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Clearly, a trip to your local hardware store to choose paint can often be overwhelming.

There are so many different types of paint out there!

And knowing which type of paint to choose when painting furniture can be confusing.

In this guide, you’ll learn which paint would be best for painting all types of furniture.

Whether you are painting wood, laminate, metal or plastic, you’ll find all the answers you need to get proven results.

Certainly not all furniture paint is created equal.

And the last thing you want to do is spend hours or even days refinishing a piece of furniture only to see the paint finish chip, peel, or be prone to dents and scratches.

Not only are there many different types paint , but each has its own unique look, feel and durability.

You may have wondered: 

What is the most durable paint for furniture? 

Can you paint furniture with wall paint? 

What kind of paint can you use on furniture without sanding? 

We’ll answer these questions and help you feel confident in choosing the right paint when painting furniture that will last!

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Table of Contents

Durable Paint for Painting Furniture

Hands down, the most durable paint is an Alkyd or oil-based paint.

In fact, you just can’t beat the durability of an oil-based paint.

However, it is more difficult to work with.

Not only will it require mineral spirits or paint thinner for clean-up, but it also has a strong odor that will last for weeks even after the paint is dry. 

A good quality brush is a must to minimize brush strokes and it can remain tacky for many hours. 

While oil-based paint takes longer to dry, that also means your finish can get messed up if you try to go back over a part that is partially dried.

It’s always best to let it dry and do any fixes on the second coat. 

In addition, you may find Alkyd or oil-based paints not available in your area.

They are no longer sold in our area because of high VOC.

I was unable to use this paint  on my built-in bookcases, because it’s no longer available.

If you are sensitive to odors, this is not the paint for you.

However, we will share other paints that are comparable without the strong odor.

One really important thing to note, oil-based paint should not be painted directly over latex paints.

If you are going to use an oil-based paint over latex, it must be sanded first, then apply a good bonding primer.

In the primer section, you’ll find a list of good bonding primers.

An oil-based paint was used for this bed.

You can see that it has held up really well for 15 years and 2 boys!

Wall Paint for Painting Furniture

Your basic latex wall paint can be found at any hardware store can be used when painting furniture with wood surfaces.

Now it will not hold up as well as an oil-based paint, but over the years, improvements have been made with latex paint and you’ll find that the durability has greatly improved. 

Latex paints are rated good, better and best.

If you’re using a latex paint on furniture, choose the best quality.

You’ll certainly find the coverage and durability more suited for furniture applications.

To minimize brush marks with latex paints use a good quality brush and add Floetrol to the paint. 

Floetrol fortifies acrylic and latex paints to improve performance and reduce brush marks.

It can also be added to latex paint when using a paint sprayer.

Floetrol allows latex paint to spray like oil-based paint. 

Latex paint comes in several sheens: gloss, semi-gloss, satin, eggshell and flat.

A gloss or semi-gloss paint will not require a topcoat for protection.

However, anything with a lower sheen it’s a good idea to add a protective topcoat.

Now if you want to keep the sheen down, we would suggest a satin or matte polyurethane topcoat.

Within the past year we have been using Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane in a matte finish and love it!

Each coat is equivalent to 3 coats of protection and we love the matte finish.

Painting Furniture

And this vintage dresser got a quick refresh with the same paint we used on the walls, Benjamin Moore Hale Navy, mixed in Behr’s Premium Plus, satin finish.

Paint Furniture Without Sanding

This is probably the question I hear most, “can I paint furniture without sanding?”

What is it about sanding that turns people off?

I realize it’s messy, but sometimes it is necessary to achieve good results. 

However, there are products that will reduce or alleviate the need to sand. 


If you are using a latex paint you can first apply a liquid sandpaper or deglosser.

This product is wiped on the surface before painting and creates a bond between the two layers of paint.

Liquid sandpaper works well in bonding the layers of paint together.

However, if the original furniture surface has chipping, you’ll want to sand and smooth out those areas.

