Painting Furniture | Different Types of Paint & When to Use Them

A trip to your local hardware store to decide on paint can often be overwhelming. There are so many different types of paint out there and knowing which type of paint to choose for a project can get confusing. Use this guide to learn which paint would be best for painting all types of furniture.

Not all furniture paint is created equal. 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. There are many different types of furniture paint each with its own unique look and feel. 

You may have wondered: What is the most durable paint for furniture? What kind of paint can you use on furniture without sanding? Can you paint furniture with wall paint? 

We will answer these questions and help you feel confident in choosing the right paint for painting furniture that will last.

The Most Durable Paint for Painting Furniture

Hands down, the most durable paint is an Alkyd or oil-based paint. 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 best to let it dry and do any fixes on the second coat. 

Alkyd or oil-based paints may not be available in your area. They are no longer sold in our county because it’s a VOC (volitale organic compound). This is the paint I wanted to use on my built-in bookcases, but because of VOC it’s no longer available here.

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.

We like to use Zinnser Cover Stain oil-based Interior/Exterior Primer and Sealer. This sealer can be used with an oil-based or latex paint and the adhesion is really amazing without sanding.

Steph used an oil-based paint on Mr. A’s bed. She painted it 13 years ago for Mr. G. It has held up really well!

Wall Paint for Painting Furniture

Your basic latex paint that can be found at any hardware store can be used for painting furniture with wood surfaces. It will not hold up as well as an oil-based paint, but over the years, improvements have been made with latex paint and the durability has really improved. 

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, but anything with a lower sheen you may want to add a protective topcoat.

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.

We used Behr’s Premium Plus Enamel Exterior paint in a satin finish for our simple 2×4 Farmhouse Style Bench

This vintage dresser got a quick refresh with the same paint that we used on the walls.

Painting 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 very well in bonding the layers of paint together. However, if the original furniture surface has chipping, you will want to sand and smooth out those areas.

You can also use a bonding primer (Zinnser Cover Stain oil-based Interior/Exterior Primer and Sealer) that will create a surface for the new layer of paint to bond to. This method also works great for glossy varnished surfaces as well. 

I used this bonding primer when refinishing the spindles of my railing. The railing had a high gloss finish. I only applied the primer, (no sanding) then 2 coats of satin latex paint. It has been 5 years and it still looks great!

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 different brands of chalk paint out there. 

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.

It can be mixed into any color and it performs well for us. As with all paint make sure you are using a good quality brush. 

Recently, one evening about 9 pm I decided on a whim to paint the lower portion of my coffee table. Well, my good paint brush was at Steph’s house and I just used what I had.

I regret that I didn’t go get my good brush (Purdy is my favorite). I was using chalk paint that I had leftover from another project, but because of the inferior brush there were brushstrokes showing. Once it was dry, it required me to sand out those areas. 

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.

Chalk paint will require a topcoat. There are several options, probably the most common is a wax. But, for a more durable finish we recommend a polyurethane.

We have used chalk paint on coffee tables, pub tables and dining tables. We do love the finish and results we get with chalk paint.

Milk Paint

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, unless that is the look you are going for you will still get random chipping. 

We’ve used Miss Mustard Seed milk paint as well as Sweet Pickin’s milk paint. I have used milk paint on a sofa table and a hutch. This is not my favorite method of painting, because I can not control where the paint will chip. Guess I’m just a control freak!

If you are like me and don’t like as much 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.

Milk paint was used on this hutch. There was more chipping than I would have liked and I even added the bonding agent to the paint. The chair was also painted with milk paint and there was no chipping on it, go figure. It was sanded and waxed to give it a worn, aged look.

Painting Furniture with a Laminate Finish

Yes, laminate furniture can be painted. However, it must be prepped first. This is a time you will definitely want a good bonding primer. We would suggest Zinnser Cover Stain Oil-Based Interior/Exterior Prime and Sealer.

