How to Properly Prime Furniture for Painting

When it comes down to painting furniture priming is extremely important. Not all pieces of furniture need to be primed, but it never hurts to use a primer if you are unsure whether a primer is needed or not. But how do you prime a piece of furniture that is going to be painted?

Before priming a piece of furniture, lightly sand the surface using a 220 grit sandpaper for the primer to adhere best. Apply your primer to the sanded surface using a brush, roller, or spray can. Once dry, sand lightly before applying a second coat of primer or your paint of choice.

That might be a quick answer, but there is a lot more to priming a piece of furniture. After painting dozens of pieces I have seen a few things you need to be aware of. The more you paint furniture, the more you can tell if a piece of furniture needs priming.

Let’s go through a step by step guide on how to properly prime furniture and then I will answer some important priming questions.

5 Steps on How to Properly Prime Furniture

1. Clean/Degrease

Before you do anything, do a deep clean on your piece of furniture. You never know what might be on top of your furniture, if it’s greasy and dirty it can cause the primer to improperly adhere to the surface. The best products to use for furniture degreasing are mineral spirits, TSP, or an all-purpose cleaner such as Simple Green.

Apply the cleaner directly to the furniture or on a clean rag, Begin scrubbing the surface free from any grease or grime. Make sure you wipe the furniture dry before moving on to sanding. I will wipe any excess cleaner up and give it 10 minutes for it to completely evaporate off the surface.

2. Lightly Sand the Furniture

When the piece is 100% dry, you can begin lightly sanding the surface. When priming furniture to be painted you do not need to sand down to bare wood. You actually want to avoid doing so, the more bare wood exposed the higher odds you’ll have paint bleeds. However, with a good primer, this won’t be a problem.

Grab anywhere from 180-220 grit sandpaper to lightly scuff up the furniture surface. The reason we want to sand lightly is to create a better surface for the primer to adhere to. This will help the primer hold on better to your furniture, making your entire painted piece more durable in the end.

Choose to sand by hand or using an electric sander. If you are painting a small piece of furniture using a sanding sponge and your hands will work fine. If you have a large piece of furniture, using an electric sander will help you do a light sand job a lot quicker. Remember, you do not have to remove all the old finish, just scuff it up quickly.

After sanding, grab a clean rag and wipe any dust off your piece. Feel free to use a tack cloth, dust brush, vacuum, or blow it off with a compressor nozzle. If you want to learn more about cleaning up after sanding furniture read our “How to Effectively Clean Wood After Sanding” guide.

3. Apply Thin Coat of Primer

Now it’s time to add your first coat of primer. I recommended going thin on your first coat. We really want this coat to adhere on as best as possible. The thicker a coat of paint is the more likely it will peel off.

A thin coat is easier done when applying a spray-on primer, just spray a thin amount over the areas that are being painted. Below I will mention the best primers for furniture, I use spray primers almost every time. They are easier to deal with!

If you are priming with a brush or roller, just try to do a lighter coat. Apply less primer on your applicator and the coat will be thinner.

4. Lightly Sand Primer

Once the first thin layer of primer completely dries you can begin sanding with a 220 grit sanding sponge. Do not sand through the primer, the idea is to scuff up the surface and remove any imperfections. Sometimes spray primers will create a rough surface initially, use the sander to make it smooth.

Don’t forget to wipe any dust!

5. Apply Second Coat of Primer

It is now time to fill in and cover the piece with primer. Typically applying 2 coats of primer completely covers my pieces of furniture. If you can still see the wood underneath easily, you might want to try another coat. However, this is really only necessary over bare wood surfaces. If there are bare wood areas you are aware of cover them generously, just be careful you do not cause the primer to drip down your piece or you will have some sanding to do.

I sand after each coat of paint or primer until my last, so sand after each coat of primer. But this is a very light sand using a 220 grit sanding sponge. It keeps the surface smooth and helps each coat stick on better.

I hope these steps help you understand how to prime furniture. This is exactly how I prime my furniture projects to prevent bleeds and to create a more durable final project. Please reach out to me if you have any questions regarding the furniture priming process.

When Should I Prime Furniture?

You might be wondering if you need to prime furniture or not. Not all pieces of furniture need primer and not all paints require you to use a primer. Dark-colored paints do not require a primer, especially black paint. On the other hand, for light paints, especially white paint, you most definitely need to use a primer to avoid a blotchy look and bleeds in the paint.

I recommend always using a primer when painting furniture to prevent any possible wood bleeds and to create a strong durable surface. Primer is designed to hold on as a base layer while creating a great surface for the paint to adhere to. 

Use Primer if Paint Bleeds on Wood Furniture

Wood furniture is known to bleed, but there are certain types of wood that are almost guaranteed to bleed if no barrier is placed between the wood and the paint.

