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How to Update Recessed Can Lights with Stain!

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Recessed lighting is a great way to brighten up a room without creating too much visual clutter in the ceiling. However, they can still be a bit of an eyesore if the finish doesn’t quite match the ceiling. I found a super easy way to update metal recessed or “can” lights, and it doesn’t involve spray paint!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love spray paint. I even used it to update the builder-grade brass chandelier in my house. However, this makeover called for something a little more….wood-like.

white metal can light in a stained wood ceiling

My secret weapon for giving these metal can lights a new look? Gel stain!

Dixie Belle No Pain Gel Stains - Espresso, Golden Ash, American Honey and Walnut

This post is sponsored by Dixie Belle Paint Company. Follow this affiliate link to see all of their amazing products!

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Tools and Materials

Cleaning & Prepping

The metal lights were well maintained, so I didn’t have to do more than give them a quick swipe with a dusting cloth to clean them. Then I simply pulled them away from the ceiling surface so that I could easily stain the metal ring without also staining the ceiling.

recessed metal can light pulled away from the ceiling

Staining the Recessed Metal Light – Base Layer

I wanted to create a look that mimicked the natural wood grain in the surrounding ceiling. As you can see, wood has many layers of tones and colors.

In order to achieve a natural stained look, I first started with a base coat of American Honey gel stain.

staining a recessed metal can light

It looks pretty rough, right? But I promise it gets better. Remember that the goal is to create a natural wood grain look, so these swirls and swipes are actually a good thing.

Staining the Recessed Metal Light – Finish Layer

After about three hours the base layer had dried and I could start adding the finish layer of stain. For this step, I used a lighter gel stain called Golden Ash.

Can of Dixie Belle Gel Stain Golden Ash

Once again, I just used the same rag to create wood grain-like swirls that resembled wood grain.

adding the top stain coat to the recessed metal can light

Once the top layer was in place, I let it dry for three hours. Then I came back and touched up any spots that I had missed. I let the lights dry overnight and then gently pushed them back into place the next day.

stained recessed metal can light

And that’s it!

Yes, it really was that easy!

Final Reveal

This was a super simple makeover that created a lot of impact!

Stained and unstained recessed metal can lights

(Unstained light on the left, stained light on the right.)

stained recessed metal can lights

Aren’t they just beautiful? These lights now fade into the wood perfectly.

Have you ever stained metal? Leave a comment below and let me know your favorite way to use gel stain!


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Don’t forget to sign up so you hear all about the next misadventure! Until then, you may also like this stained dresser makeover or this dresser to buffet upcycle.

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