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Types of Furniture Paint

Give furniture a new look with a fresh coat of paint! Painting furniture is one of the easiest ways you can transform a piece without much expense! I’ve painted everything from chairs and tables, to dressers and nightstands and after testing many different furniture paints, I can tell you all about the different types of furniture paint! 

There are many different types of paint, and some really are better than others. Today’s paint options consist of the typical oil bases, water bases, and oil-modified bases, in addition to specialty paints like chalk paint and milk paint. By the end of this article, you’ll know which type of furniture paint is best for your project. 

Water Based (Latex) Paint

Water base paint types of paint are most commonly referred to as latex paint. Latex paints are the most common type of paint carried at hardware stores and you can choose from a wide array of brands and finishes. Latex paints are popular because of their ease of use, and soap and water cleanup. 

Another popular feature of latex paint is its ability to re-coated multiple times in one day.

Unfortunately, while there a lot of advantages of using a latex paint, there are disadvantages that you should take into consideration as well. Latex paints can take up to a month to fully cure. 

If you do not allow latex paint to fully cure, it will chip very easily. Some latex paints don’t hold up well to cleaning which can cause the paint to flake off. 

A big advantage of latex paint is the limitless range of colors you can choose from. You can choose your color by selecting a paint swatch, or by choosing a custom/modified color. Latex paints are typically available in 6 different types finishes…

  • Flat: No shine. This finish does not reflect any light. Best for hiding surface imperfections. Less durable than other finishes. Best if used in low traffic areas.

  • Matte: No shine, washable. Similar to flat but has the added benefit of being washable. Choose a Matte finish when you want the flat look but need the added durability.

  • Eggshell: Slight shine, washable. One of the most popular and versatile finishes. Eggshell creates a softly polished glow with easy to clean surface. 

  • Satin: Slightly shinier than eggshell, washable. Durable finish that stands up well to repeated cleanings. Great for high traffic areas where you don’t want the full sheen of semi-gloss.

  • Semi-Gloss: Slightly shinier than satin, washable. Smooth reflective sheen that is frequently used to highlight interior trim. Semi-Gloss can withstand heat, humidity and washing, which is why this sheen is the most popular for furniture, trim, doors and cabinetry.

  • High-Gloss: This finish combines the most sheen with extreme hardness and durability. High Gloss is the second most popular sheen. High gloss paints reflect a lot of light and easily show imperfections so prep work is imperative if you choose high gloss.

Oil Based Paint

Oil base paints, also referred to as alkyd paints, are popular for their durability. Once oil-based paint has cured, it’s nearly impossible to scratch or chip. Oil-based paints are self-leveling and will dry to a smooth silky finish. Alkyd paints are easy to clean and adhere to just about any surface. 

While oil base paints are extremely durable, there are a few disadvantages to using this type of paint. Oil based paints yellow over time and they take a long time to dry… sometimes up to 24 hours. Additionally, oil-based paints are not low VOC and the fumes emitted can be very strong and toxic. It’s important to have fans and ventilation to help circulate the air.  Finally, you cannot use soap and water for clean up. You’ll need to use a solvent like paint thinner. My all-time favorite oil based paint is Satin Impervo by Benjamin Moore. 

For those of you that want the durability of an oil base paint, without having to clean brushes and rollers with paint thinner, an oil-modified paint would be best for your circumstance.

Oil Modified Paint

This is a fairly new type of paint, also referred to as “Water Based Acrylic Alkyds”. With the emergence of the green construction movement, “the emphasis has been on developing water-based paints that deliver the high performance of alkyds and still meet strict environmental regulations” (PPC Magazine). 

I consider it to be the best of both because it combines the durability of an oil base paint, with the easy cleanup of a water-base paint. Water-based alkyds also have an extended dry and will level like traditional oil paint so you don’t see brush marks. Additionally, unlike a traditional oil base paint, water-based acrylic alkyds come in multiple different sheens.

