Painting a Shipping Container

Painting a Shipping Container
December 15-2023
Can I buy a specific color shipping container? Do I have to paint my container? How can I protect my container so it will last longer?  

We get these questions from our customers often. The answers can vary based on the unique needs and preferences of each customer. For instance, if you’re buying a used container, you cannot select a specific color, but if you’re buying a new container, you may have the option to select your preferred color. If your container will be used for storage on your property where only you will see it, the color probably doesn’t matter as much to you. However, if your container will be used as a shed, garage, or additional residential or business space, you might want the exterior to match the other buildings near it.

When deciding whether to paint your container, there are generally two main considerations:

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You’d like the shipping container to look fresh and new or, you want to match it to its surroundings. You’re not satisfied with just removing the labels and getting rid of the rust spots – you’re looking for a nice, clean, and polished appearance.

Painting your container can protect it from harsh weather and help slow the corrosion process. Quality paint will extend your shipping container’s life and improve its appearance, if that’s important to you.

If either reason is enough for you to want to paint your container, it’s important that you understand the process and tools you’ll need to get the results you’re looking for. It’s important to correctly prepare the shipping container’s surface before you even consider putting a drop of paint on it; just like if you were painting a wall in your home or a damaged section of a vehicle, surface preparation is a critical factor.

The other most important factor in painting your container is the paint you select. The steel surface of a container needs to be painted with an acrylic-based, specialized paint. The paint should be chemical and corrosion-resistant.

When considering surface preparation, take a “Good, Better, Best” approach. The amount of prep time you want to spend will be determined by your intended usage of the shipping container.

 What differentiates the levels of preparation?


 If you’re more concerned about protecting your container from the weather than how it looks cosmetically, the “good” approach should be enough. 

Pressure wash the entire exterior of the container to get rid of surface dirt or mud. 
Let the container dry thoroughly after washing. Once dry, apply the chosen paint with a pneumatic paint sprayer or roller that can be bought or rented at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sherwin Williams, or other similar stores. Five gallons of paint should be enough for one coat on 40-foot and 53-foot containers. Three gallons will be plenty for a 20-footer. 
Let the paint dry, and you’re done.


If you’re going to use your container in a more high-profile area, you may want to spend more time on surface prep. 

Pressure wash the container (maybe even twice).
Remove any labels and stickers on the container. 
Removing any rust spots by using a wire brush. 
Once you’re happy with how it looks, you can then paint the shipping container with another coat or two until it looks a little more vibrant.


If you really want your shipping container to look sharp, you’ll have to go the extra mile in preparation. What that really means is that you’ll need to work harder to get every spot of rust and label off before painting. You’ll definitely want to use a sprayer instead of a roller when you paint to get better, more consistent paint coverage. Using the sprayer will also save you time, as you can do a coat of paint in 30 to 40 minutes with a sprayer.

When it comes to selecting a paint for your shipping container, you’ll want the best – even if you’re just looking for protection. Container One has partnered with paint and coating manufacturer Sherwin Williams to offer customers the best shipping container paint in the market. This industrial grade direct to metal acrylic (DTM) paint is an interior-exterior, water-based, corrosion-resistant acrylic coating.

The paint can be applied by airless spray (recommended), conventional spray, brush, or roller. Two coats are recommended. Three gallons will cover one coat for 20-foot containers, and 5 gallons will provide one coat on 40-footers. 

Paint features include:   

Chemical resistant 
Color match capability 
Fast dry 
Flash rust-early rust resistance 
Suitable for use in USDA inspected facilities
Soon, you’ll be able to choose the paint color you want through the Container One website or a color matching app. The paint can then be ordered online and picked up at your local Sherwin Williams store.