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Best Furniture Painting Secrets

January 20, 2022

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You can easily give old pieces of furniture a new life with a DIY paint job. Learn how to paint your furniture yourself! These are the secrets to painting furniture right the first time!

best furniture painting secrets

One of my favorite projects is painting furniture. Whenever I am planning a new room or a refresh, I always look at the furniture I already have to see if any of it can work in the design. I have pieces I have painted multiple times and used in so many spots in our homes. There is something so satisfying about repurposing something you already have and love. Often the only refresh it needs is a quick paint job! I have the best tips for repainting any piece of furniture.

Back when I was a young & poor law student, I quickly learned that one of the best ways to bring some unity to my mish-mash of furniture was to paint it. That started me on my quest to perfect painting furniture and I am here today with YEARS of experience to share with you! I still believe painting is the quickest and best way to unify a design and create cohesion. It is also the best way to repurpose what you have. And bonus–it is the most budget-friendly way to do both! Add a new coat of paint and some hardware and you won't believe the difference in that old dresser or buffet!

How to Paint Furniture

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Painting furniture the right way so that it will last is about the two Ps– PREP and PRODUCT. If you want a quick overview of the most common way I paint furniture, you can check out the recent video I made below.

PREP:

Prep work is key to a successful DIY furniture paint job. The very first step is to clean! This should go without saying, but people often skip this if it doesn’t LOOK dirty. If you do not wipe down your piece you run the risk of all that dirt and dust you couldn't see showing up when you paint and making your paint job look terrible. Not to mention any grime still there could cause paint adhesion issues. My secret to cleaning before painting is to use Simple Green diluted per the instructions. Then wipe it down with plain water. Super simple, SUPER important! I don't care if your piece is vintage from a thrift store or it has been sitting in your dining room. It needs a quick clean to be ready to take paint!

The next part of your prep depends on whether it’s real wood (includes veneer) or laminate (other weird synthetic material). If in doubt, test a spot. If the paint separates or beads up at all, prep it as follows.

How to Paint Laminate Furniture

For laminate furniture you must use a BIN (shellac based) primer. This is a CRUCIAL step for a good result! This should not be hard and it doesn’t have to look good. Just purchase your BIN primer, grab any paintbrush and prime the entire piece. If you don't do this, the paint will not stick to the laminate! It will continue to bead up. I learned the hard way when painting IKEA furniture. This step is not one you can skip!

priming laminate furniture

How to Paint Real Wood Furniture

To paint wood furniture you have to start with this question-Does it have a shiny or super smooth finish? If it is either, you need to use a liquid deglosser OR give it a light sanding. We are not talking about anything crazy. Just give it a light scuff sanding with moderate grit sandpaper and then wipe it down to remove the dust. The goal is to create a little texture so the paint can grab on. You should not be sanding so heavily that you are removing all the color! If you go the route of liquid deglosser, this is just a quick wipe down. The deglosser also gives the furniture a little texture. If I am being honest, I prefer the scuff sanding. They are both basically the same amount of work and I think the sanding gives it a little better grab.

If your furniture is not shiny or super smooth, carry on!

If your furniture was previously painted and still in good shape, then all you have to do is clean it. If there is chipping and loose paint all those spots need to be taken care of first! Get all the loose stuff off that peels and sand where you need to.

light colored bedroom with bright art
My recently painted bedside tables–they used to be navy!

PRODUCT:

Choosing the right product is the key to your success. Never, never, never, never use latex paint. It will chip almost immediately. And if you avoid latex paint and use one of the 3 paints I’m going to recommend, you don’t have to worry about whether previously painted furniture is oil-based or water-based.

I have tried lots of different paints but I now have 3 go-to paints I use to paint furniture. General Finishes Milk Paint, Amy Howard at Home One-Step Paint or Fusion Mineral Paint. I love all these paints and have used them all in numerous projects. All three types grip well to the furniture and all have a good saturation of color. They are also very durable!

I choose which paint I will use for a project based on their colors. They all offer different palettes and between the three I can always find what I am looking for. Keep in mind, the number of coats you need depends on the color. Some colors require 2-3 thin coats of paint. (One step doesn't mean the number of coats!) The good news is that this type of paint dries quickly and giving a piece multiple coats is pretty fast.

You can use your own favorite method for painting. The way I do it is a brush for hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, and a foam roller for large flat areas. Rollers go so much faster and make the job feel easier! These paints all self-level well and a roller works just fine.

painting a dresser

None of those paints require a coat of primer and none require a topcoat. BUT, I do recommend a top coat for something like a dining room table or something that gets touched and used a lot. You need to be the judge of what sees a lot of action. When I painted my bedside tables I didn't bother to topcoat, because they don't see a lot of abuse. In someone else's house, they may absolutely need a topcoat. Everyone is a little different when it comes to wear and tear so you decide.

My two favorite topcoats are General Finishes High Performance Top Coat and Fusion Mineral Paint Tough Coat. Which one I use depends on the situation. The General Finishes is super tough and good for dark colors. The Fusion Mineral is also great, but I will only use it on top of light colors because it gets a tad bit milky which shows up on dark colors.

That is it! The right prep and the best products will get you the results you want. I have painted so much furniture and I have made my share of messes. BUT I really do have it down to the perfect formula. Learn from my mistakes and you will get amazing pieces with a whole new life!

Want full tutorials on how to paint furniture? Check out these posts: How to Paint Wood Furniture, How to Paint a Dresser (the correct way), Tricks to Painting Laminate Furniture. For inspiration, check out my pictures below of furniture I have painted.

girls room with mural and painted bed
Attley's painted bed and bedside tables.
stenciled desk and painted chair
Thea's painted and stenciled desk and painted chair.
painted campaign dresser in girls' room
This thrifted campaign dresser that I have painted a few times!

So don't be scared! Just follow my painting and prep tips and you can easily paint your own furniture!

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