Almost all plastic and vinyl surfaces in your car can be painted, even the fabric of the seats! You will need to properly prepare materials, and if possible, always remove them before painting. Next, you will need to choose the right primer and paint that best meets your expectations. Finally, you will need to spray the paint thoroughly, however, when you are done, your car interior will regain its former luster!
Part 1 of 4: remove or cover the components
Step 1. Consult the owner's manual
Some components will come off effortlessly. For example, interior plastic panels are usually only held in place by small tabs. Just squeeze the tabs, pull the panels and wiggle them to dislodge them. However, to minimize the risk of breakage, carefully read your owner's manual for instructions on how to remove the interior panels.
Taking the components apart to paint them can be time consuming, but it is safer to paint them this way and the result will only be better
Step 2. Remove the door panels following the instructions in the manual
Usually, you will need to remove the plastic sections near the window, door handle, or speakers to uncover the screws that hold the panel in place. Once you have removed all the mounting screws with a screwdriver, you can remove the panel and disconnect the wiring from the speaker, windows, etc.
- Each wire harness is connected to the door with a plastic clip that you can remove by squeezing and pulling on it.
- In general, removing door panels requires a step-by-step approach, which is why you should carefully follow the instructions for your specific vehicle.
Step 3. Be extra careful if you touch the steering wheel
If you try to remove components on the steering wheel without knowing what you are doing, you can easily be injured by an airbag that inflates unexpectedly. Read your owner's manual carefully before removing any steering wheel components for painting.
- As a general rule, you should disconnect your car's battery and wait at least 30 minutes before attempting to remove any items on the steering wheel. Next, you may need to disconnect the airbag (possibly from the bottom of the steering column) and remove the airbag chamber, cover, and all that goes with it from the steering wheel.
- If you are not sure how to do it, let a professional take care of this part of the process. Replacing an airbag can cost up to 2,000 euros!
Step 4. Remove the seats if you wish to paint them
Most of the time, car seats are held in place by four bolts, one bolt at each end of the two rails on which the seats slide. Remove these bolts with a socket wrench, tilt the seat back and pull on the plastic clips that hold the wiring in place (for seat adjustments, etc.). All you have to do is remove the seat.
In general, painting fabric seats while they are still in the car is messy and can expose you to higher concentrations of chemical fumes. Take the time to read your manual and remove the seats properly before painting them
Step 5. Cover the parts of the seat that you do not want painted
Once the seats are out of the car, remove or cover any plastic, metal, or other items that you do not want to paint. Use a combination of masking tape and plastic bags to cover them.
Step 6. Tape or cover the sections
If you choose not to disassemble the interior components, carefully apply masking tape to any surfaces you do not want painted (e.g. gauges, car stereo, windshield and mirrors, etc.). Apply masking tape to create neat dividing lines between painted and unpainted areas and glue plastic sheeting (or plastic bags) cut to size to large areas that you do not want paint coated.
If possible, spray the paint on the exterior of the car to avoid exposure to concentrated fumes. Note that you should always work in a well ventilated area and wear a mask, whether you are spraying the paint in or out of the car
Part 2 of 4: prepare the surfaces
Step 1. Clean the plastic and vinyl components
Pour a little washing up liquid in a bucket of hot water. Then dip an ultra-fine grain scouring pad in it and use it to wash the components thoroughly.
- Do not use steel wool, sandpaper, or coarse scouring pads, as they can damage the plastic or vinyl too much.
- You barely need to scuff the surface to help the paint stick together and remove dirt and grime.
Step 2. Dry the plastic or vinyl parts with compressed air
If you have compressed air in your workshop or have a spray can handy, use it to dry the parts you've washed. The compressed air will dry them quickly and remove the residue left by the scouring pad.
If you do not have compressed air, allow the parts to air dry or wipe them with a lint-free cloth. Then wipe with a soft cloth to remove dust
Step 3. Wipe down vinyl or plastic parts with TSP
Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) comes in powder form and should be mixed with water according to package directions. It is also a very powerful cleaner, so you should wear long clothing, protective goggles, a breathing mask as well as rubber gloves and work in a well ventilated area. Use only the amount needed and wipe the parts with a cloth dampened in TSP, then allow the parts to air dry.
- If you have vinyl components and don't want to use TSP, you can purchase vinyl cleaning sprays at automotive supply stores. Just spray it on a thin layer, leave it on for about 30 seconds, then wipe off with a lint-free cloth.
- If you are looking for an alternative to TSP for plastic parts, use denatured alcohol. Soak a clean cloth with alcohol, wipe the components thoroughly and allow them to air dry.
