How to paint furniture

Learn how to paint furniture and give your old pieces a new lease of life with minimal fuss

how to paint furniture
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Want to learn how to paint furniture and get flawless results? Then you've come to the right place. It's easy to whack a coat of paint on old furniture but there are certain steps you need to take to make sure you get great results.

Painting furniture can be fun, will reduce waste and cam make you significant savings – a tin of paint is much cheaper than buying a new piece! Whether you want to paint wood, laminate or metal furniture, we've got you covered.

Follow our expert guide on how to paint furniture, and you will be all set to get creative with your paint and brushes. Got the right paint? Check out of pick of the best paint for furniture before you get started

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 removing any old handles using a screwdriver, and taking any drawers out of the frame to make them easier to paint.

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

3. If you want handles that are a different shape or size to the old ones, used wood filler to fill the old holes. Make sure you do both sides and let the filler dry thoroughly.

4. Move on to sanding – you can use fine grade sandpaper by hand or with a power sander. Sand down any wood filler until smooth and lightly sand all surfaces that will be painted.

5. Wipe down the surfaces you’re painting with sugar soap, this helps the paint to stick.

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, sugar soap, 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.  

The only exception to this rule is if you're using indoor-outdoor paint, in which case you can skip the primer.

painted chest of drawers

(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

3. Choose your brush or roller

For flat surfaces and finishing off, always use a small foam roller, which will give you a flatter, brush mark-free finish. 

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). 

See our pick of the best brushes and rollers to find the right one for the job.

4. Mask off areas you're not painting

how to paint furniture

(Image credit: Future)

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. 

5. Apply two light coats of your paint

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.

TOP TIP: If your furniture has legs, gently tap nails into the bottom of each of the feet before you paint. This will lift your furniture off the ground and allow you to get a better finish than if it's standing on the floor.

How to paint furniture

This oak bedside table has been painted in Frenchic's Dusky Blush Al Fresco paint for a durable finish

(Image credit: Future)

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. 

If you want a real durable finish and depth of colour, opt for an indoor-outdoor paint. We rate Frenchic's Al Fresco range, which comes in loads of brilliant colours.

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 credit: Rust-Oleum)

How to paint 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. 

Check out our guide to reviving metal furniture for more tips. 

Garden Trading Rive Droite Bistro Set Small in Dorset Blue

(Image credit: Garden Trading)

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Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.