 In addition, this type of paint only yellows very slightly, compared to its oil base sibling. Oil modified paints are also typically low VOC, which essentially means there’s little odor. My favorite type of oil modified paint is Benjamin Moore’s Advance.

best furniture paint

Milk Paint

Milk paint is one of the oldest forms of paint. It’s been found in cave drawings from 8,000 years ago and even in the tomb of King Tut. It was first used as decoration, and then as a protective coating. The original formula for milk paint contained common ingredients like lime, casein (a protein found in milk), water, and earth pigments. 

Some milk paints come as dry powder and dry pigments that have to be thoroughly mixed with water. Other milk paints come premixed like General Finishes, but will need to be stirred before use. Milk paint is low or no VOC and nontoxic. Milk paint is naturally durable and self-sealing so it doesn’t require any topcoat. It mimics the look of old-world furniture. 

There are a lot of different techniques you can try with milk paint like distressing, antiquing, and glazing. If you’re thinking about using milk paint, make sure to check out this article. I walk you through the steps of how to properly apply it and why I like using it.   

best furniture paint
best furniture paint

Chalk Paint

Chalk paint has seen a rise in popularity as people look for new ways to reclaim vintage furniture. While some people decide to take make their own chalk paint, you’ll have the most success and better results if you use chalk paint that been commercially manufactured. It’s more expensive than other furniture paint options because it comes in smaller can sizes like pints and quarts.

Many people like chalk paint because it’s a one step process. One step means it’s not necessary to use a primer as it’s designed to stick to just about any surface. You also will not need to strip or sand before applying. It’s also water based which makes for easy cleanup.

Chalk paint is very thick, and It dries to a flat chalky finish which means it’s difficult to clean. Chalk paint is the least durable out of all furniture paints. However, chalk paint is popular because it can be easily distressed to create a vintage or worn down look. 

You can add colored waxes over the chalk paint to create years of authentic aging. You can also add a dark powder dust to settle into every crack and crevice to highlight delicate details. 

You can have a lot of fun trying different looks and techniques with chalk paint that you wouldn’t be able to achieve as easily as you would with other furniture paints. I personally don’t like using chalk paint. 

If I’m going to put the time and effort into painting something, I want it to last. Chalk paint just isn’t durable enough for me and I don’t like the flat chalky look, but if you’re looking for something quick and easy to transform your piece of furniture, this would be a great option for you.

Tips When Using Furniture Paint:

Prep Work:

The first steps are the most critical, because without proper prep work your project could fail. Prep work is different depending on the existing state wood. Does it have an existing finish, or is it bare wood? 

Regardless, the first step is to clean the surface. You can use any type of all purpose cleaner, or a degreaser, but I’d stay away from anything that contains phosphates such as TSP because that can leave a white haze behind. After thoroughly cleaning, you’ll want to begin sanding.

  • Bare Wood: Use 120 and go up to 150. Do not use any grit that is finer than 150 because you’ll wind up sealing the wood grain.
  • Existing Finishes: Sand with a fine-grade like 220 and work your way up to 320 or 400. 

Should You use a Primer?

It depends on the type of material…

  • Knots in Wood: Knots can be difficult to work with because paint doesn’t like to adhere to the sap in the knot. It’s a good idea to use a darker paint color over knots. If you really want to use a lighter paint color, you can use a stain blocker but that won’t guarantee that the knots still won’t bleed through.
  • Existing Finish that has a Dark Paint Color: If you’re going to paint a light color over a dark color, you’ll want to use a stain blocking primer to prevent the color from bleeding through. 
  • Metal: Use a metal primer first. 
  • Laminate: Paint may stick to laminate if you use a “bonding primer”.
  • Plywood: Using a primer will prevent the wood from bleeding through the paint.

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Thanks for checking out my article on the best furniture paint. Please feel free to drop a comment or question below! Also, make sure to follow me on Facebook and Pinterest!

Alyssa Fernandez

Blogger, crafter, dog mom

Hi! Thanks for visiting my blog! I’m glad you’re here. I started this blog to share my passion of DIY and crafting. I hope my blog inspires you to create your own unique masterpieces!

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