- Whatever product you use, follow all of the safety guidelines listed and work in a well-ventilated area.
Step 4. Vacuum the fabric seats before painting them
Use a powerful vacuum cleaner and remove any dirt and debris you find on the fabric. For heavily soiled seats, you can use a steam cleaner and then allow it to dry before vacuuming.
If your fabric has a suede finish with a grain, brush in the natural direction of the grain after vacuuming and before applying paint
Part 3 of 4: prime the components
Step 1. Choose a primer filler
Filler primers are formulated to smooth out small scratches and cracks in plastic parts. Depending on the product instructions, you may need to apply several coats before you get the effect you want.
- Primers are sold with other primers and aerosol paints. If possible, look for one specially formulated for auto parts.
- No primer filler can remove deep scratches or cracks, but they can make them less noticeable.
- Primers are ineffective on soft materials like vinyl or fabric.
Step 2. Use an adhesion promoter primer
This product can be especially useful for vinyl components, as it will help the spray paint to adhere to the soft, smooth material. You'll find it alongside other automotive spray primers.
- If you don't need filler primer, you can also use it for plastic parts.
- Do not apply any type of primer to the fabric before painting it.
Step 3. Work in a well ventilated room and wear a mask
A covered area with sufficient ventilation, but with little wind is ideal for the application of a coat of primer and spray paint. For example, you can work in a garage with all doors and windows open. Always wear a breathing mask when spraying paint to minimize absorption of vapors and particles.
Also provide tarpaulins, pieces of cardboard or any other protection against projections
Step 4. Apply one or two thin coats of primer
Follow the instructions for use on the box. Typically, you should shake the bomb for a minute, hold it six to eight inches from the surface to be painted, and spray the paint in spurts, while keeping the bomb moving.
- Do not keep the canister for too long in one place or the paint may collect or form bubbles on the surface.
- Apply 1, 2 or more coats as directed. For multiple coats, wait as long as recommended between each coat (usually 5 to 15 minutes).
Part 4 of 4: paint the rooms
Step 1. Choose the appropriate spray paint for your surface
Plastic parts should be painted with a paint specifically designed for plastic. The same is true for vinyl or fabric parts that must be painted with vinyl or fabric paint. If possible, choose spray paints designed for application to automotive components.
Spray paints for vinyl and fabric can adapt to these materials. Paint designed for plastic will crack and peel on vinyl or fabric
Step 2. Apply thin coats of paint
The application of paint should be identical to that of the primer. Shake the canister according to the directions for use (usually for one minute), hold it 6 to 8 inches from the surface and apply thin coats by spraying in spurts while keeping the can in motion.
- Wait approximately 10 to 15 minutes between each coat following package directions.
- It takes three to four coats, or even more, to properly cover some parts. Applying several thin coats will get better results than trying to spray one or two thick coats.
- No matter how many coats of paint you apply to a fabric, you will never be able to achieve a result that covers the entire surface perfectly. This is especially true for suede fabrics. Keep this in mind before painting any fabric or let a professional do the work for you.
Step 3. Spray one or two coats of clear varnish
The clear coat will bring more shine and protection to your painting. Apply varnish in the same way as paint, but be sure to do it in thin, even coats over the entire surface of the object. Otherwise, you may see streaks or unevenness in gloss.
You can wait 5 to 15 minutes between coats of primer or paint, but it's best to wait a full 15 minutes (or even a little longer) between each coat of varnish
Step 4. Let the parts dry for 24 hours
Regardless of the material and whether or not you have applied a coat of varnish, it is best not to touch the parts that you have painted for at least a day. This will allow the paint to dry completely and remove any sticky traces from the surface.
A good quality fabric paint should not leave a streak on a white cloth that you will press on it after 24 hours. If so and the fabric is on a seat, you will have no choice but to replace the seat or find a cover that will protect your clothes from stains
Step 5. Remove the masking and reinstall the components
After 24 hours, remove the masking tape and plastic that you used. Then, using the owner's manual, reinstall all of the removed components in the reverse order you removed them. For example:
- put the seats back in place, push the plastic clips to reconnect the wiring, then reinstall the bolts (there are usually four) using a socket wrench;
- Carefully reconnect the steering wheel airbag and any components that you have removed following the owner's manual or have a professional help you;
- replace the door panels in their place, connect the wiring by pushing the plastic clips, reinstall the mounting screws using a screwdriver and insert the plastic panels near the windows, handles, etc.;
- reassemble all plastic trim pieces held in place by tabs.