how to paint furniture white

How to Paint Furniture White – Ultimate Guide

In DIY Projects by Jamie P.

Using paint on furniture can be tricky if you don’t know the rules, when it comes to painting furniture white the rules are pretty strict if you don’t want to make any major mistakes. So, how do you paint furniture white?

The easiest way to paint furniture white is to first scuff the surface with some 180 grit sandpaper, then apply a shellac or oil-based primer to prevent any bleed-through, and then you can apply white paint to the furniture. It is recommended to apply a protective topcoat to ensure durability to last a long time. 

Although it sounds simple, there’s certainly more to it than just that. In the detailed 7 step guide you can follow the exact steps I would do if I were to paint furniture white. First, let me answer a couple of important questions.

Can You Paint Furniture White Without Sanding?

Yes, you can paint furniture white without sanding but I highly recommend you scuff the surface up with a 180 grit sandpaper. The reason you sand furniture before painting is to increase its adherence to the surface, white paint on a dark piece of furniture, if the paint chipped or peeled, it would be extremely noticeable. Overall, choosing to sand will make your painted furniture last longer in general, I always scuff my pieces.

The Importance of Primer Before White Paint

You MUST prime furniture when you are painting it white because wood tannins will bleed through and it’s super noticeable when using light-colored paints. Bleed-through is typically a yellow or brown-looking stain that comes through your paint, it can become visible as it dries or it can appear weeks later, that’s why I highly recommend using a primer.

Using a primer is what creates a sealed barrier over the wood surface, which seals out the possible bleeds. However, not any primer is going to successfully prevent bleed through, avoid water-based primers and use a shellac-based primer or an oil-based primer. The best primers to use are BIN Shellac Based Primer and Rust-oleum spray primer. It is best to apply BIN with a paint roller, but you can also get a spray paint can of the product too.

You will often see me use Rust-oleum Flat White spray primer, why? Because it’s rather affordable, and it’s always in stock. I find BIN can be difficult to buy because its never available where I live, but that also explains how good BIN is. Rust-oleum Spray primer is an oil-based option that seals bleeds out, I will spray 2 light coats to ensure I got the recommended coverage so I prevent having bleeds in my paint.

How to Paint Furniture White in 7 Steps

1. Prep Work

step 1 prep work

This is a step that the majority of beginner furniture painters seem to forget about, but it’s crucial to creating a quality painted piece. Furniture that you own, purchase, or find for free is almost guaranteed to be filmed with grease and grime. You may be wondering “But How does that impact our work?”.

Well, it’s pretty simple. Almost no product will stick to a dirty surface as well as a clean one. For example, let’s use tape, try to stick tape to your uncleaned garage floor, and see how strong its adherence is compared to the same floor after you clean it with a degreasing/cleaning product.

So what you should do is use a cleaning product of some sort to wipe down your pieces before you get started. I sometimes mix warm water and a bit of dish soap, then scrub the piece clean. You can also use Krud Kutter, a simple cleaner and degreasing product.

In the prep work stage you should: 

  • Remove all the hardware (to clean behind and to clean the hardware if re-using it)
  • Degrease the entire piece
  • Remove the drawers
  • Clean the inside out so you don’t get dust in your paint (mainly for items with drawers, etc)
  • Inspect for any structural damages

If you find structural damages or you are making structural changes to your furniture I recommend fixing/doing these before starting the painting process. This is just to make sure when you sand, prime, and paint you don’t end up needing to re-do some of these steps.

2. Sanding

sanding furniture step 2

Yes, we are going over sanding again but this time in full detail. The reason I never skip sanding a surface is to increase the overall adherence for our primer. Having a roughed-up surface is much better than a glossy one, paint tends to peel off easily when applied on a glossy surface and that is never fun to deal with.

Keep in mind there is a difference between a staining surface and a painting surface. When staining you need to get down to the raw wood, but for painting, you only need to scuff things up and I will explain my process.

If you have a piece of furniture in decent condition, small scratches, and no major dings you can just jump right to a 180-220 grit sanding paper and start scuffing the surface. Make sure you sand anywhere and everywhere you plan to apply paint. This ensures the adherence of the paint products reducing the risk of peels and chips. Trust me, I would sand things and not quite get under the edge and paint would peel in the unsanded areas, then it’s a much harder fix than if I were to just sand it from the start.

I use a random orbital sander, detail mouse sander, and sandpaper wrapped around a sanding sponge. And at times I will use sandpaper by hand, which works great on edges and hard-to-reach places.

