs yourself or turn the job over to the pros, think about the color. Red paint often fades more than other colors, regardless of the brand or type, Pawlak said. Ironically, the red paint made decades ago was relatively lightfast, because the color came from iron oxide, which keeps its color in the sun just as red, iron-rich soil found in some parts of the country does. But today, paint colors typically result from adding pigments, which are manufactured synthetics, rather than minerals. The pigments that produce red are not as durable as those for some other colors. You can make red more fade-resistant by spraying on a clear finish, such as Fusion All-In-One Clear.

How much of an issue this is for your chairs, only you can decide. After all, if you paint them once, you can always paint them again.