Bonding Primer

Another way you can avoid sanding it to apply a good bonding primer like Zinnser Cover Stain oil-based Interior/Exterior Primer and Sealer or Kilz Adhesion Interor/Exterior Primer.

Not only will this create a surface for the new layer of paint to bond to, but this method also works well for glossy varnished surfaces.

Chalk Paint

There are many specialty paints available now that specify that no sanding is required. 

Probably chalk paint is the most well known.

There are many brands of chalk paint to choose from

We have used Annie Sloan, Rethunk Junk, Rustoleum Chalked, Americana Chalky Finish and Behr’s chalk paint.

In our opinion they all perform about the same, but we prefer to use Behr’s chalk paint, because it is less expensive.

Not only can it can be mixed into any color, but it also performs well.

As with all paint make sure to use a good quality brush

Recently one evening about 9 pm ,I decided on a whim to paint the lower portion of my coffee table with some leftover white chalk paint.

Unfortunately, my good paint brush was at Steph’s house and I used a cheap brush.

I quickly realized that wasn’t a great idea.

Because of the inferior brush, all of my brushstrokes were showing.

Once it was dry, it required me to sand out those areas. 

Painting furniture: white painted farmhouse tyle coffe tal in living room with gray sofa on sisal rug.

It is true you do not need to sand before applying chalk paint.

However, you do need to sand between coats as well as after the last coat for that silky smooth finish.

Before refinishing this coffee table with chalk paint, it look like it was headed for the trash.

It’s amazing what a little paint can do!

Pub table painted with white chalk paint and a black grain sack stripe painted down the middle of the table with 2 metal barstools.

Chalk paint will require a topcoat.

Not only are there several options, probably the most common is a wax, but for a more durable finish we recommend a polyurethane topcoat.

Clearly chalk paint is a finish we love to use on furniture.

The smooth matte finish and vintage farmhouse look feel we absolutely love.

Doesn’t this dining table have that relaxed coastal, farmhouse vibe?

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Milk Paint

Clearly, milk Paint has been around for years, going all the way back to colonial times.

Milk paint is comprised of limestone, clay, pigment, and the milk protein, which is where milk paint gets its name.

The milk protein also accounts for the earthy smell which disappears when the paint dries.

Milk paint will give you a chippy, worn and aged look. The consistency is a lot thinner than most paints and will require more coats.

It will bond to the surface, but randomly chip.

The chipping can be somewhat controlled by adding a bonding agent.

However,  you’ll still get random chipping. 

While I have used milk paint on a sofa table, chair and hutch, it is not my favorite method of painting furniture.

Because I can not control where the paint will chip, I find it difficult to work with.

If you are like me and don’t like the unpredictability in your furniture painting, milk paint might not be a good option for you.

With that said, if you are more artistic and like using lots of layering and distressing, then milk paint is perfect.

Milk paint will also require a topcoat.

On this hutch I used milk paint.

Certainly, there was more chipping than I would have liked, even though I added a bonding agent to the paint.

Now the black chair was also painted with milk paint and there was no chipping on it.

Go figure?!

Then to give it a worn and aged look it was sanded.

Painting Laminate Furniture

Yes, laminate furniture can be painted.

However, the key to a durable finish is it must be prepped first.

Begin with a light sanding to remove the gloss from the surface, then apply a good bonding primer.

Once the primer is dry, you can add the paint of your choice.

Spray Painting Furniture

Clearly there are times when using spray paint is a good option.

First, know it will always require more paint than you think.

The cans don’t hold as much paint as you think either.

We suggest to overbuy and return what you don’t use. 

There is nothing more frustrating than to be right in the middle of a project and run out of paint!

Repurpose Thrift Store Furniture

Steph wanted a high gloss finish on the tool chest dresser  she painted for Aiden’s car themed bedroom.

It is difficult to achieve that high gloss, lacquer look without spray paint.

This glossy finish was achieved with several cans spray paint.

It can also be achieved with a gloss paint and a good paint sprayer.

