If you’ve ever painted furniture, or started looking into how to paint furniture, you’ve seen all the different types of paint that people swear is the best paint for furniture. I must say, I would never be able to commit to using only one type of paint for my furniture painting, because I’ve found that each one is best in certain circumstances.
I’ve used most types of paint, many different times, and feel as if it’s time to break down all of the different types of paint I use to paint furniture. I’ve included the pros and cons of each of these types of paint, my tips for using it on furniture, my favorite uses for each one, along with the projects I’ve completed with them. Just click on the picture of the project to be directed to a complete tutorial.
After reading, if you’d like a furniture paint “cheat sheet” with all the information in this post in a very truncated (but printable!) version, just sign up to receive my newsletter.
I hope this post is informative and helpful!
Overview: Latex paint is the type of paint you can buy from any hardware store. It’s water-based and comes in a variety of sheens ranging from flat to gloss.
- It’s the least expensive option for painting furniture.
- It’s tintable to pretty much any color you can imagine. If you don’t love any of the paint swatches, you can bring in a paint swatch from another company, or have the store color match it to an item you bring in. Yes, you can paint a dresser to match the color of your favorite shirt!
- It comes in many different sheens (flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, gloss) which allows you to choose the amount of shine you’d like on your piece.
- The glossier sheens (satin, semi-gloss, gloss) don’t really need a top coat.
- You definitely need to prep your furniture piece well before painting. I would recommend sanding and priming with a good, strong primer (this one is my favorite primer for furniture!) which is time consuming. Here’s an entire post devoted to priming furniture before painting.
- The finish never seems as durable to me as I’d like. I often find pieces at thrift stores and garage sales that have been painted with latex paint and they are peeling, chipping, and scratching like crazy. Now, this could be a result of poor preparation, but either way, it’s important to note that latex paint requires correct preparation.
Tips for Use with Furniture:
- PREP and PRIME!
- Honestly, I almost always turn my latex paint into a homemade chalk paint if I want to use it on furniture. I’ve found it requires a little less prep (I always sand, but don’t need to prime) and adheres better to the surface.
Uses for Latex Paint: I don’t generally use latex paint for interior furniture, unless I change it into a chalk based paint (here’s my favorite way to make my own chalk paint), or if it’s unfinished wood. I will use exterior grade latex paint for the furniture pieces I build. It adheres to the raw wood nicely and holds up well to the elements.
Overview: I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s taken the furniture refinishing world by storm. It’s a chalky, water-based paint that requires very little prep work. It finishes in a soft, matte finish. There are a large number of companies that make “chalk paints”. I’ve used paint from five different companies, and I’ll say that they are all very comparable.
- Prep work really is minimal. I always sand anything I’m painting, but chalk paint really does stick well even to glossy finishes.
- It dries really quickly, allowing you to re-coat sometimes in an hour or so.
- It’s very easy to distress, so if you’re looking for a shabby-chic look, chalk paint is great.
- It really is silky smooth to the touch once it has dried.
- It dries very quickly, which means that brush strokes show up more more easily. Keep reading for my tricks on how to help with this.
- It’s thicker than other types of paint, almost too thick for my liking.
- I’ve read you don’t need to add a top coat, but I’ve found that if I don’t use a top coat, it distresses, in other words, it can be scratched off, too easily.
Tips for Use on Furniture:
- I always sand all of my furniture pieces, and I would recommend doing the same, even with chalk paint.
- I’ve found that if I add water to the paint (at about a 5%-10% ratio) it’s the perfect thickness.
- In order to avoid brush marks, leave the paint alone once you’ve painted it on. Sometimes, it’s tempting to go back to a spot that’s already been painted to perfect it. Don’t do it with chalk paint! It dries quickly, and if you go back, you’ll feel your brush dragging through the paint, and it will leave more brush strokes than were there before.
Uses for Chalk Paint: I enjoy using chalk paint to create a rustic, matte finish. If I’m wanting to distress to show wood the wood underneath or if I want a super flat finish, I use chalk paint.
Overview: Milk paint is an all-natural paint made with, you guessed it, milk protein! It’s been used for centuries and creates a natural, old-world look. Milk paint is known for creating a chippy look, but it actually is fairly versatile and can be used to create different finishes.
- It’s made with all-natural ingredients (from the earth, not scientists!) with no VOCs or chemicals.
- It comes in a powder form, so you only mix up the amount you plan to use.
- You can add a bonding agent to the paint that ensures it will adhere to furniture that has already been finished.
- It penetrates the pores of unfinished wood. If you strip a piece of furniture or find an unfinished piece, milk paint won’t just sit on the surface, it will actually penetrate the wood. It gives a beautiful look!
- It can be a tad bit unpredictable if you’re applying it without the bonding agent on pre-finished wood. It’s difficult to know just how much it will chip until you actually apply it.