Wood bleeds through paint can happen for a number of reasons. It can be chemicals in the wood trying to escape, such as sap in the wood bleeding through the paint causing a yellow or brownish look to your paint. It can also be old oils in the wood or stains that are trying to escape, this is more likely to happen all over the furniture rather than in spots. If you are painting wood furniture with knots they must be covered or you are extremely likely to see bleeds coming through.

This is where a good primer comes into place. Use a shellac-based primer if you are using such bleeding woods, shellac primers create a great barrier against bleeding wood. A great shellac primer is BIN, this is one of the most common primers for bleeds and also laminate furniture. You can get a BIN spray primer or a can of BIN you can roll/brush on. It adheres very well while also creating that needed barrier under your paint.

Wood furniture types that are most likely to bleed most?

The more color in your wood the more likely it is going to bleed. Whenever you see red woods, such as mahogany or cherry furniture, you must use a primer. These woods will bleed a lot and a good stain-blocking primer will work to prevent such bleeds.

If you are working with pine wood furniture, keep an eye on the knots. Knots are very likely to bleed through lighter paints.

All woods can bleed so just be careful, sometimes they can bleed a lot and in others you won’t see a thing. The worst thing is wood bleeds may not show right away, it could be a couple of days or longer. Typically, when you apply the paint and it dries it shows, but not 100% of the time. That’s why you should prime anyway, just to be safe.

How Many Coats of Primer on Furniture?

For primer to work most effectively on furniture applying a minimum of 2 coats is recommended. If you do not apply enough primer on furniture you risk the chances of seeing bleeds through your paint.

If you are certain the type of wood surface you are painting will not bleed, just applying one thin coat of primer can do the trick.

What Grit Sandpaper for Primer on Wood?

When sanding primer between coats, it is recommended to use a 220 grit sandpaper. For the easiest experience use a 220 grit sanding sponge to get a smooth even surface ready for the next coat.

Best Primers for Furniture

Best Primer for Wood Furniture?

Not everyone uses the same products, some prefer others for a different reason. Perhaps the prices are more affordable, or maybe the product is of better quality? It all depends on what you are searching for and when it comes to choosing the best primer for wood furniture there are 3 options I recommend.

Best Bang for Your Buck Wood Furniture Primer – Rust-Oleum Spray Primer

rust-oleum flat white spray primer on furniture

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My favorite primer is Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra Cover in Flat White. You do not want a glossy finish primer, so completely avoid that. Use a flat finish or some sort of matte, nothing glossy it just won’t make your furniture more durable.

Anyway, this primer is my go-to based on the price and the quality. When I don’t think the wooden furniture is going to bleed I just do one light coat of this paint, but if I have a dark red wood I will apply anywhere from 2-3 coats of primer, more if needed. After I paint and I do see any bleeds coming through, you can take this primer and spray directly over the bleeds. This has always worked for me using this primer.

Also, if you have a Home Depot in the area they sell larger cans for the same price! They likely have a deal with Rust-Oleum I am guessing. I don’t get a commission if you buy from Home Depot, but it’s just a better deal, I just want to help you! If you do not have a Home Depot nearby it is available on Amazon too.

Zinsser BIN Shellac Based Primer – Best Blocking Primer

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The best furniture primer if you have bleeds in your paint or you are gaurenteeds to have bleeding is Zinsser BIN. This product is found in a spray-on version and you can buy it in the can. The spray works similarly to rustoleums spray primer, but the can version can be applied with a brush or roller. Using a roll or brush will mean you are applying a thicker coat of primer, which is good for protection from wood bleeds, however, you may lose on furniture durability if you apply too thick.

Zinsser Bulls Eye Primer – Great Coverage

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The Zinsser Bulls Eye Primer is another great priming option. It is not shellac-based like BIN but it provides great coverage when spray priming wood furniture. It is also available by the Quart, but if I were priming furniture I like to use spray cans. This product will hide stains and protect your piece from bleeds. It is one of the best choices when searching for a wood sealing primer.

Best Primer for Laminate Furniture?

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The best choice primer for laminate furniture is the shellac-based BIN Primer by the Quart. The shellac formula adheres best to laminate when comparing to water-based and oil-based primers. I used a water-based primer on a piece of laminate furniture recently, it worked ok but the paint chipped rather quickly. Shellac will become more durable as it cures creating a better-painted laminate piece.

If you want a more durable painted piece of laminate furniture apply 2-3 coats of BIN primer, with the first coat be extremely thin. The reason the first coat should be thin is that it is less likely to chip and peel off.

Final Thoughts

I hope my ultimate furniture priming guide has helped you figure out what primer you should use on your next project. Plus, now you know exactly how I prime my furniture pieces and you can get the same results. Learning how to properly prime furniture for painting will prevent ugly furniture bleeds while creating that solid refinished piece everyone will love.

Good luck refinishing and don’t forget to check out my youtube channel where you can watch me prime all my furniture projects!