How to Paint a Shipping Container

Used shipping containers are a great investment because they are a very affordable storage option. There are very few, if any, cheaper options for safe storage. However, because these containers have been in use for over 12 years they do indeed have their share of ware and tear. After years of overseas shipping the containers have rust, dings and dents and most will have their original ship line markings. The good news is they are structurally sound and a coat of paint will do wonders for their appearance. 

How Much Does It Cost To Have A 20’ Or 40’ Shipping Container Painted? 

If the container condition is a concern to you and you prefer a painted unit you have a few options. Below are a list of options ranging from most to least expensive and the Pros and Cons of each. 

OPTION 1: One Trip Container:  These containers are clean and in great condition because they have only been used once to transport products overseas. They are painted one color and do not contain ship line marking decals. They are usually painted tan, gray or blue so you are limited to these color choices depending on the availability in your area. This would be the most expensive option for a painted unit as one trip containers are typically double the cost of a used container. 

OPTION 2: Painted Refurbished Unit: These units are used wind and water tight containers that have been primed and painted. The cost of these containers is typically $600 to $1000 more than a used wind and water tight container. This is a great option if you are looking to get a painted container however, as with a one trip container, they are usually painted in a tan, gray or white so your color choices are limited and subject to availability in your area. 

OPTION 3: Buy a Used WWT Container And Have It Professionally Painted: You can purchase a used WWT container and have it professionally painted before it is delivered to you. The cost to have a 20’ or 40’ shipping container professionally painted is between $700 and $1600 depending on depot location and color. Lighter colors, such as white, typically cost an extra $100 because they require an extra coat of paint. Another thing to consider is the timing. Depots typically give you a 2 week ETA to paint a container while others, depending on their workload or the weather can take longer. Still some depots may not offer painting at all so you would have the added cost of transferring the container from one depot to another which typically costs anywhere from $100 to $200 just for the transport. The advantage of having your container professionally painted is that you can choose a custom color so your color choice is not limited. 

OPTION 4: Paint A 20’ or 40’ Shipping Container Yourself “DIY Paint A Shipping Container” 

The most affordable way to get a painted shipping container is to paint it yourself. If you decide to paint the shipping container yourself, you can expect to pay between $250 and $350 and it’s relatively easy to do. Painting is a small investment considering the benefits you get from painting your container. The container will not only be more appealing but routinely painting it will help prevent rust and prolong its lifespan. 

If you decide to paint your container yourself then following these steps to prep and paint a shipping container will give you the best resultsA

How To Prep Your Shipping Container Before Painting It

STEP ONE: Power wash the Container

Use a regular hose with a strong water flow to clean off any dirt or residue from your container. Used containers can have caked-on dirt from being stored at storage depots and moved around with heavy equipment. It is important to remove this dirt from the container before applying paint to ensure a smooth finish.

STEP TWO: Remove Rust

Used containers will have little to moderate rust mostly around on the corner castings and doors. Most of the rust is surface rust and can be easily removed or grinded down to a minimum with a wire wheel. Because rust is corrosive, skipping this step may lead to more rust which can eventually create holes over time.

STEP THREE: Spot Prime With “Direct to Metal” Primer

Once you have grinded down the rust spots it’s time to prime the spots using Direct to Metal (DTM) primer. DTM primers  are specially made to be applied to metal because they are resistant to corrosion. Applying DTM primers to the rust spots will help to prevent the rust from spreading. There are several spray on and paint on DTM primer brands available that can be found at your local hardware store. 

STEP FOUR: Remove Or Paint Over Ship Line Marking Decals

If you were to have your container professionally painted the painters would most likely leave the decals on the container and paint over them. The decals on a used container are very flat and pretty worn down by the time it’s sold as storage so painting over them is a good option because it saves you time. However, if you decide to remove the decals to give the container a smoother appearance you can use a heat gun and scraper to do the job.