- It may chip more over time if the bonding agent is not used. Now, this creates a time-worn look that mimics the look of antique furniture (because milk paint was used to paint a lot of those pieces!), but when I’m selling those pieces, it makes me a little nervous. If you apply additional wax or topcoats it will slow down the chipping, but I always feel bad telling customers that they’ll need to upkeep the finish or the paint will continue to chip.
- After it’s mixed, you need to use it. There’s no storing the paint on the shelf to touch up the piece in a couple of months. Remember, it’s made of milk protein… You’ll have a smelly, sour milk mess if you try to keep it.
Tips for Using on Furniture:
- If the thought of chippy paint scares you, use the bonding agent. You can apply less than the suggested amount and you might get a little bit of chipping. But then again, you might not. (Remember, it’s unpredictable!) If you apply the suggested amount of bonding agent and sand your piece, you won’t have any chipping.
- I always sand pieces before I paint, but especially if I plan to use milk paint without the bonding agent. I’ve found that if I don’t sand and don’t use the bonding agent, the paint does not adhere. The paint sticks to the places you sand more. If you miss a spot, you’ll see chipping in that area (without the bonding agent).
Uses for Milk Paint: I love using milk paint to make washes for unfinished wood. By adding extra water when I mix the paint, it shows off the grain of the wood beautifully. Milk paint is also my go-to paint for antique furniture pieces. If I know a piece is 100 years old or more, I love to use a paint that would have actually been used back then!
Overview: The name “General Finishes Milk Paint” is a tad bit misleading, because this paint is actually a water-based acrylic paint, engineered to give a similar finish to the milk paint that has been used for centuries.
- It can be used for both interior and exterior applications.
- It does not require top coat like chalk paint or milk paint. Its finish is strong, but a top coat can be added for extra durability.
- It levels beautifully. Honestly, I’ve never used a paint that smooths out so nicely as it dries. Simply put, you might see brush strokes as you’re painting, but once this paint dries, those brush strokes are gone!
- It has a little bit of a longer drying time than chalk or milk paint, which means that it gives you a little extra time and flexibility to catch a drip or fix a mark without it ever showing once it dries.
- I’ve read some people say you don’t need to sand prior to using this paint. It does adhere well, so they might be right, but I’ve never tried it out. I always lightly scuff up the surface with 220 sandpaper and it always has adhered perfectly. Either way, it’s less prep than most other paints require.
- If you’re looking for a super-matte finish, this paint won’t work. It’s definitely not shiny, but it does have a slight sheen to it. I’d compare it to an eggshell finish.
- It can be distressed, but it’s not as easy as chalk or milk paint. Plan to use a bit more elbow grease to take off the paint, or distress it right after it has finished drying.
Tips for Using on Furniture:
- This is the most straightforward of all of these types of paint. Lightly sand, and then start painting!
- If you see a drip or puddle, there’s usually time to go back with your brush to fix it.
- I love using General Finishes Flat Top Coat if I need a strong finish on a piece (painted dresser tops, chippy milk paint, table top). It can be used over any of the paints I have mentioned in this post, and gives a flatter sheen than any topcoat you’ll find at the home improvement store.
Uses for Acrylic Paint: I’ve found a use for this paint practically everywhere. I think it’s a fabulous paint to use if you’re new to painting furniture, because it doesn’t require much prep, and is very easy and forgiving to paint with. This is the only paint in the bunch that I have used to paint cabinets (both kitchen and bathroom) with beautiful results. It’s durable and cleans up well.
What’s the Best Paint for Furniture?
Now, which is the best paint for painting furniture? I would never be able to choose just one because I love certain characteristics about each one. When I’m painting furniture for clients, I always use one of the specialty paints (chalk paint, milk paint, or acrylic paint), but the one I choose always depends on the look they’d like. Sorry I can’t give you a clear cut answer, but hopefully the information I included will help you to make a decision on the best paint for you and your project!
If you’d like a printable version of this information to keep as a reference for later, I put together a two charts highlighting the main qualities of each of the types of paint. Plus, it includes a chart with specific brands for all of the types of paint mentioned in this post.
If you’re ready to start painting, I have the five most important tips to remember when painting furniture. I learned almost all of these by trial and error, so if you read up before getting out that paint brush, you’ll probably avoid a lot of the mistakes I made!
Now that you’re equipped with all the information you need to start painting furniture, it’s time to start shopping!
So much of furniture painting is trial and error. Once you use a certain type of paint, you’ll figure out how best to use it and your own personal preferences. If you’ve never painted a piece of furniture but have been thinking about it, give it a try. You’ll be impressed with yourself. Here are a few more posts that might help you on your furniture painting journey!
Like what you see? I’d love for you to follow along!
Sharing at these awesome weekly parties!
Join the Refresh Living DIY & Upcycling Community
Join the subscriber list to receive one email per week with updates from the blog. PLUS, you'll gain access to my printables and graphics library. Every new design I create will be added here, and you'll have free access - forever!