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How to Paint Furniture: A Step-by-Step Guide for a Professional Finish

If you’re thinking about freshening your home’s interior, or sprucing up your deck, painting older or outdated furniture is a good strategy. And learning how to paint furniture before you get started can build confidence and make the job easier.

Read on to learn about how to paint furniture to give it a lasting, professional-looking finish that will make you proud and stand up to long use.

Someone painting furniture with a roller. Learn how to paint furniture like a pro!

How to Choose Paint for Furniture

The first step in painting furniture is choosing a color. But along with that, you’ll also need to decide whether to paint with a brush or use spray paint. And you’ll need to decide what sheen or finish, from flat to glossy, you’ll want.

Choosing a Paint Color

Probably the best news you’ll hear as you work out how to paint furniture is that there aren’t any wrong answers in terms of the color you choose.

While it may seem to go against design principles, there’s no reason you can’t use a cheery color on a French provincial piece of furniture or a somber tone on a mid-century modern piece.

In short, the only rule for choosing a color as part of how to paint furniture is whether or not you like it. So have some fun, for goodness sake!

Choosing a Paint Sheen

You’ll also need to choose a sheen, or level of shine, for your project as you explore how to paint furniture. There are five paint sheens from which to choose. From most dull to shiniest, those sheens are flat (or matte), eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss.

Currently, flat-sheened chalk paint is a popular choice for refurbishing furniture. But there are many reasons for choosing other sheens. For instance, as sheen increases, so does the protection from wear that your paint will provide.

There are, though, some downsides as you move up the sheen scale. The higher you move up, the more the dings on your furniture will show. Also, you’ll pay more for sheen as you move up the scale. The difference is usually a couple of dollars more per gallon compared to the next-lowest sheen.

Spray Paint vs. Brush and Roller

This post will include numerous references to using spray paint versus using brushes and rollers on your DIY furniture-painting project. For now, just know that spray painting is faster, but brush and roller painting allows more control.

Paint brush, sponge roller, paints, waxes and other painting or decorating supplies on white wooden planks.

What You’ll Need for Painting Furniture

Before you begin your DIY furniture-painting project, you’ll want to gather everything you’ll need. Listed below are exactly the items you’ll need as you discover how to paint furniture, along with some tips on selecting and using them.


Getting your furniture ready for paint will require significant sanding with varying grits of sandpaper. Grit is a measure of the size of the abrasive materials in sandpaper. To use it, you’ll also want a sanding block to keep your hands from getting sore.

You can find a suitable sandpaper kit for your project at Amazon.

Tack Cloth

To give your furniture an initial cleaning and to clean it again after sanding, you’ll use tack cloths. These loosely woven pieces of cheesecloth have beeswax embedded in the fibers. Take a look online at Amazon for great tack cloth options.

White Spirit

If you’re using oil-based paint as you work through how to paint furniture, you’ll want to have white spirit to clean brushes. You can order bottles of white spirit, like this one, from AK Interactive via Amazon.

Brush or Roller

For all but the largest pieces of furniture, you can use a straight 2.5-inch or 3-inch synthetic bristle brush as part of how to paint furniture. You should also have an angled 2-inch or 2.5-inch synthetic bristle brush on hand for tackling ridges and other ornamentation on the furniture.

Amazon offers a package with a 3-inch straight brush and a 2.5-inch angled brush that’s perfect for painting furniture.

If you opt to use a roller as you explore how to paint furniture, your best choice will be a 4-inch roller with rounded ends. Amazon offers a package of 4-inch rollers that can do the job.

Mask and Gloves

simple dust mask will be fine for sanding and while using a paintbrush. But for spray painting, wear a mask capable of keeping small paint particles from entering your lungs.

As far as gloves are concerned, wear a pair that are either nitrile- or polyurethane-coated. These types of gloves will protect you from paint chemicals while keeping your hands cool and dry. For a full selection of proper painting gloves, check online at Amazon.

AK Interactive - White Spirit 100ml - (AK00047)
Pro Grade - Paint Brushes - 2Pk - Paint Brush Set
Foam Paint Roller, Roller Frame with 4-Inch Mini Paint Roller Cover Refills with Foam-Covered Ends, High-Density Foam Paint Tray Set for Room Home Repair Mini Paint Kits(12 Piece)

Preparing Furniture for Painting

As with any DIY project, prep work is key to ending up with a professional-quality finished product. Here are some tips and tricks for getting your furniture ready for painting.


As a first step in how to paint furniture, you’ll want to clean your piece. First, use a vacuum to get the dust off of it, including the interiors of any drawers.

Next, drop a few tablespoons of vinegar into a bucket of warm water and spread it over the piece with a rag. Then, go over the piece with a gentle household cleaner. A cleaner with some degreaser in it is a good choice.

Finally, wipe the furniture down with plain water.


While you can use a chemical paint or varnish remover as a next step in getting your furniture ready for painting, it’s OK to move directly from cleaning to sanding.