STEP FIVE: Painting The Gaskets And Locking Gear On A Shipping Container

Most professional painters will paint over a shipping container’s gaskets and locking gear to save time and man hours not to mention aesthetically it looks better for the color of the locking gear to match the color of the container. However, over time, several layers of paint over the locking gear and gaskets may lead to difficulty in opening and closing the container doors. If you are painting your container yourself and you decide not to paint over the gaskets and locking gear the easiest and most effective way to do this is to cover them with masking tape before painting the container.

What Type Of Paint Should I Use To Paint A Shipping Container?

Most professional painters will use regular exterior latex house paint to paint a shipping container. The original paint used on shipping containers is marine grade paint which is necessary to protect the containers from the elements as they are shipped back and forth overseas for 10 to 15 years. However, if you are not planning to ship your container back and forth overseas the exterior latex house paint works great, costs less and comes in a large selection of colors.

How Much Paint Do I Need To Paint A 20’ Or A 40’ Shipping Container? 

You will need about 5 gallons of paint to paint a 40’ shipping container and 3 gallons of paint to paint a 20’ shipping container. Most paint colors will require two coats of paint but if you are using white or a lighter color you will need more coats of paint to make sure you cover the rust spots.  

Here is a list of supplies you will need to prep and paint your container:

Prep Supplies and Equipment: 

  • Wire Wheel – to grind down the rust. 

  • DTM Primer – to spot prime rust spots. 

Paint Supplies and Equipment:

  • Paint Sprayerthe corrugated steel walls are difficult to paint using a roller or a brush so we recommend using a paint sprayer for the job. 

  • Drop clothsbecause you are painting with a paint sprayer you may have some overspray. Used a drop cloth to protect surrounding items. 

  • LadderYou will need a ladder to reach the roof of the container. A standard container  height is 8 ½ feet tall and a high cube container is 9 ½ feet tall. 

  • Paint BrushAlthough you’ll do the majority of painting with a sprayer you will use a paint brush for cutting edges to get a nice clean look.

Preparing Your Site For Painting A Shipping Container 

Because you are using a sprayer to paint your shipping container it’s important you have a large open space since you may have some overspray. Be sure to have any cars in the area moved or covered to protect from overspray. It might be a good idea to inform your neighbors that you will be painting to avoid any issues. Used drop cloths to protect concrete or any equipment in the area. The ideal temperature and weather conditions for painting is 70 degrees with low humidity so the paint can dry quickly. Also, be sure there is little to no wind to prevent overspray. 

Painting A 20 Foot Or 40 Foot Shipping Container Yourself 

Once you have prepped your container and organized your space it’s time to paint the container.  Start with painting the roof of the container. Be sure to fix the roof dents before you paint it. Click here for tips on how to repair dents in the roof. Be sure to paint the door frame but before you do, mask the frame for a nice clean look and remove the rust from under the gaskets with a wire wheel. There tends to be more rust build up under the rubber gaskets because it holds in moisture. Paint the container using the sprayer then cut the edges using the paint brush.  

The Benefits Of Painting A Shipping Container

The benefits of painting a shipping container yourself are well worth the time and money you invest. A couple of coats of paint will give your used wind and water tight container a clean, fresh, more presentable look and you will expand the life of your container by treating and covering the rust spots to prevent the spread of rust. Finally, the money you will save by opting for a more affordable used unit is a substantial savings.

After reading this guide, you have all the essential information on how to paint your container from rusting. If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact us at (888) 667-4834

4 responses to “How to Paint a Shipping Container”

  1. Great content! Keep up the good work!

  2. Frank Civale says:

    I would like to get a 20 foot container delivered to my house in Naple area code 34117. How much , a used one is ok but would like it painted.

    • Jhie Rama says:

      Hello Frank,

      I apologize for the delay.

      I will send the pricing and sample photos to your email.

      Our pricing should be the lowest available. If you find a better price please give us the opportunity to earn your business by trying to beat that price.

      Please call 888-666-0520 when you’re ready to order.

  3. Frank Civale says:

    I would like a 20 foot contained delivered to my house in Naples area code 34117.

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