If you have a beat-up piece of furniture with larger chips in the surfaces, big gouges, and other noticeable dings that can’t be sanded out you will need to apply a wood filler. Honestly, the best wood fillers I have used would depend on the size of the dings. Smaller-sized holes you could use spackling type, which isn’t the best but it gets things smooth and it’s cheap, however, if you use a lot it tends to shrink. I like to use Bondo or water-based wood fillers, these I have had more success with.

After applying wood filler it needs to be sanded down super smooth so you can’t see it after it’s painted. I will use a crazy high grit like 400 to make it super smooth to match the surrounding surfaces.

3. Priming

priming furniture white

As I mentioned before, priming when painting furniture white is extremely important. We use a primer for 2 reasons, one to block bleeds that may show in the paint, and two to create a better adherence for the paint. You can paint furniture without primer, and many still do, but they risk bleeds, and then they need to spray clear shellac or apply a primer after painting.

When choosing a primer make sure it’s white, that should be obvious when painting white, but I thought I would add that it.

I would roll on BIN Shellac-based Primer if there is a lot of damages, such as stains to the wood just to make sure I don’t get bleeds through the white paint. A quicker option would be to use Rust-oleums spray primer in flat white, and I often use this method. Watch my video below and you will see me prime using rust-oleum spray primer!

I recommend 1-2 coats of primer, I will likely spray 2 thin coats of a spray-on primer and I will only roll one coat of shellac-based primer on. This is because rolling a primer covers much more at a time.

4. Light Sanding

After the primer has dried I always go over the primer with a 220 grit sanding sponge. I want to make the surface smooth, spraying a primer usually causes a rough surface, especially cheap spray can products. You could even use an electric sander over a rolled-on primer to remove the roller marks, but be careful you don’t go through the primer.

I like to use a 220 grit 3M SandBlaster or something similar.

5. Apply White Paint to Furniture

painting furniture white with brush

Finally, it’s time to start painting furniture white. I have made mistakes with what paint to use when going white, so with such experience avoid using cheap paints from the hardware if you are brushing them on. I had to brush way too many coats to get the coverage with a pure white Behr paint from HomeDepot, it just didn’t look good.

I had better success spraying a Behr paint because spraying creates layers and after 2-3 coats of spraying you are good to go!

However, if you are brushing white paint on you need something with top quality coverage. I found that using Rust-Oleums Linen White Chalked Paint had the best coverage and at a good price. You can take a look at the 5 best white paints for furniture below in this article.

When brushing white paint on furniture I recommend using a high-quality paint brush, I like the Wooster Shortcut paintbrush because it’s lightweight and the bristles are soft which prevents brush strokes.

I also like to use a 220 grit sanding sponge between all my coats, including the paint. This ensures a smooth finish right up until the end. I do not sand my final painted surface, I do not want to scuff my paint up.

6. Apply Clear Topcoat Protection

applying wax to white funriture

There are a few options you can choose from when adding protection. You can apply furniture wax or a water-based polyurethane. The reason you should avoid other finishes like oil-based polyurethane is that they will yellow your white paint.

Read our more detailed guide on How to Seal White Painted Furniture article here. 

Waxing is simple, it’s best to take a wax brush, dip it in the wax and brush it into the furniture. Make sure the wax is getting all over the piece and don’t worry if it’s smooth when you are brushing it. After it’s brushed on you need to buff it, this means you grab a clean lint-free rag (I prefer an old white t-shirt) and buff it out. It is like you are rubbing the wax into the paint, just don’t push too hard cause you can scratch the paint still. You know you are buffing it well if its getting smooth, do this over the full piece. You can wait until it dries and apply more and follow the same process.

I am not a pro furniture waxer, I like to spray polycrylic or other water-based polyurethanes with my Homeright spray gun. Water-based poly is known to remain clear and not yellow over pieces, which makes it a great option for white furniture, but we still need to be careful. It needs to be applied in thin coats to prevent yellow blobs, if you apply water-based poly in thick amounts it may yellow slightly over white paint. When painting furniture black or keeping it wood we don’t really worry about it much. That’s why I spray it and not brush it on white paint, brushing on poly leaves thick amounts on the surface and it looks streaky. I like to spray 3-5 thin coats using my spray gun, plus the spray gun is super fast compared to other methods.

Best Water-Based Topcoats for White Paint:

Remember when spraying a water-based poly it must be thinned appropriately, my water-based poly thinning guide teaches you all about it.

