Do you have plastic toys lying around the yard that are super faded and still look terrible but are perfectly usable?
We got this Little Tikes Cozy Coupe car for free from a neighbor. It’s from the 1980s, so it had rust, fading, and some missing hardware.
But it still worked great, so I knew I could give it a second life a few decades later!
Why paint an old toy instead of just buying a new one?
- Save money! Hand-me-downs are a great way to save your money. Since kids’ stuff gets expensive quick, saving anywhere you can is a relief.
- Reduce your environmental impact. Kids go through toys so fast, don’t they? Every time we buy something new, we’re adding more plastic and increasing the demand for it. Long-term, this stuff really adds up and takes a toll on the environment. Reusing something instead of throwing it away is a great way to reduce your footprint.
- Change up your color scheme. If you’re not a fan of all the super bright primary colors, this is a great solution. You can do any color palette you or your kids prefer!
Oh, and while your kids are playing in their newly painted toys, why not learn how to make a DIY wood sign to tell people to slow down?!
And also while you’re at it, you probably need the adorable, itty bitty “baby on board” sticker that I designed just for the car!
I mean, for reals — how cute is this sticker, you guys?!?!?!
Save This for Later – Pin It!
Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions about how to paint plastic:
Can you paint Little Tikes toys?
As you can see from this huge makeover, you can definitely paint Little Tikes toys! Just make sure you prep your toys really well. And using the right paint is key.
Can I paint plastic without sanding?
You can paint plastic without sanding as long as you’re using the right kind of paint and have cleaned and prepped your surface thoroughly. Read on for all those details.
How do you paint plastic toys?
How to paint plastic toys is a super common question. I’ve done it a few times now with great results.
There are two super important factors in a successful painted plastic makeover:
- Thoroughly clean everything.
- Use the right kind of paint.
Keep reading for the nitty gritty about cleaning and what paint to use for plastic toys.
What is the best paint for plastic toys?
Wondering what kind of paint will stick to plastic?
For large-scale pieces like the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe car or a playhouse, spray paint is going to be your best bet.
In my opinion, the best spray paint for plastic is one of these:
- Krylon Fusion for Plastic
- Krylon Outdoor Decor
- Rust-Oleum Universal Advanced Formula
- Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch
I don’t use a primer with any of these, and I’ve found them to be the best ones for plastic.
How to Paint Little Tikes Plastic Toys
I have to apologize in advance for not taking better photos along the way. I got super busy.
And also super covered in spray paint and didn’t want to touch my camera. ha!
I’ll explain in as much detail as possible
1. Take the toy apart completely, and set aside any hardware, like nuts and screws.
Different toys and even different models of the same toys will come apart differently.
I suggest keeping these tools on-hand at a minimum:
- Flat head screwdriver
- Phillips head screwdriver
Removing the wheels was definitely the trickiest part for me.
Since our Little Tikes car is a vintage model, I didn’t have the right tools or hardware. I took the parts that I removed to the hardware store and had an employee help me find a good substitute.
As you can see in the photo above, the plastic hubcaps completely crumbled apart as I was removing the wheels. I chipped away the remaining bits instead of trying to salvage them.
2. Clean every surface as thoroughly as possible.
You need to use something more than water to make sure you really remove all that grime. A few options:
- A spray cleaner like Windex
- A white vinegar and water solution
- Dish soap diluted in a bucket of water
Use a scrub brush to get every inch of the plastic cleaned off. Pay extra attention to corners and crevices.
3. Tape off any surfaces that won’t be painted, like the wheels and axels.
Remember how the hubcaps crumbled away on our Cozy Coupe? Instead of trying to fix them somehow, I spray painted the insides with chrome spray paint.
4. Now you’re ready to spray paint the actual toy.
Make sure it’s completely dry. Pay extra attention to make sure there’s no water trapped inside the doors or other parts, since it could leak out and ruin your paint job before it dries.
Prop it up on a bucket covered with a drop cloth or newspaper.
Follow the instructions for whichever spray paint you choose.* It will take 2-3 coats.
* In case you didn’t see the earlier section where I talk about the best paint for plastic, here’s what I recommend:
- Krylon Fusion for Plastic
- Krylon Outdoor Decor
- Rust-Oleum Universal Advanced Formula
- Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch
5. Add interior details with a multi-surface acrylic paint. The horn is missing from our car, so I painted it on. I also touched up the steering wheel because it was super faded.
6. Use a clear spray paint to seal and protect the toy. Make sure it’s one with UV protection so that the color doesn’t fade over time.
7. Reassemble the toy. Make sure the paint is completely dry first.
8. Add an adorable mini “baby on board” sticker for the perfect finishing touch!
It’s my favorite thing I designed out of the entire project!!!
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Super excited about this! I was going to pay someone to paint 3 coupes because I thought it was going to be complicated but I’m going to dying for sure now.
