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How To Change the Finish of Your Metal Light Fixtures

I’m sharing how I transformed the brushed nickel finish of our bathroom sconces to a warm, golden brass. It’s more than just paint; this one tool adds depth and instant character!

How to Rub 'n Buff any metal to change the finish of your light fixtures! via Yellow Brick Home

With any renovation, there are going to be (costly) things that sit high on your wish list, and there will be others that give you room to save. In our Tree House bathroom, those items were our beloved sink and the two substantial wall sconces, respectively. When I mentioned that we would be changing the metal finish of those sconces with a mini makeover, many of you asked me, so, like, spray paint? And while spray paint is almost always a win in my book, this time, I opted for Rub ‘n Buff!

Rub ‘N Buff v. Spray Paint

Rub ‘n Buff is more than a paint; it’s a carnauba wax base with finely ground metallic powder and pigments, giving you rich, dimensional color. While spray paint is wonderful for its even application, I knew that Rub ‘n Buff would give me the depth that spray paint couldn’t! If you’ve used Rub ‘n Buff in the past, you know that a small amount goes a long way. It’s forgiving in the sense that you can wipe it off quickly if you apply too much, or you can build on it as it dries. I’ve used it on metal, wood and ceramic, although there may be a learning curve to each material. In this post, I’ll talk about my experience with metal.

Our Sconces | Before

Initially, we had our eyes on these stunning sconces, but with the cast iron sink being our splurge (seriously, bury me with that beauty!), we had to pass. So when we spotted these light bars from Lowe’s – and for less than $70! – I challenged myself to a DIY. We loved the look and size, but we didn’t love the brushed nickel finish. Here’s what I did to give them a layered, gilded look on a budget!

Tools + Supplies Used

Disassemble the Fixture (If Necessary)

Scott disassembled the sconces for me, so that I wouldn’t have to tape off the milk glass or struggle with the seams. If you’re working with a light fixture that can apart with a handful of screws, I recommend doing so! If not, make sure to have a handful of cotton swabs nearby, which will be helpful to coat areas that are hard to reach (like seams and ridges).

Apply Several Even Coats of Rub ‘n Buff

Of all the materials I’ve used Rub ‘n Buff with, I’ll admit that metal is the trickiest. It’s slick, and after the first coat, you may be wondering if you made a mistake. But don’t give up! Persevere! I initially started by using my finger to apply a small bead of gold to the sconce pieces, but I quickly learned that the application went much more smooth if I used a soft cloth. Below, you can see how it looked after two coats – somewhat streaky, right? I ended up applying 4 coats total to achieve a pretty, multi-dimensional brass finish.

2 coats of Rub 'n Buff on a light fixture | via Yellow Brick Home
Rub ‘n Buff in Gold Leaf

During the application process, I collected a few tips that I hope to be helpful for changing the finish of your metal items:

  • Whether you use your finger or a soft rag to apply, always do so in the same direction.
  • The first coat will look sparse, but keep layering!
  • Metal will most likely require at least 2-3 coats, if not more. Apply each coat thin and even, and allow 10-15 minutes between each layer.

Buff Smooth

After my final coat, I allowed the pieces to dry for another 30 minutes, and then I used a clean, soft cloth to buff everything smooth. I had to put some muscle into my buffing, but once I was done, I was left with a beautiful warm gold finish in the form of a hard, durable wax!

Tip: Make sure your item is fully dry before buffing, otherwise, your buffing may remove layers.

Reassemble + Install Your Fixture!

Scott reassembled the pieces and installed the fixtures, and it’s exactly what we had in mind! We’re big fans of mixed metals in the bathroom (well, in every room of the house, honestly!), and we love how the satin-y brass plays with our polished chrome faucets.

How to Rub 'n Buff any metal to change the finish of your light fixtures! A neutral bathroom with greige walls and brass sconces | via Yellow Brick Home
How to Rub 'n Buff any metal to change the finish of your light fixtures! via Yellow Brick Home
sconce | tree print | bird print | beadboard + ledge

What have you Rub ‘n Buffed lately?

Psst: This is how we Rub ‘n Buffed an antique mirror, and this is how we upgraded an ordinary photo frame! You can also see our bathroom reveal right here.