Painting Metal Furniture

When painting metal furniture you need to select a paint that is specifically for metal.

Metal is non-porous and requires special paint.  

Look for an enamel paint that is intended for metal surfaces. 

Most spray paint works well on metal, as well as Rustoleum products.

For my outdoor furniture, I used Rustoleum Black Hammered Paint .

And because I was painting metal and had many pieces to paint, I used my paint sprayer.

It made quick work for a big project.

Before painting a project like this power-wash first and sand any loose or flaking paint.

For best results always apply two coats of paint.

Vintage outdoor metal chair refinished with white and black Rustoleum paint. Multi colored tassel pillow sitting on chair.

Another item to keep in mind when painting metal furniture is exposure to the elements.

Select a paint that will help prevent rust if your metal furniture will be exposed to rain and snow.

Painting Plastic Furniture

Plastic furniture can easily be painted.

Outdoor furniture such as plastic lawn chairs can easily be updated with paint.

First, the furniture should be cleaned with an ammonia based cleaner to remove any mold or mildew.

Lightly sand the furniture piece to ensure the primer and paint will bond.

Apply a spray primer.

Choose a spray paint that states it’s for plastic.

While most of these spray paints do contain a primer, I feel that you achieve better durability if you use a separate primer.

My friend Marty at totally transformed her lawn chairs with spray paint.

Painting Upholstered Furniture​

Yes, upholstered furniture can be painted!

There are a couple different options when selecting paint for upholstered furniture.

First is chalk paint.

It works well on upholstery.

Now, it must be thinned down with water and applied with multiple coats. 

Sanding the fabric between coats will help the fabric feel softer.

Even though you can paint fabric with chalk paint, the fabric will feel stiff like canvas.

Just know that the upholstery will feel different.

It will not be as soft to the touch.

However, it can totally change an outdated piece of furniture.

Just take a look at the beautiful upholstered bench that my friend Stacy at transformed with chalk paint.

The second option is latex paint with a textile medium added to the paint.

Textile medium will help the paint to bond to the fabric, but once again, the fabric will  feel stiff.

And check out how my friend Carrie at transformed her dated outdoor cushions with latex paint.

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Best Paint for Bookcases

Latex paint it not the best choice when painting furniture like bookcases.

With books being slid in and out and items sitting on the shelves, they always seem to stick to shelves painted with latex paint.

This was a concern when I painted my built-in bookcases.

Certainly that’s why I wanted to use an oil-based paint for this.

Because of air quality regulations in our area this paint it is not available.

However there is a solution, a Urethane Alkyd Enamel paint.

Not only does it provide the performance and durability of a traditional oil-based paint, but with the ease and convenience of a water-based paint.

This paint can be used for interior and exterior wood or metal surfaces. 

You’ll find this type of paint in the following brands, Behr, Valspar and Sherwin-Williams.

This paint is also an excellent choice for kitchen cabinets too.

However, this paint is not a paint and primer, so a separate primer is required.

brick veneer

For Steph’s fireplace mantle and surround, we chose Behr’s Urethane Alkyd Enamel paint.

Not only is this paint extremely durable, but it’s also self leveling.

Which means less brush marks. It’s a win win!

Just a note, the consistency is thinner, so you’ll need to watch for drips.

Not only is the Urethane Alkyd paint wonderful for bookcases, but it gives you a wonderful finish on furniture too.

It’s the perfect consistency to use in a paint sprayer.

Not only will painting furniture with a sprayer give you professional results, but it’s so fast and easy.

Specialty Finishes


A glaze finish is achieved by applying a semi-transparent color over an already stained or painted surface.

Which transforms the appearance of the underlying paint layer with added depth and dimension.

The glaze will creates a darkened highlight in corners and profiled surfaces.

As a glaze is added to latex paint, the drying time will increase.

With the increased drying time, you’ll find you are able to manipulate the effect you’re trying to achieve more easily.

Any color of glaze can be achieved depending on the painted color added.

It is painted over a painted surface and then wiped off by hand.

