How to paint furniture

Updating your home could not be easier with our handy step-by-step guide to painting furniture, whether wood, laminate and even metal

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Have you got the DIY itch? Do you need advice on painting a whole house? Or do you simply want to give a favourite piece of furniture a new lease of life? Painting furniture can be fun and make you significant savings on buying new – if done properly. 

Follow our expert guide to painting furniture, and you will be all set to get creative with your paint and brushes.

You will need:

1. Prepare for painting

Prepping your furniture before painting is one of the most important – in fact, probably the most important – step in the process. If a furniture paint job has not turned out well, it is almost certainly because the piece had not been prepped properly. 

Prepping tips:

1. Start by gently cleaning your item with a damp cloth

2. Move on to sanding - you can use fine grade sandpaper by hand or with a power sander.

3. To remove stubborn stains, use a solution of vinegar (two tablespoons per 250ml); test a small area of your furniture first.

While many furniture paints claim that you do not need any prepping, we think it is always best to over-prepare. There are cases where you may choose to skip the sanding and priming, with decent results. If your piece is quite new, for example, with hardly a chip in sight. If in doubt, however, always opt for proper prepping. 

You will need a damp cloth, fine grade sandpaper and, if your piece is very old and is in need of more comprehensive cleaning, white vinegar. When it comes to sanding, there are two main options: sanding by hand or with a power sander. Coarse sandpaper (about 120 grit) is more efficient than fine sandpaper; however, if you are working on your first paint job, you may want to consider using finer sandpaper. It will take you longer, but there is less chance of overdoing it and gouging the surface. Always work in the same direction as the grain of the wood. 

2. Prime your furniture

It can be tempting to skip priming, especially with all the high quality paints around. But if you are painting a piece a much lighter colour than the original, or are working with deep, red wood tones, such as cherry wood or mahogany, priming is a must. Without a primer, you may find that the original colour bleeds into your fresh coat of paint. Previously untreated, new wood may also need to be treated with a knotting solution.  

painted chest of drawers

(Image: © Annie Sloan)

3. Choose your brush

Choosing the right brush will give you the best possible finish. The general rule is that natural bristle paintbrushes work best for oil-based paints, while synthetic ones are the better choice for water-based paints (natural fibres will absorb the water in the paint and go limp, making the work more difficult). Alternatively, you can use a small foam roller, which will give you a flatter, brush mark-free finish. 

(Image: © Rust-Oleum)

4. Mask off areas you're not painting

Use masking tape to protect handles and knobs, or areas, such as the inside of drawers, that aren't to be painted. It can also be used for creating a contrasting frame effect on the outside surfaces of your piece. Remember to remove the tape in a single sweep while the paint is still wet to avoid peeling. 

(Image: © Rust-Oleum)

5. Paint on your top coat

It can be tempting to do all of your painting in a single coat. Resist that: one coat will not give you the best finish. Instead, apply your top coat in several - or at least two - thin layers. Wait for each coat to dry thoroughly, then sand gently before applying your final coat. This will give you the smoothest, longest-lasting finish possible.

Which paint finish to choose for furniture?

Chalk paint is best for creating the on-trend distressed look that slots easily into almost any interior style. A type of water-based paint, with a high mineral content, it creates a chic, matt wash of colour when applied in a thin coat. And, it tends not to make as much of a mess as solvent-based paint; all you need to clean up afterwards is a bit of water, including for your brushes. A bonus point: chalk paint, along with other water-based paints, is a healthier, environmentally friendlier option than solvent-based paints. 

We like Rust-Oleum Chalky Finish Furniture Paint  and Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.  Alternative water-based options include Farrow & Ball's Estate eggshell emulsion, which will  give you a silk finish, with some sheen.

A traditional oil-based paint, properly applied, will give you a tough, long-lasting finish. Choose a soft, satin sheen rather than a gloss for a look that's on-trend. 

Rust-Oleum furniture paint

(Image: © Rust-Oleum/Make it yours)

To wax or not to wax?

In a word - yes, if you are using chalk paint. But be aware that once you have applied the wax, there is almost no way to repaint the piece again, as the wax, once adhered, will prevent any new paint from coating your furniture properly. If using a gloss or satin finish paint, no waxing is necessary. Our pick of the bunch for finishing waxes are Annie Sloan’s Clear Chalk Paint Wax and Rust-Oleum Furniture Finishing Wax

(Image: © Rust-Oleum)

Painting metal and laminate

When painting metal, two things are key: priming with an oil-based primer and using acrylic paint. Other types of paint simply will not last very long on metal and chip off. 

The same rules apply to painting laminate furniture, with one important difference: you will get better results if you sand laminate, both at the prepping stage and after priming. Laminate is very prone to peeling when painted, so two coats are a must, as is a drying period of at least a couple of days. Resist the temptation to re-attach knobs and handles too soon. 

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