Repaint Aluminum Gutters

Dear James: I took your advice a few weeks ago and cleaned out my gutters. They are white aluminum and look pretty bad. Is it possible to paint aluminum gutters a different color to better match my house? — Tammy P.

Dear Tammy: Even no-fade aluminum gutters and downspouts do fade and chalk over time. In fact, they look downright bad. Since the fading is so gradual and you see them everyday, most homeowners generally do not notice their own unsightly gutters. It is similar to the way those wrinkles and gray, excuse me, “silver” hairs creep up on everyone.

Aluminum gutters can be painted, even a different color. With proper preparation and techniques, the new paint will last for many years. To the contrary, if you are impatient, run out to the hardware store, buy a gallon of paint and brush it on, but expect it to bubble and peel in a couple of months.

The key to an attractive and long-lasting paint job is thorough cleaning of the gutters and downspouts first. Although a pressure washer is effective for many cleaning jobs around your house, this is not one of them. It will not clean thoroughly enough, and pressure spraying house walls, especially if you have siding, can result in dampness inside the walls.

The best cleaning method is to get out the ladder, a bucket of soapy water and a large sponge. Actually, before the washing process, use a scraper to remove any areas of loose paint or heavy dirt buildup. Once you wash off the gutters, additional loose spots that need scraping will be apparent.

There are many commercial cleaners available at most paint stores, but plain old dishwashing liquid will be effective. You will be surprised how much dirt and chalking has accumulated, particularly if you live on a busy street with diesel truck traffic. Scrub, scrub and scrub again in a circular motion.

When your arm is finally too tired to scrub any longer, spray off the gutters and downspouts with a garden hose. It is best to rinse them from the ladder so that no water is forced upward against the wall surface. Let them dry completely.

The next step is to apply primer to the gutters. Avoid using water-based primers on old aluminum gutters. Even though you scrubbed the gutters and there still appears to be a layer of paint on them, there are probably tiny pits in the paint. The ammonia in water-based products can react with the aluminum oxide and cause future blistering problems.

There are some special acrylic primers that work great, such as Zinsser “Bulls Eye 123.” Oil-based primer should be diluted with thinner (one pint of thinner to one gallon of paint). You can tint the primer to a shade similar to the finished coat color.

Read the instructions on the can of primer and finished coat acrylic paint. These will tell you how long to allow the primer to dry. It is not a good idea to wait much longer than the recommended time, or the finish coat will not adhere properly to the primer and it will peel prematurely.

As with any outdoor painting job, the weather conditions and the time of day are critical for good adhesion. Obviously, don’t paint when rain is forecast. The sun and wind can also create problems by causing the paint to dry too rapidly.

There is an old saying “follow the sun” when painting. You should always paint in the shade after the sun has passed over the area to be painted. The direct sun shining on dark gutters can get very hot. It is wise to paint southern sides on cloudy days and northern sides on sunny days.