We have not actually painted laminate furniture, but we have seen projects from others. The results can be amazing if you take time and prime with a good bonding primer.

Painting Furniture with Spray Paint

There are times when using spray paint is a good option. It will always require more paint than you think. 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.

Steph wanted a high gloss finish on the tool chest dresser that she made for Mr A’s room. It is difficult to achieve that high gloss look and not have brush marks. That’s when spray paint comes in handy.

If you have a paint sprayer, then that is definitely the way to go. It’s less expensive and a lot faster and you will still get that flawless look.

Repurpose Thrift Store Furniture

Painting Metal Furniture

When painting metal furniture you need to select a paint that is 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. I used Rustoleum Black Hammered Paint for my outdoor furniture this spring.

Because I was painting metal, as well as had many pieces to paint, I used my paint sprayer. It made quick work for a big project. Before I began painting I power-washed all the pieces, then painted it with 2 coats. I was able to paint 4 tables and 10 chairs in an afternoon.

Painting Upholstered Furniture

There are a couple different options when selecting paint for upholstered furniture. Chalk paint works well on upholstery. It must be thinned down with water and applied with multiple coats. 

I’ve heard of sanding the fabric between coats to make it feel softer. But, the way I think I like best, is applying the paint multiple times with the paint thinned down a lot.

Even with this method the fabric will feel stiff like a canvas, but I feel it’s less stiff than with sanding in-between coats.

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.

I once started to paint an ottoman, but I didn’t like the feel so I decided to just reupholster it instead.

We have however, painted curtains multiple times. We like to just use latex paint and add textile medium to it. This helps it bond to the fabric really well. The fabric still feels stiff, more like a heavy canvas. But, this is another way to paint upholstered furniture as well.

Best Paint for Bookcases

Latex paint it not the paint to use on bookcases. With items sitting on the shelves, they always seem to stick to shelves painted with latex paint.

I was concerned about this when I painted my built-in bookcases and really wanted to use an oil-based paint for this. However, because of air quality regulations in our county and surrounding counties it is not sold here any longer.

However, there is a solution, a Urethane Alkyd Enamel paint. It provides the performance and durability of a traditional oil-based paint with the ease and convenience of a water-based paint. This paint can be used for interior and exterior wood or metal surfaces. 

You can find this type of paint in the following brands, Behr, Valspar and Sherwin-Williams. This paint is also an excellent choice for kitchen cabinets. 

We used this paint for Steph’s fireplace mantle and surround. Another great feature of this paint, is that it is self leveling. Which means less brush marks. It’s a win win!

brick veneer

Specialty Finishes


A glaze is a thin transparent or semi-transparent layer on a painted surface which transforms the appearance of the underlying paint layer.

Glaze is added to latex paint, which will increase the drying time. You can create any color of glaze. It is painted over a painted surface and then wiped off. The glaze will remain in the crevices and grooves. 

We used a glaze on Steph’s coastal coffee table. We used a grey glaze to add depth to the finish. It really accentuated the rustic grain of the wood.


Saltwash is a paint additive which can be added to any type of paint 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. We used Saltwash to create a unique worn finish on this console table.

Topcoats for Painted Furniture

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.

We generally 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 is 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. You can still keep that matte finish by applying a matte topcoat.

Best Primers for Painting Furniture

There are times when you will want to apply a primer to your furniture piece before painting. If you have a furniture piece that has raw wood, it is a good idea to apply primer. This will ensure that you will not get discoloration from knot holes. It will also help create a smooth finish and ensure that the paint bonds well to the wood.

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

You’ll want to use a primer if you are painting a laminate surface as well.

If you do not want to sand and the surface is glossy, you will want to use a good bonding primer.

If you have more questions about painting or painting furniture, please leave your question in the comments.

Thank you for spending some time with us! We hope you learned a little something about the many paint options that are out there. Are you ready to paint a masterpiece? If so let us know how it turns out! We’d love to know!

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Painting Furniture

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. 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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