How to paint uPVC

Lee and I have endlessly debated what we do with our windows. We built an extension and moved about four additional windows in the last few years and each time we’ve replaced the window with the cheapest white uPVC window we could find. Our eventual plan was that we’d swap all of the windows for oak effect (Lee’s preferred choice) but I’m starting to realise that I’d love coloured windows. At the moment I’d like an anthracite colour, but wouldn’t rule a sage or pale grey at the moment. I know if we don’t touch the windows for three to five years I’ll probably want another colour completely. Essentially, I want to be able to change my mind and update the look of the house every few years.

The house will eventually be re-rendered in lime render, which means it’s unlikely that we’ll ever paint it. We’ve also installed a beautiful oak door, which we’ll never paint either. Realistically, windows are the only thing that I’ll be able to paint, which is making me really want to consider the significantly cheaper option of painting PVC windows.

Lee is concerned that painting PVC will result in a bad finish, or them marking and scratching really easily, and I completely understand his concerns. I started researching other people who’d tried to paint theirs and although the majority of stories were really positive, it was really difficult to find a comprehensive guide to the ‘best way’ to do it. Lots of different paints were suggested, some with and some without primer and with different prep options suggested.

As we weren’t in any rush to swap (or paint!) our windows, and given that we’d just pulled an old one out (and had plenty spare PVC lying around) I thought this would make the perfect experiment. We decided we’d try a few different types of the paints and techniques we’d seen mentioned to find out which gave the best instant results, and then we decided we’d leave the experiments out for as long as possible to ‘weather’ before we made a decision about what we wanted to do.

Now I found a wonderful paint retailer called Rawlins Paint who have this wonderful post about painting PVC. If you’re considering it then I’d 100% recommend you read it first to understand the science behind it all, but the top level that you need to know about painting PVC is:

“You will need a paint that will BOND with the substrate rather than just try to stick to it. Whilst more rigid than PVC, uPVC will have thermal movement (expanding and contracting a little in the heat). Even in our UK climate, the area between glass and wall at the front of a shop or office block is exposed to very high heats. Therefore, you will need a paint that offers UV protection.” (Rawlins Paint).

Essentially a lot of the horror stories you hear about painting PVC and it going wrong is all to do with the properties of PVC and how it copes with different temperatures.

As well as all this, all advice seemed to be consistent that you shouldn’t paint PVC that was less than 12 months old.

After doing a fair amount of research, we narrowed things down to three different choices:

Zinsser All Coat Exterior Matt (also available in satin)

We also used Zinsser Bullseye 1-2-3 with this as a primer. If you’re using the satin you wont need the primer, but you will if you’re using the matt. The primer is an all-in-one primer, sealer and stainkiller.

There is an enormous selection of RAL colours available with this paint so you’re fairly guaranteed to find the right colour match.

Rustoleum CombiColour Multisurface

A gloss finish paint that doesn’t need a primer. It doesn’t have the extensive range of colours that the other options do, but we still found a shade we liked.

Kolorbond Aquatek PVC paint

This one is actually marketed as a PVC paint. It’s available in matt, satin and gloss (as well as some others), and needs no primer (although must be used with the cleaner provided by the same company). They’ll match colour systems and codes and is available in RAL colours as standard. We used the satin version of this paint.

Kolorbond also guarantee this paint when used with uPVC for 10 years (providing you use their application process). They’re also really happy to send a free of charge sample out – although you can’t request a specific colour with this.

It’s also worth noting that although some of these paints are available as sprays we went for the brush painting option with them all.

What we did

To begin with I found some scraps of PVC. They were from the old windows and are (at a very minimum) 3 years old but more than likely significantly older.

They’ve been surrounded by building work and so you can see how dirty they were:

I gave them a quick clean using a bit of fairy liquid and the hose pipe to get the worst off.

Most guides said the paint options would dry quickly, and it’s better to do it on a dry, but not too warm day. Not the biggest issue for me as I was painting indoors, but worth mentioning anyway.

Kolorbond Aquatek

First up was the Kolorbond. This was the PVC specific paint, and as part of the sample package they also sent me their Windowprep formula as well as a sample of Scotchbrite. I followed the instructions using Windowprep and a white cloth to clean the PVC before lightly abraising the surface with the Scotchbrite.

As luck would have it the sample that Kolorbond sent to us was a beautiful anthricite colour. Such a coincidence as it’s the colour we’re actually looking for and we were expecting an electric blue or similar!

