Repainting Bird Cages

Answers to questions about painting and repainting bird cages are usually incorrect because of the myths created by the media. Overly concerned parrot owners have accidentally and dramatically reinforced these myths.

Almost all paints sold in the United States since the 1970's are edible when dry. The government has gone to great lengths to assure all paints available to residential home owners do not contain lead, zinc or other toxins that could hurt children if ingested. So, any paint sold, at any retail paint store, for home use should be safe to use. Just in case read the instructions carefully.

While the dried paint is non-toxic this in not always true of the chemicals that 'flash' off of the paint as it dries. Flashing is a painters' term that describes the process of all of the volatile chemicals leaving the paint and evaporating into the air. There are approximately 100 volatile solvents, also known as VOC's. Ammonia is the most common dangerous solvent in paint today and is continually being replaced with newer safer chemicals. Even the safe paints that say ventilation is not necessary should be used with caution. While they are safe for adults they may not be safe for children or pets. The reason is that the adult is usually moving in and out of the area where the paint is being applied and drying, and usually gets a good deal of fresh air during a painting process. A child or bird who may be in a cage or crib is not moving and may remain in the same area and be continuously exposed for the duration of the painting and drying process. The common myth that birds and children are more susceptible because they are smaller is misleading. Smaller animals inhale less air, so pound for pound they get a similar exposure.

Which is the Best Paint to Use?

Powder-coated baked on finishes are usually the best. This is the process used on most new cages. In a factory setting this is a very economical way to apply a quality finish. A dry powder is sprayed onto the surface. The overspray falls or is sucked into a collection unit and can be reused. Sometimes an electrostatic process is used where an electric current between the paint sprayer and the cage pulls the paint to the cage creating a very tight and even finish. When heated the paint melts, shrinks and dries into a very high quality finish.

Power-coating is done by many paint shops around the country, but for small jobs is expensive and usually overkill for most repainting situations. Once you include your time and labor preparing the cage you will have more invested than if you purchased a new cage. If you have an expensive cage that you plan on keeping for a long time you may want to look into this process.

The Next Best Paint to Use.

High quality, high gloss spray paint will provide the best finish. Always ask for the highest quality. You will not be using much so the extra few dollars will be well spent.

High quality paint will usually cover better with a thinner film. A thin paint film is harder to scratch and harder for a bird beak to chew off. The reason is that it is more difficult for a tool or beak to get through the surface and under the paint to scrape it off. If the film is thick a beak can more easily push into the center of the film and get started. Sort of like a snow plow, as soon as the blade gets into the surface it quickly is drawn all the way to the bottom.

Never use more paint than necessary. You will want to spray a couple of thin even coats, just enough to get a nice smooth gloss finish that covers well.

High gloss will have a tighter finish and usually has a very nice hard resin film on the surface to aid reflectance. This finish will go on more even, dry harder, be the most dirt resistant, chip resistant and last longer.

Consider choosing a color that will not show off the inevitable chips will allow your job to look better longer.

Preparation is More Important than Paint.

Without removal of the old paint, rust and dirt you will probably be wasting your time. The old chipping paint will continue to chip. The new paint will not help the old paint stick better. Since the old paint will be thicker and have a raised edge the bird will find them and work at taking it off. Sanding the edges smooth will slow the bird down but will not solve the problem that is already causing the original paint to come off.

It there are only a few chips and the cage is in good shape otherwise, sanding the few chipped areas may be appropriate.

Paint and rust removal technology has been rapidly changing for the last 10 years. Today there are many products that are very safe and easy to use. It does not matter which product you choose as long as there is absolutely no residue left on the surface or in the cracks of the cage when you are finished.

Sand or glass bead blasting is the easiest and best way to remove paint, rust and dirt. In most cities you will find many shops that can do this for a reasonable price. Blasting will easily get into just about every nook and cranny. The only preparation after blasting is a quick rinse with a hose and a little drying time.

Without blasting virtually every surface of a cage is going to have at least a thin film of dirt on it even if you have scrubbed it down well. The only way to insure the primer has a good surface to adhere to is to lightly sand it just before painting.


Each paint company will have their own recommendation as to which primer to use. Always use the recommended primer. Choose a spray paint which also has a spray primer. Do not overdo the priming. Primes job is to stick to the metal and then the paint sticks to the primer. Thicker primer will only make the finished product thicker and easier to scrape off.

Drying Time

Proper drying is critical to creating a high quality finish. Read the instructions. Generally, you will never want to spray the cage in the sun or when the metal is hot from being in the sun. If the metal is a comfortable room temperature the paint will set up in a few minutes and then take a few days to dry completely. At first all of the molecules are randomly swimming in the paint. They need a little time to relax into the proper matrix they are designed to develop. Sort of getting in line and holding hands. If the paint dries too fast they will not have time. With most paints the molecules will be totally organized in less than half an hour. After this you can raise the temperature if you like.

If you are planning on applying a second coat you will want to follow manufactures directions. Basically you want the paint to set up and dry for a few hours to a day. As the paint dries it will shrink. When dry, quality paint may only be one fourth as thick as when applied. You will want to apply the second coat before the first coat has cured to its thinnest finished thickness. This way the coats will shrink into each other as they dry.

After 24 hours it is good to move the cage into a warm sunny location so the paint can really shrink down tight. It takes most paints a few weeks to get to their maximum hardness but after a few days it should be hard enough that a bird will not harm the finish.


If you are planning on using a paint sprayer to spray paint out of a can you need to ask more questions. If a paint store clerk thinks you know what you are doing and are using the paint on a commercial application you may end up with a commercial grade paint that may not be as safe as you want. There are many public and industrial areas that require higher quality paints than used around the house, and where children do not normally have access to eat it. Commercial grade primers are an even bigger problem. These commercial types of paints do not always fall under the government guidelines for home use because they are not commonly used in the home. There are usually no warnings on the cans. Most stores will gladly call the manufacturers representative to get the right answer. Every paint company has theses answers readily available on their 'technical data sheets'.


There are many different types of individual solvents (roughly one hundred) employed for different applications. Solvents evaporate easily, emitting Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are a potential human health hazard and harmful to the environment.

Defra, UK
The UK has implemented the provisions of the Directive through the Environmental Protection (Controls on Injurious Substances) Regulations 1992 (Statutory Instrument 1992/31), which allow restricted use of lead paint in accordance with the 1989 European Marketing and Use Directive. The UK Regulations allow the manufacture and use of lead paint (containing white lead), but in controlled and special circumstances for the redecoration of Grade I and II * (Categories A, B and C(S) in Scotland) listed historic buildings. Strict regulations apply to its use. The general sale of lead paint in the UK is prohibited under these Regulations.