Filing Cabinet Makeover

I found a way to make a filing cabinet in to a super cute filing cabinet on Pinterest, I found a few actually, and I wanted to give it a try. But, the directions on all the examples I found were not as helpful as I would have hoped. So, I took on the job myself! I had two filing cabinets, one black and one white, that were old and beat up and definitely did not look like a matching set. But, after my filing cabinet makeover was complete I had two filing cabinets that looked like a brand new set of two (except for the different handles of course).

Here are the steps and a bunch of pictures to show how it goes:

What you will need:


  1. Take everything out of the filing cabinets and remove the handles.
  2. What is Naptha you ask? I had no idea as well until I tried to clean my filing cabinets with Pledge and then I spray painted them. They turned out terrible! They had all these little oil spot bubbles all over them and it looked horrible. I told my husband about it and he told me about Naptha. Naptha is a pre-treatment you can use to dust / clean your filing cabinets before painting them. It doesn't have oil in it so it won't ruin your pain job. Although, one caveat, it is toxic, so try not to mix it up with your soda.
  3. Use rags or shop towels (they may get destroyed but mine were okay) to clean the filing cabinets off with Naptha. To do this, put the Naptha on the towel and rub it all over the filing cabinets in a thin, quick layer. It will dry very quickly, which is beneficial to the project. You will be able to see it dry. It will be glossy and then dry to a dull color.
  4. If there are still a few pieces of dust or anything else (pieces of your rag perhaps) left on the filing cabinets you can use a piece of the tack cloth to clean them off before you start painting. Again, I had never heard of tack cloth before asking my husband how to fix my first failed attempt at this project. Tack cloth is very sticky and is basically a super paper towel. It will be a great duster to get all the small pieces of dust that are leftover. Just dust the cabinets with the tack cloth as you would with any other rag. You probably won't need to do this.
  5. Put the painters tape on as needed based on how you are going to paint your cabinets. Remember to put cover the lock as well. I would also recommend painting them on top of a large piece of cardboard, because you will have over spray.
  6. I used a spray paint that was both a primer and a paint so I didn't have to worry about a primer layer. But, if you are using a separate primer, then put that layer on first before you start painting.
  7. You are now ready to paint! Paint slowly in a lot of light layers instead of one thick coat to avoid weird streaking and dark spots. This does make it take longer because you have to wait for each layer to dry before putting on another coat, but it is worth it since it makes the final product look much better. Use long arm sweeps that go off the edge of the filing cabinet each time – not by a ton, but to make sure you don't get dark, thicker painted spots on the edges of each side of the filing cabinet. One coat is defined by going back and forth across the filing cabinet and then up and down across that same section, so going one direction and then rotating 90 degrees and going the other direction with a light spray of paint.
  8. Let the first coat of paint dry. Then, if dust has gotten on your cabinets between coats because it took a while for the paint to dry, just use the tack cloth again and do a quick dusting of the cabinets. Then, do another coat of paint.
  9. Continue doing coats of paint until you get the color, darkness you would like on each cabinet.
  10. I did this for the black all over and then I started the process again by reapplying my painters tape to different areas as needed (remember to cover the lock) and then painting the green fronts to the filing cabinets.
  11. Remember to paint the handles too!
  12. Wait for everything to dry and put the handles back on. Put everything back in the filing cabinets. You are done!

Because I painted mine after using Pledge and had to start over, there is some paint showing on the filing cabinets at this step, but there normally wouldn't be.

This is after I did one coat, one direction

This is after I did one coat both directions

I hope you have success doing a makeover of some old filing cabinets you have too! It is a great way to dress up an office or storage room with minimal cost. Good luck!