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Hello! I am going to try staying a toy car this weekend. After all the comments on this post, is it safe to say that I should do some sanding before painting? Also, I was wondering, how can I get your baby on board sticker? None of the links work. Thank u!
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Excellent post. I am also experiencing a few of these issues as well, the first avenger peggy carter leather jacket but now I have got some ideas.
Doesn’t work don’t waste your time.
Sanded it, cleaned it, spray 2-3 coats, did a final clear coat spray. All the paint still rubs off immediately
Save your time.
That is probably because she said not to prime it first. As a professional painter I always use primer first on anything that goes outside. Primer is made with more glue in the formula for better adhesion. There are paint and primer in one type paints which work ok as well. But the old fashion prime then paint is always the safest way to go for anything that has sun exposure.
I used the Rustoleum paint & primer ultra cover, says it bonds to plastic. It doesn’t. It scratches off. I sanded, cleaned and no primer
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Do I have to spray after with a clear coat?
Are there any other exterior sealants you recommend with uv protection? The one you suggest has a frosted pearl effect. I’m trying to paint a plastic picnic table/bench. Thanks!
Hi Joy! That’s just the finish, not the color. You can use that same spray paint in whatever finish you like. They also make a high gloss version.
What color blue did you use for the spray paint?
I love this! I’m trying to paint ours, using Rust-Oleum 2x. I cleaned it beforehand. It is coming out looking very porous instead of smooth, is this normal? Also where the door opens and closes the paint is not staying on.
Same here. The texture was not what it used to be after I painted it.
That’s really strange about the texture. It sounds like a reaction between the plastic and paint, but if you used paint meant for plastic, I’m at a loss as to why it would’ve happened. A high gloss clear coat could help make it look smoother.
It’s because the toy has been outdoors. You will need to lightly sand any outdoor toys before painting so you don’t get the pores and give it a few light coats. Also if using spray paint DEFINITELY read directions on the can. You cannot leave the paint for a few hours and then go back and paint it again. You will get bubbles from air going under the original paint and ruin your first coat. Hope this helps all.
Same for me too! And my texture changed as well! I even tried a light additional spray hoping to “fill” the tiny crevices but that didn’t quite work everywhere. I suppose it’ll have to do? But I did 2 coats of clear polyethylene protection so I’m hoping that’ll minimize.
That’s really strange about the texture. It sounds like a reaction between the plastic and paint, but if you used paint meant for plastic, I’m at a loss as to why it would’ve happened. A high gloss clear coat could help make it look smoother. Hopefully the poly helped?
The door hinge area is the only spot on ours that really rubbed away over time, and I don’t think there’s a great solutions for that. Maybe scuffing the plastic with coarse sandpaper before spraying? I need to update the post now that its been awhile so I can show where it rubbed off there.
That’s really strange about it looking porous, though. It sounds like a reaction between the plastic and paint, but if you used paint meant for plastic, I’m at a loss as to why it would’ve happened. A high gloss clear coat could help make it look smoother.
Hello! Could you tell me the colors you used??
Hi Janie! It’s white cloud and rainwater in satin.
How many cans of spray paint would you say you used for all coats? Looking to upgrade my kids cosy coupe! Thanks
Good question. I should really keep better track of this stuff! I think it was a can of white cloud and maybe a can and a half of rainwater?
What colors did you use for the car? Looking to do a similar color scheme for painting our little tykes table!
Sorry I didn’t see this sooner! I used white cloud and rainwater in satin.
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Love this article. There are so many used and worn toys that deserve a breath of new life! I’m inspired to start tackling some projects this summer. Thanks for sharing!
Love this!!! I’m going to do our vintage little tykes playhouse and little tykes merry-go-round. Thanks!
So glad, Tonya — can’t wait to see pictures of how the project turns out!
Thanks, Sarah! I love reusing old things instead of buying new whenever possible!
I’m not sure how long ago you did this, but my husband is concerned about it chipping. Did you find that yours lasted?
I love this!!! I want to do our play structure but I can’t find anywhere that it’s safe paint I worry about younger grandkids who may “chew” if it’s safe. Do you know if it’s non toxic once it’s dried and cured?
Rust-Oleum is certified toy safe xx
I don’t think it is – I just saw an email from them stating their paints haven’t gone through the necessary safety tests to be certified toy safe.
I’ve been spraying paint for 20 years. Your kids would have to eat a ton of paint for it to be harmful to them. I wouldn’t worry about them chewing on it. I have inhaled more paint than most and I am fine. At least I think I am. 😜😂
This is so cute! I love the color! Do you know what the color is called and brand of paint for that mint color?
We used (tried) krylon fusion. The regular one, but it said you can use on plastic also. So we tried it. Scrapes off after drying. Then I seen Krylon makes one called “FOR PLASTICS” $60 a can! Eek. Anyone e have this issue?
That’s so strange! Mine was like $8 a can or something. Could there have been some kind of residue or oil or dust on the surface before you sprayed?
It’s $5/can at Lowe’s