It’s best to sand by hand, using a sanding block. But if you’re working on a larger piece, a handheld electric sander can be used.

Sanding will be a time-consuming process. You’ll start out with an 80-grit sandpaper and then move up to finer grades, finishing with a 240-grit sandpaper as a third and final pass over the piece.

If you’re sanding by hand, move with the grain of the wood. If you’re using an electric sander, use a circular motion to keep your work even.

Once you’ve finished sanding, wipe down the piece with a damp rag.

woman sanding a chair.


Applying a primer will give you a uniform base coat and will also improve your paint’s adhesion and durability. Whether you’re using spray-on or brush-on primer, apply it in two thin coats.

If you’re painting your furniture a dark color, use a gray primer. If you’re painting it a light color, use a white primer.

Painting Techniques for Furniture

As you consider how to paint furniture to spruce up your living space, you’ll either be using brushes and rollers or a paint sprayer — or for smaller projects, a can of spray paint — to apply your primer and paint. Read on for some tips on using brushes and rollers or spray-painting furniture.

Brush and Roller Painting

If you like being up close and personal with your DIY projects, brush, and roller painting should be your choice in terms of how to paint furniture.

You can choose either a brush or a foam roller for most projects. If you’re painting a large piece of furniture, a roller will make the job go faster. Pick a roller with rounded ends to ensure there aren’t any roller marks in your finished piece.

Also, as a general rule for how to paint furniture, you should use a roller to paint larger flat expanses of the furniture piece, as well as any drawers. An angled brush will then be ideal for tackling decorative trim and other details of the piece.

Spray Painting

There’s nothing wrong with spray-painting a piece of furniture to give it a new look. But if you’re using a spray can, there’s more to it than just pointing the nozzle and spraying.

To use canned spray paint, start a few inches away from the piece. Spray straight and continuously until you’re a few inches past the other edge of the piece. Then make another pass, overlapping between one-third and one-half of your previous pass.

If you’ve decided to use a paint sprayer, follow the same directions as for a spray can, working from bottom to top on your piece.

Spray painting an old chair in the color pink.

Tips for Painting Metal Furniture

If your project involves outdoor furniture or if your interior decor features industrial-style pieces, you’ll likely find yourself dealing with painting metal surfaces as part of how to paint furniture. That likely will require some prep work, so you’ll need to know the kind of metal with which you’ll be working.

Typically, metal furniture is constructed of either ferrous metal, like iron or steel, or non-ferrous metal, like aluminum or copper. You can use a degreaser and a damp rag to clean either type.

For ferrous metal, the next step will be to clean the piece with a wire brush. Do not use a wire brush on non-ferrous metal because it will damage the piece.

If there is paint already on the piece, you can sand it off or use a chemical stripper. If the paint is not damaged, you can simply paint over it.

Dealing with Rust

Dealing with rust before painting is also relatively easy. For ferrous metal, use coarse 80-grit sandpaper. For non-ferrous metal, use 180- to 220-grit sandpaper and a sanding sponge.

If your metal furniture is heavily rusted, you’ll need to use primer after sanding.

Spraying is the most efficient way to paint metal furniture, particularly if it has a lot of detailed work. If you use a brush, make sure you have a fine-finish brush for detail work.

How to Paint Furniture FAQs

Now that you’ve begun exploring how to paint furniture, you may still have some concerns. Read on for answers to a couple of frequently asked questions.

1. When is spray painting a good option for painting furniture?

If you don’t have a lot of time, using spray paint to update a piece of furniture will make the job go more quickly than using a brush. Spray paint also will dry faster than brushed-on paint.

Also, if the furniture you’re painting has lots of intricate woodwork, using a paint sprayer or can of spray paint makes it easy to ensure complete coverage.

If you’re looking for a smooth finish, spraying will be your best option. That’s because spraying won’t leave brush marks, which could require the application of multiple coats of brushed-on paint to cover.

Clean-up is also easier with spray paint. If you’re using a sprayer, all you’ll have to clean is the spray gun and the paint reservoir. And, of course, with a spray can, there’s no clean-up at all.

There is one word of caution. As mentioned earlier, if you decide to use spray paint, you’ll be sacrificing the precise control of a brush.

2. When should a piece of furniture not be painted?

Once those DIY juices are flowing, it’s hard to stop them. But there are a couple of instances when you shouldn’t paint a piece of furniture.

Take your great-grandmother’s old hutch. Sure, it would look great refinished with chalk paint. But if it’s a treasured family heirloom, and the great-grandmother is remembered for her attachment to it, just step away.

So, what about that vintage thrift-store piece? Well, before you paint, look around online. It’s possible your find is a valuable antique worth thousands of dollars if left untouched.

A person painting a classic white piece of furniture.

Wrapping up How to Paint Furniture

Now that you’ve learned the basics of how to paint furniture, you’re ready to make some great changes to your home. For more on equipment and techniques for painting furniture, check out DIY Painting Tips.