The Kolorbond instructions say to apply in a medium coat, allow the first to dry for 14 minutes and then reapply a second coat. They say a third coat may be added, but I didn’t feel like I needed to. When I spoke to them over the phone they also told me that I should ensure I applied the paint in one direction (i.e consistently from left to right) instead of brushing backwards and forwards.

In terms of how it looks – in all honestly I think I probably put too thick a coat on it, as it’s slightly uneven in places – you’ll be able to see this in the photos – but overall the finish looks professional (especially if at a normal distance to windows) and I really like the satin finish.

The company themselves were so helpful, and I’ll mention again – this product comes with a 10 year guarantee if used on PVC windows!

Rustoleum

On to Rustoleum. This was the only gloss paint in the group so white spirits was needed to clean the brushes for this one (the other two clean really well with water).

Again, after researching the best advice I found was to initially sand the surfaces (I used the Scotchbrite) then de-grease the surface with methylated spirit (but I’ll be honest I used the Kolorbond one again as I had it to hand). At that point I applied the paint.

Out of all the paints, Rustoleum had the longest re-coat time of 16 hours and so I applied the second coat the following day.

When I was actually applying the paint I was convinced that this one would be my favorite, it went on like a dream and I was so happy with how good it looked. Unfortunatley though once it dried it still had the unmistakable wet look of gloss paint. If you’re into that then this is 100% the paint for you. But personally I didn’t fancy that effect on my windows and so we discounted this one pretty quickly just due to the finish. I absolutely can’t fault the paint itself.

Zinsser

Now with the Zinsser paint, I followed all of the preperation steps that I’d taken with the Rustoleum, but this time I applied a coat of 1-2-3 primer which is a very thin white coat. Once that had dried (one hour) I applied a first coat of paint, and then followed this an hour later with a second.

I adore this finish. This is a matt paint, and it looks so contemporary and understated. It also looks a brilliant quality and the brush strokes make it look like the frames are wooden. I like the color itself the least – but this paint is available in RAL colours so that could be easily fixed.

Comparison

So in the interests of a fair comparison here is how all three paints look next to each other:

(L-R Rustoleum – with only one coat, Zinsser and Kolorbond) The Rustoleum paint had only had one coat at this point. You can see how I’ve applied the Kolorbond too thick on this one too.

And again in sunlight:

(L-R Rustoleum, Kolorbond and Zinsser)

We also had an off-cut from the brand new windows and since everything I’d read said you shouldn’t paint PVC that hadn’t weathered 12 months I thought I’d try it to see what happened!

(L-R Rustoleum, Zinsser and Kolorbond)

So how do they compare? Personally at this point I would say my favourite is the Zinsser paint with the matt finish. I’m itching to find other places around my house that I can use the rest of the tin! I don’t think it’s the best choice long term as I think a satin finish would be more timeless, and Kolorbond comes with a 10 year guarantee which makes it a bit of a no brainier. I’ll think I’ll be having another practice with the paint though first, to make sure I can get a better finish.

Cost

  • Kolorbond is £42(inc VAT) for 5liters (more expensive for smaller quantities) with a coverage of  5m² per liter so works out at 1.68per m². In addition you’ll need to use their Vinylclean and Windowprep. For every litre of paint they estimate you’ll need 250ml of Vinylclean and Windowprep. They’re £40.80 each for 5 liters which is about £2.04 per product so will cost around £5.76 per m².
  • Rustoleum is around £30 for 2.5l (cheaper if you’re going for just black or white). It has a coverage of 9m² per liter so works out at £1.33 per m².
  • Zinsser 1-2-3 primer is around £16 per 1 liter with a coverage of 10m² which means that the primer has a cost of £1.60 per m². The paint itself (if you get it to a RAL colour as opposed to just black or white) is around £150 for 10 liters (you can get smaller quantities). It’s coverage is 12m² per liter so £1.25 per m². A total of £2.85 per m².

(Fingers crossed my maths is right!)

Next steps:

Well all three samples have been sat out in my garden now for around three months and I’m pleased to say they’re holding up really well. I’m planning on doing another update on here around Christmas time to see how 6 months outside weathers them and then I’m planning a few stress tests to see how they’ll hold up to cleaning and being bumped into once the weather gets a bit nicer next spring.

We’re a couple of years away from wanting to paint anything so we’re happy to just wait it out and see which one lasts the best before committing to a final decision.

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