Specific coating mediums also are better for achieving a certain look — whether the desired style is antique, shabby-chic, or bright and modern. In addition, each type of paint requires different prep, and some work more effectively in electric sprayers than others.
To choose the best paint for your furniture, check out our guide below to the six major formats — latex, enamel, chalk, milk, stain, and lacquer. It provides info on each coating medium, the kinds of surfaces with which it is compatible, the types of furniture that it can be used with, and the details on how much preparation is required.
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Best Paint for Furniture
This medium is popular with DIYers and home-improvers for many reasons, including that they’re available in a variety of colors and sheens, dry quickly, have very little odor, and the water-base makes for a fuss-free clean-up. They’re also straightforward to use with paint sprayers since they can be thinned using water. That said, I suggest it’s worth considering a powerful power painter that can knock out this dense liquid without dilution, such as the turbine-driven Fuji Mini-Mite 4.
Latex paints have excellent elasticity — especially those that incorporate acrylic polymers — making them suitable for application on porous surfaces (such as wood) since they won’t become brittle and crack.
However, there are a few downsides to using latexes. They don’t stick easily to unfinished surfaces — requiring a primer to assist with adhesion. Furthermore, they also cannot be applied over existing oil-based coats — unless you want to see the latex flaking and peeling off in a matter of days.
In both cases, the surface to be painted should be sanded and primed before applying the coating medium. Also, because latex paints are thinner and dry quickly, it’s easier to see imperfections (like brush strokes) in the painted surface — hence why you should use a sprayer instead.
Compared to other types of paint, latex paints are one of the least durable, lasting around 2-5 years — although some top-quality exterior latexes are more robust and resistant to chalking and fading. Strength and integrity also depend on the sheen — with glossier finishes being more hard-wearing. Furthermore, when comparing interior and exterior latex paints, the latter is more capable of withstanding hardcore use, so they’re the better choice for furniture that’s subject to high traffic.
Pros of Latex Paint
Cons of Latex Paint
Best Ways to Apply Latex Paint to Furniture
- For treated wood or previously painted surfaces: sand! This helps to eliminate any inconsistencies in the texture and provides a smooth base for painting.
- On untreated wood and/or wood that’s been sanded, prime the area. Make sure to use a water-based primer to prep for the latex paint. This base coat helps create an even surface, provides a uniform color that prevents discoloration and allows the latex to bond.
- Since latex paints show imperfections in the painted surface, it’s best to use a paint sprayer to avoid tell-tale brush marks. Check out my guide to the Best Sprayers for Latex.
- Once the initial layer is dry, add a final topcoat of latex paint to create a more saturated look and improve durability.
Enamel paints are oil-based, making them durable and able to mask flaws in the painted surface. Compared to latexes, they have a much better ability to withstand extensive wear and tear. This means they’re well-suited for furniture like chairs, headboards, media centers, coffee tables, tables, and other areas exposed to heavy traffic.
That said, there are some drawbacks. For one, unlike latex paints, enamel isn’t elastic, and so isn’t the best choice for outdoor wood furniture — where changes in humidity and temperature will cause the timber to flex — cracking the enamel.
This paint is also subject to yellowing, and after a few months, doesn’t retain its same vibrancy and color intensity. Painting with this medium can also be more of a headache since it gives off strong fumes. In addition, the color selection for enamels tends to be more limited than latexes.
Thinning demands the use of mineral spirits, not water. You can avoid this issue by using a sprayer compatible with undiluted enamels, such as the airless Graco TrueCoat 360DS or turbine Wagner Control Spray 250.
Pros of Enamel Paint
Best Ways to Apply Enamel Paints to Furniture
- For touch-ups — sand the surface! Although enamel paints are great for concealing flaws, sanding helps smooth out those imperfections, whether from layers of old paint, chips, or cracks.
- Although you don’t strictly need to prime with enamels, it creates an evenly colored surface that prevents discoloration in the finished product. If you use a primer, make sure it’s an oil-based stain-blocking type.
- Depending on your base material, you can use a paint sprayer or a brush to do the job — since enamels dry with a hard finish, that’s great for concealing inconsistencies. For larger surfaces, paint sprayers are more convenient and promise a smoother, finished surface.
- A topcoat isn’t required for enamel paints. Hence, while the medium dries, inspect the surface to look for any areas that might require a touch-up. Enamels dry slowly and to a flat and even sheen, so it’s possible to go back and carefully address particular areas without messing up the rest of the coat.
For more tips on using enamels with a power-painter, check out my guide to Spraying With Enamel Paint.