You can apply water-based poly with a foam applicator or a foam brush to avoid brushing issues, many use this method with great results!

7. Put Everything Back Together

After you add your topcoat protection and everything is dry after waiting 24 hours, you can start putting things back together. Grab your new or cleaned-up hardware and install it, I recommend an electric screwdriver like mine, it speeds up the process like crazy.

Throw your drawers and any cabinet doors back on, and then you are all finished up.

If you plan to sell your piece get it ready for staging! Get some neat props and good lighting, then snap a few shots. The better the photos the easier the selling process.


5 Best White Paints for Furniture

1. Rust-Oleum Linen White Chalked Paint

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The easiest option to find locally or order online is Rust-Oleums Linen White Chalked Paint. Although it says chalk paint, it’s not super chalky like other chalk paints I have used, which I prefer less chalky honestly. The can itself says one-coat coverage, and hey it’s pretty darn close. I would always do 2 coats just to make sure though.

If this is your first time painting furniture white I highly recommend getting your feet wet and trying this stuff out. It’s simple, affordable, and good quality. You can’t go wrong!

if you want a more rustic look, use a natural bristle brush, you will see brush strokes then. But if you want a smooth modern finish use a good quality synthetic paintbrush like the Wooster one I recommended before, the quality is great at a ridiculously good price.

2. Fusion Mineral Paint Lamp White

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After testing different paints I came to love everything about Fusion Mineral Paints and I love their White Lamp Paint. The quality of their paint and how easy it glides on is nice, you can see me using it in this YouTube Video, but I am not using the lamp white color.

You’ll see how it glides on, to achieve this with this paint make sure you get your brush damp with water, if it’s dry it does not glide on nicely.

3. Dixie Belle Paint Company “Fluff” White

 See on Amazon

Dixie Belle offers 2 great white options, one being Fluff White and the ther Cotton White. Cotton is much brighter and more like a pure white, I guess it depends on what you are seeking.

I like bright whites but they can be hard to work with, if any dirt or dust pops up it’s so easy to see. Choose which option will work better for your next project. Dixie Belle Paint is a great option to distress and makes that rustic look, plus there are no VOCs in their paints, which is huge!

4. Simplicity Country Chic Paint

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Country Chic Paint in Simplicity (white) is a great chalk-style paint that is designed for furniture painting. I like that it is ultra-low VOC, meaning Volatile Organic Compounds, which are gases released from a product that can be potentially dangerous. When painting furniture you don’t always want to have to wear protective equipment, if you can just pop open the door and paint it’s much more relaxing.

This product says it’s all in one, and hey that is cool, but I never listen to that. I always apply some form of topcoat whether I add wax or spray it, you can’t have too much protection!

5. Retique It Chalk Furniture Paint by Renaissance DIY

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A popular chalk paint option for all levels of furniture painters is Retique It Chalk Furniture Paint by Renaissance DIY, you can choose between Snow White and Antique white, plus there are like 40+ other color options. They do say little prep work involved, that’s usually a marketing plan for a variety of products, but following my steps will make this last longer, trust me.

The coverage is good with this paint, 2 coats your piece will be white!


Painting Furniture White FAQs

How to paint furniture white without brush marks?

Apply thinner, in most cases water to your brush, and it will help your brush glide as you paint. It can also help the paint self-level better. If your paint is drying quickly and it is water-based add 10% water to increase working time and to help it self-level on its own. It’s important to use a high-quality synthetic brush too.

Can I spray paint furniture white?

Yes, recommend Rustoleum Chalked spray paint in linen white to spray paint furniture white. You will likely need multiple cans of spray paint to complete one project. There are other brands of spray paint you can use, test them before using them to ensure the quality is good.

Following the How to Paint Furniture White steps above, do the same process but just use white spray paint. The results will be the same.


Watch Me Paint Furniture White

In this video, I paint 2 MCM nightstands using Behr white paint. You will quickly see how bad the coverage was because I had to add multiple coats. I learned from my mistake to not brush it on because it takes to long. I later used a spray gun and it worked fine, see that in the second video!


Final Thoughts

I hope you learned a few things about painting furniture white, you should have the skills and knowledge to go out and get started! If you do have questions feel free to ask me on YouTube, my channel is Furniture Flippa, just search it on YouTube and you will see me.

I have discussed the best products you can use to achieve a high-quality white-painted piece of furniture, I explained step by step how to paint furniture white, and explained why prep work is crucial to success. I am excited for you to get started on your first white-painted piece.

Good luck!