The glaze will remain in the crevices and grooves. 

 On Steph’s coastal coffee table we used a grey glaze to add depth to the white chalk paint finish.

As you can see, the glaze really accentuated the rustic grain of the painted wood surface.


Saltwash is a paint additive which can be added to any type of paint.

It can be used to create a unique weather worn, layered sun and salt air soaked look.

Saltwash is made with real sea salt, so you will notice it dries quicker and adheres to almost any surface that takes paint.

This is a fun specialty additive that is easy to use and creates a painted finish that looks layered and aged.

Saltwash was used to create a unique worn finish on this console table.

Saltwash can also be used for creating aged and worm home accessories.

Applying this finish to a thrifted candlestick created a vintage, worn look for our tiered tray.

Painted Furniture Topcoats

Do you really need a topcoat or sealer?

Well, that depends on the paint you used.

If you used a chalk paint or milk paint you must use some sort of protective finish.

Generally we’ll use a wax over chalk or milk paint.

However, for a more durable finish a polyurethane can also be used.

To prevent the topcoat from yellowing use a water based polyurethane.

Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane in a matte finish happens to be our favorite.

It doesn’t yellow and creates an extremely durable finish. 

If the paint you choose has a satin, semi-gloss or gloss finish, there is no need to apply a topcoat.

On the other hand if the paint used has a flat or eggshell finish, applying a topcoat is a good idea.

However, you can still keep that matte finish by applying a matte topcoat.

Best Primers for Painting Furniture

There are times when you’ll want to apply a primer before painting your furniture.

If you have a furniture piece that’s raw wood, it is a good idea to apply primer.

This will ensure that you will not get discoloration from knot holes and tannins in the wood .

Not only will it create a smooth finish, but it also will ensure that the paint bonds well to the wood.

A primer is also necessary when painting a latex paint over a oil-based paint in order to create a bond.

When painting laminate furniture applying a bonding primer is a must!

A laminate furniture surface is really just a plastic finish and in order for the paint to bond to the surface a bonding primer must be used.

Also, if you do not want to sand a glossy surface, you’ll need to apply a good bonding primer like Zinnser Cover Stain oil-based Interior/Exterior Primer and Sealer.

Good bonding primers:

Pro tip:  The  Zinnser Cover tian oil-based primer has a strong odor. You’ll want to be sure to have good ventilation when using it

FREE Painting Furniture Guide

Get our FREE PDF printable guide for choosing the best paint!

It’s a quick reference chart to all the paints we’ve discussed when painting furniture.

Get yours today by clicking on the button below.

If you decide not to paint a piece of furniture and want to keep the natural beautiful of the wood, then checkout our pro tips for applying a water based stain.

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Thanks for spending a little time with us today. 

We hope you’ve learned a little about different types of paint and when to use them.

Are you ready to paint your next furniture piece?

And do you feel confident to select the right paint for your project?

If you have any questions about painting furniture or selecting paint, leaves us a comment.

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. 2 stars
    My spouse and I stumbled over here from a different website and thought I may as
    well check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you.
    Look forward to going over your web page again.

  2. stacy

    What a great guide for finishing different types of furniture! Thanks so much for including my bench – that might be my favorite project. It’s held up great too!

    1. Michelle Dickson

      That’s great to hear! We’ve never tried painting fabric. Just about everything else. We need to give it a try. Thanks for your inspiration!

  3. Kathy Schuler

    I really like the coastal table with the glaze. Could/Should I use polycrylic or polyurethane over it for protection? I will be painting a kitchen table.

    1. Michelle Dickson

      Thank you Kathy. Yes you can add a clear protective finish, just make sure it’s water-based, and oil-based topcoat will yellow over time. On Steph’s dining room table we used Varathane Matte Triple Thick Polyurethane. It has held up really well.

  4. Debra

    Super informative! Would you recommend Varathane Triple Thick Polyurethane for hardwood floors? What paint sprayer do you recommend? Ty ty ty!!

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