In addition, chalk paints adhere well to many surfaces, including glossy finishes, so it isn’t always necessary to sand and prime the area before painting. Furthermore, they’re extremely fast-drying.
Best Ways to Apply Chalk Paint to Furniture
- Chalk paints don’t require sanding or priming, but both are recommended to produce an even and consistently colored surface.
- If you use a paint sprayer, it’s best to dilute chalk paint with around 5-10 percent water. That said, some people profess to apply it without thinning, but that may clog up the sprayer — depending on its power output and nozzle diameter.
- To achieve a distressed look, apply two coats of chalk paint. If you notice any areas that need to be touched up — don’t attempt until it’s dry.
- Once the paint is dried, use either a wet rag or fine-grit sandpaper to gently rub the areas of the furniture that would normally show signs of wear and aging — such as corners, edges, or large surface areas that people often touch (such as cabinet doors).
- Give a lacquer or wax topcoat to prevent powdering. For top tips on using this medium, take a look at my How To Spray With Chalk Paint guide.
Milks are ideal mediums for DIYers looking for environmentally friendly paints — as they’re non-toxic, water-based, and made from milk protein, lime, and natural color pigments. Milk paints have been around for centuries, which is apt considering they’re the most popular for creating an authentic, aged look to refurbished antiques.
The structure of milk paint allows it to achieve a chipped look reminiscent of antique furniture. For non-porous surfaces, milks can still be applied if mixed with a bonding agent.
Its water-based formula means you need a fairly powerful sprayer — so if this environmentally aware paint appeals, check out the Graco TrueCoat 360DS
Best Ways to Apply Milk Paint to Furniture
- Prep the area to be addressed by sanding to create a smooth surface.
- For unfinished wood, don’t do anything except apply the milk paint. This will allow the paint to adhere and seep into the grain.
- If you intend to paint the furniture with a brush, mix in a bonding agent with the milk paint to improve its adhesion and protect against excessive chipping.
- If you prefer to use a paint sprayer, do NOT mix in a bonding agent, as this will clog the sprayer. While using the power painter, make sure you stir frequently to guarantee the milk powder stays mixed in. It can also be helpful to occasionally clean the nozzle to remove sediment from the milk paint.
- Apply as many coats as needed for the desired effect.
Therefore, a basic, DIY-focused machine is perfectly adequate to propel stains — such as the Control Spray 250 or HomeRight Super Finish Max C800971. Bear in mind that when using a power painter to deliver stains, keep the output grunt to a minimum and utilize a narrow tip — reducing the chance of wastage, overspray, and pooling.
Best Ways to Apply Stain
- It’s crucial to sand, clean, and thoroughly prep the area prior to painting — as stains will exaggerate any flaws.
- If you need to thin the stain — check whether it’s oil or water-based. For the former, use mineral spirits, and for the latter, clean water.
- When using a sprayer — take it steady. Keep the unit on the lowest power setting possible to adequately propel the stain — otherwise, you will drench your target material.
- Some stains have a high solvent content — wearing a mask is crucial.
- For a detailed guide, take a look at my How to Spray With Stain article.
An adaptable and robust medium — although, it does require a little attention and effort to apply. Generally speaking, there are four formats of lacquer paint — waterborne, catalyzed, acrylic, and cellulose. However, they all feature a similar, low-viscosity constitution.
Today, lacquer is used as a term to encompass both shellacs and varnishes — the difference being that shellacs dry via oil evaporation, and varnishes through mineral spirit evaporation.
Because of its low density, even a budget, DIY-grade turbine sprayer will possess sufficient power to drive this paint. That said, it’s crucial that the unit promises fine-atomization via a narrow nozzle for a seriously smooth finish. For DIYers, I suggest checking out the Wagner Home Decor Paint Sprayer — and for trade contractors, the Campbell Hausfeld DH580000AV.
Best Ways to Apply Lacquer
- Ensure adequate ventilation and wear a mask.
- Some lacquers are flammable — check that your sprayer is compatible with flammable liquids and you operate away from sources of ignition.
- Extensive sanding of the furniture prior to painting is crucial.
- For a French Polish finish, sand, spray, sand, spray, sand, and spray — ensuring you allow sufficient time for each coat to dry.
- Keep the power output of the sprayer on the lowest setting possible to avoid overspray.
- For detailed tips and tricks, take a look at my How to Spray Lacquer article.
That’s it! You now have all the knowledge required to choose the ideal paint for your furniture projects.
All you need now is a sprayer — so check out my guide to the Best Paint Sprayers for Furniture to find the ultimate machine.