Magnetic paint will not magically make your wall as sticky as your refrigerator door, but it can create a cool design effect throughout your home if you use it right. It might sound as easy as slapping on some paint and instantly having a magnetic surface, but proceed with caution. Creating a magnetic surface that will successfully hold up papers requires some know-how, a lot of paint, and the right magnets.

Ready to transform a corner of your home into a nail-free, magnetic gallery wall? Here's what you need to know.

The science of magnetic paint

Before you go out and buy a quart or two, you should have some understanding of how it all actually works.

"Magnetic paint or primer is just like regular paint, except that tiny particles of iron dust are mixed in," says Michael Paul of K&J Magnetics, in Pipersville, PA. Magnets are attracted to the iron bits, so the more coats of magnetic paint you apply, the more power it has to attract magnets (be sure to allow each to dry well before you add another coat).

Paul did a test in which he applied three coats of magnetic primer and one coat of regular paint. He noted that one more coat of paint would have looked better, but the more paint you put on top of the magnetic primer, the less magnetic power it has.

He found that a disc magnet, which he describes as "a bit stronger than a refrigerator magnet," was able to hold up one piece of paper on the magnetic wall.

A second test was done with six coats of primer and one coat of paint, and Paul found that the disc magnet was able to hold up four pieces of paper on the magnetic wall. If you're having trouble visualizing it, here's a video showing the test wall's performance.

Does magnetic paint work?

The million-dollar question: Is magnetic paint too good to be true?

The answer depends on how many coats of paint you use and how heavy the thing you're trying to hang is.

Kristie Barnett, a design, staging, and color expert for the The Decorologist blog, has created a magnet wall for a client.

After more than three coats of paint, "the area still was not magnetic enough to hold most magnets, much less a magnet holding a piece of paper," she explains. They were able to use the surface for magnetic poetry (the small magnets with individual words printed on them), but that's about it.

Lindsey Allen of the home decor blog Better After had a better experience using magnets specifically designed for magnetic paint walls called Hooked on Paint Hanging Magnets (it's currently unavailable, but similar magnets are available for $5.40, They're different because they are polymagnets, a type of magnet that has multiple poles instead of just one, and so the result is a much stronger pull.

Allen used a quart of paint on a 5-square-foot space, coating it until all of the paint was used up. The result is a nail-free gallery surface that can be rearranged easily.

So ultimately, magnetic paint does work; it just takes sufficient paint coverage and the right kind of magnets.

Tips for using magnetic paint

Interested in designing a magnetic wall in your home? Here are some tips for getting the most out of your paint, including how to apply it and make it as sticky as possible.

  • Be prepared for bumps. If you're hoping for a smooth surface, this might not be the solution for you. Because the magnetism comes from those little iron bits included in the paint, it's inherently clumpy. "Many folks who use this primer complain of the surface roughness. When it dries, the surface is quite bumpy," says Paul. "It seems to be the nature of magnetic paint."
  • Mix first. Before you use your paint or paint primer, mix, mix, mix. "Left alone on the shelf, the iron particles will tend to settle to the bottom," says Paul. You want an even distribution of particles.
  • More is better. Paul recommends that homeowners apply at least six coats of primer (and dry well in between each). Remember, the more magnetic primer you put on, the more iron dust you're adding, so the more magnetic your wall will be.
  • Use the right magnets. You want strong magnets that are not too strong. The disc magnets ($0.99+, that Paul used for the tests are a bit stronger than the average refrigerator magnet. (If you have young kids around, you might want to think twice, Barnett cautions, as the magnets could be a choking hazard.)
  • Choose the right color. Magnetic primer and paint come in dark gray, so you'll want to pick a color that will look good over gray primer. Remember: It will be slightly textured and, with as many coats as you need for good magnetism, thicker than the rest of the wall.

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