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  • Molly1.20.20 - 9:12 AM

    Gorgeous! I’d never have known those lights weren’t bought like that!ReplyCancel

  • Paige Cassandra Flamm1.20.20 - 10:38 AM

    This is awesome! We have a couple fixtures we can totally do this with in our house!


    • Kim1.20.20 - 1:40 PM

      We’d love to see if you give it a go!ReplyCancel

  • Karen1.20.20 - 7:50 PM

    How will this hold up to cleaning over time?ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.20.20 - 9:32 PM

      I’ve heard of a lot of success from others using just a soft damp cloth.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle1.21.20 - 7:37 AM

    I use it to update the color of hardware or smaller fixtures that I’m not happy with. It’s so easy to use and durable! Also, there are so many tones and quite a range to suit many different styles. The fixture looks great and what I think I love most is that you used what was in your budget to get the look you wanted. ReplyCancel

  • Brandy1.23.20 - 12:00 PM

    Omg can you use this on door knobs too??ReplyCancel

    • Kim1.23.20 - 12:02 PM

      We’ve heard people have a lot of success with cabinet hardware, so I imagine you could! Just beware that the moving parts of a doorknob may be tricky to get to and/or may wear away easily.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah2.13.20 - 12:56 PM

    Kim, Have you used this on a polished nickel finish with any success?ReplyCancel

    • Kim2.13.20 - 1:40 PM

      I haven’t, but recommend many light coats. Slow and steady!ReplyCancel

      • Sarah K Ruppersburg2.16.20 - 12:52 PM

        I did some googling and saw a few suggestions for sanding the polished metal in one direction to make it look brushed… was thinking about trying that and then finishing with rub n buff. What do you think?ReplyCancel

        • Kim2.16.20 - 8:47 PM

          I can see how that could work! Use a really fine grit, I would think, 220 or higher!ReplyCancel

  • Cristin3.9.20 - 10:55 PM

    These look amazing! Do you think this would work on a console sink (pedestal but with metal legs)? I’m trying to save our original 1950’s sink in our bathroom remodel, but the original metal is shiny chrome + some rust. I was planning to spray paint, but now I’m wondering if this would be better…ReplyCancel

    • Kim3.10.20 - 7:26 AM

      Test a small section and see how you feel about it. If it doesn’t give you fits, go for it!ReplyCancel

  • […] but have that vibe. The fixture actually came as a brushed nickel kind of finish, but I followed Kim and Scott’s Rub ‘n Buff tutorial to give them this rich brass finish, which admittedly takes them to a whole other level in my […]ReplyCancel

  • Robyn1.31.21 - 6:14 PM

    Do you think we could do this inside lamp shades? I like this 6-arm chandelier ( but it doesn’t come in gold like this smaller 3-arm one (

    • Kim2.1.21 - 8:29 AM

      For inside a shade, I’d suggest using spray paint for a truly uniform finish.ReplyCancel

      • Anita P11.22.21 - 8:19 PM

        which type of spray paint?ReplyCancel

        • Scott11.23.21 - 9:23 AM

          Most will work, but we always try to base our spraypaint selection on the surface we’ll be painting. For example, there are specific styles of spraypaint for metal, plastic etc.ReplyCancel

  • Toni2.27.21 - 7:14 PM

    Would this work with gold fixtures? ReplyCancel

  • Gracie9.23.21 - 10:11 AM

    These are beautiful! Did you use a cloth with texture like microfiber or smooth like a tshirt? ReplyCancel

  • Berni Short11.29.21 - 9:27 AM

    looks beautiful. Why did you prefer to use this rub over spray paint? Just trying to decide what to use for our project. We would like to change the lefgs of a chair. ReplyCancel

    • Kim11.29.21 - 9:47 AM

      Thanks! Rub n Buff looks more natural like metal, but spray paint would also work! Rub n Buff has a bit more dimension which we like.ReplyCancel

  • Liz Flowers12.8.21 - 1:07 PM

    What color rub n buff did you use?ReplyCancel

  • Pamela7.26.22 - 7:12 PM

    I’m working on a chandelier. It’s big and very intricate. I’ve painted  five coats by hand of different colors and still don’t have a multi dimensional rich gold color yet. I’m trying this next!  Thank you for the information!ReplyCancel

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We’re Kim + Scott, Chicago based content creators behind the Home + Lifestyle brand Yellow Brick Home.

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