The Best Tips and Tricks for How to Paint Furniture White

Learn how to paint furniture white. Explore more furniture makeovers here. 

Painting furniture is the fastest way to update old furniture on a budget. Painting a dark piece white can instantly modernize it and add more light to your space. But white paint can be tricky! Prevent dreaded bleed through, brush marks and having to apply a million coats with these easy tips for painting furniture white. 

How to paint white furniture

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What paint is best for furniture?

This is a hard question because everyone has different preferences. I can tell you my favorite though.

I love white paint in an eggshell finish. The coverage is spectacular and you still get a nice, matte finish. Plus no top coat is needed. I used Sherwin Williams for HGTV in Ultra White.

It’s also more affordable that expensive furniture paints, making it perfect for spraying.

If you’re interested in spraying your furniture, you’ll need even fewer coats of paint!

How do I prevent bleed through?

Some woods are harder to paint than others. Cherry, mahogany and pine are notoriously hard because the wood tannins bleed through light colored paints. All of you hard work is ruined. But you can seal it first to prevent this from happening.

Paint on a thin coat of clear shellac using a chip brush. (It can be soaked in ammonia to clean it.) You might need more than one coat for stubborn spots. Pay extra attention to visible knots, places where you sanded to bare wood, and anywhere the wood meets another piece of wood (corners.)

Some spots are really stubborn and even after you paint, they will show up. Paint on another coat of shellac on on those spots. After it dries, paint it with white again.

The Dresser Before

This dresser had great lines, but needed a little love. It’s solid (heavy!!)

dresser makeover - before

How to Paint Dark Furniture White

Prep Work for Painting Furniture White

  1. Remove all hardware.
  2. Clean the furniture thoroughly. I use water with vinegar in it most of the time. However, if I can tell that it’s coated in Pledge or if it’s really dirty, I wash it with Simple Green. Be sure to wash it again with plain water to remove any soap. 
  3. Make any repairs needed, like filling holes with bondo if you’re switching out the hardware.
  4. Sand. If the furniture is super shiny, it needs more sanding. Same thing if it’s laminate. Although I try to avoid laminate, a lot of nice pieces have laminate tops. Scuffing up the surface ensures that your paint sticks well.dresser sanded
  5. Clean all the dust off of the furniture and let it dry.
  6. Prime the furniture. For this dresser, I used BIN primer to avoid any bleed through. priming the dresser for white paint

To Prime or Not to Prime?

I am a huge fan of primer for many reasons. With white furniture, it’s even more important. Primer makes it easier to go from dark to white without wasting your expensive paint. It also makes the paint stick better.

White furniture can need up to 6 coats of paint, depending on the type of paint and desired sheen. I prefer 1-2 of those to be with primer to save money.

So, which primer do I use? It depends on the furniture.

For laminate pieces, super shiny or pieces that are known to bleed through, I like BIN primer, which is shellac based. It’s smelly, but sticks the best. You can use it instead of shellac, but you might need more coats for hard to cover spots.

For all other pieces, I like to use 123 primer. It still helps paint stick, but it’s a much cheaper way to get from dark to white quickly. It’s water based, so you can use a normal paint brush.

Painting Dark Furniture White

It’s going to take several coats of paint to completely cover the furniture. Lighter pieces will take less. If you want a glossy finish, it will need more. In my experience, eggshell paint does the best job of covering furniture in the fewest coats. It’s still a strong finish and doesn’t require a top coat.

This photo shows the first coat of paint. After the primer, it only took 2 coats of paint, with a little touch up here and there. 1st coat of paint on the dresser

To avoid brush marks, choose a good paint brush with soft bristles. I like this purdy paint brush, but for pieces with a lot of details or chalk paint, I like this zibra brush.

  1. Paint on the paint working in one direction. Try not to touch wet paint that is drying. If that means skipping that spot and getting it on the next one, that’s a better choice than creating brush marks.
  2. Let the paint dry between coats.
  3. Look at the paint in daylight to see if coverage is thorough.
  4. Repeat coats as necessary.
  5. Distress as desired. With latex paint, the sandpaper method works best.lightly distressed dresser

Top Coat

If you used latex paint, a top coat isn’t necessary. However, if it’s a table top or a piece that will get a lot of wear and tear, err on the side of a top coat.

Make sure that the top coat you use is water based to avoid yellowing your white paint. I find that polycrylic in matte finish is the best top coat for furniture because it’s so easy to use, even in high humidity.

Do not use Spur Urethane because it will cause it to yellow. I learned this the hard way. It seems to draw out tannins through the paint, despite being water-based. 

My Tips for Top Coats

  1. Use water based to avoid yellowing. I prefer polycrylic in matte.
  2. Use a brush to apply the top coat, going in one direction.
  3. Do not touch wet paint that is drying or it will look gooey. If that means skipping a spot and getting it on the next coat, that’s the better choice.white dresser makeover

I lined the drawers with pretty buffalo check wrapping paper.

lined drawers in dresser makeover

white dresser details

I love how this piece turned out! Are you ready to paint furniture white?

white dresser makeover

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