How To Paint Furniture Part 1: Prepping

Every wondered how to paint furniture? Jenn, from the Creative Team, is a master furniture painter and she’s doing a short series on How to Paint Furniture. Everything you need to know from start to finish and plenty of tips! Enjoy! -Linda

How to Paint Furniture: Preparing your Furniture 

how to paint furniture

Is the light and bright trend that has taken the DIY world by storm, just another trendy? I don’t think so! It’s actually pretty timeless.  It seems that everywhere you turn on Pinterest, there’s some beautiful new piece of furniture in white or some pastel shade, so today I wanted to share with you a few things everyone should know before you paint your furniture a light color.  Tips that will ensure that your piece looks beautiful and professional, and that all your hard work LASTS!

How to Paint Furniture White

how to paint furniture white

So let’s start with the dreaded:

1.  PREP {dun-dun-dun}

After a piece of furniture has been thoroughly scrubbed down, I am usually a HUGE proponent of sanding EVERYTHING, but painting furniture white (or a light color) is often times the exception to my rule. Some of you may have painted a piece of furniture, only to go back and find that your furniture looks like it has yellow chicken pox.  It’s happened to me and it’s infuriating!  It’s called tannin bleeding, which is the oils in the wood bleeding through the paint. Tannin bleeding is usually at its worst in knotholes in wood.

tannin bleeding

Oak and pine {which lots of affordable furniture is made out of} are usually the biggest culprits, and sunlight will expedite the process.  Pine is definitely THE WORST. If you know for a fact that your wood is oak or pine, I actually recommend very little to no sanding, especially if there’s still a fairly decent coat of polyurethane, because the poly will act as another barrier to the bleeding.  If you don’t know what type of wood you’re working with, find an inconspicuous spot, sand it, and then paint the spot.  Give it a day or two and see if you find yellow coming through.  If you do, you’ll know that you need to address the tannin bleeding issue with your piece {I’ll tell you how in the next steps}.

You can see on this piece {below} how light the sanding was.  Not down to the bare wood, just enough to get rid of some of the nicks and scratches.

painted furniture


While I’m a huge proponent of sanding, I don’t always prime.  I usually distress my furniture, and in my experience, priming makes distressing a lot more difficult because you have more layers of paint to get through. So priming can make distressing hard to look natural. So…if you’re going to distress, but you’re facing the tannin bleeding issue, I recommend:

*Avoiding sanding off the original finish where at all possible.  I realize sometimes this is completely unavoidable, because some things are just in such bad shape.

*Use a paint like Milk or Chalk paint {or this homemade version}.  This way, your paint will sand off with minimal agitation to the actual wood so you get a beautifully distressed finished, without the yellow bleeding

*If there are any knotholes in your wood, it would probably be wise to put some primer over just the knotholes and then not distress those knothole parts.

*You can also paint the whole piece with a dark brown or black first, so that when you distress, the dark paint shows through and mimics the wood look, but you don’t end up with yellow spots all over the furniture down the road.

distressed furniture

This piece was not sanded or primed and I used the homemade chalk paint recipe.

If you are NOT distressing:

*PRIME, PRIME, PRIME!  I know priming is not fun–I hate it.  But it makes for such a better finished product if you’re looking for a clean, sleek finish.

*Prime with a stain-blocking primer like Zinsser or Kilz.  Make sure it’s water-based if your paint is water-based {latex paint is water-based}. If you’re not sanding, I also recommend buying the Zinsser or Kilz that indicates that sanding is not necessary.  You can find it on the label on the back of the can.  These primers will also cover and seal rust!


*Paint + Primer in One paints are NOT the same as stain-blocking primer.  I learned that the hard way after hours of work on my board and batten and then walking into the living room one day to find that my walls had yellow spots EVERYWHERE (which you saw above in the picture with all of the yellow knotholes).

*If you get one coat of primer on and still see quite a bit of yellow coming through, give it another coat.  It’s not necessary to completely cover the yellow, because the primer is meant to seal off and block the stain, so once you’ve primed over the yellow stain, it is blocked and shouldn’t continue to bleed, but you need to make sure it’s covered enough that the original stain doesn’t show through the paint.  Make sense?

*Remember you’re priming, not painting, so the coat needs to be even and smooth, but the color underneath does not need to be completely covered.

how to prime furniture

Finally, you’re ready for painting.  rarely use spray paint.  While spray paint is SUPER convenient,  I find it to be very unpredictable as far as finish goes and have had to start over on too many pieces after the spray paint didn’t turn out like I wanted.  My favorite tool for painting furniture is one of these high density sponge rollers.

paint roller

They don’t leave brush strokes and are soft enough to form to, and get paint into, all of those little crevices that are hard to reach with a brush.  When painting, roll or brush on thin even coats.  I know it can be tempting to try to paint in one coat, but you’ll end up with an ugly mess.  Be patient, roll on a coat, let it dry for a few hours and then go back and paint another coat until you get the finish you want. Trying to do several coats when the paint hasn’t dried completely is like touching your brand new manicure before it’s dry.

And finally, always let the paint cure for at least a week before setting anything heavy on it or putting it in an area where it will be getting a lot of wear.

how to paint furniture white

diy painted furniture

Do you have any questions about How to Paint Furniture? If so, leave them in the comments! 

Happy painting!


Jenn Menteer

Jenn Menteer

Jenn Menteer

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  1. 51

    What type of paint finish do you use? I.e Eggshell , flat, etc. or your recommendation for a kitchen table.
    A finish coat of any type?


  2. 52

    Hi Jenn, I have a buffet hutch that’s made of pine, it was painted in dark green, I think over black paint, some of the edges are slightly sanded and believe the whole thing was varathaned afterwards.. I would like to redo it in an antique white distressed look. Its a big project. All the interior and the top of the buffet are in natural pine….don’t want to paint those areas.
    I have seen many articles on using natural wood to paint/distress black, but can’t find anything on painting over an already dark painted finish.
    Can you give me some advice please. Would very much appreciate it. Thank you, kind regards, Linda Davey-Tott

  3. 53
    Gracie Church

    I wonder if you could advise me on .I have a kitchen table and four chairs purchased about thirty years ago.Iwould loved to paint them cream ,they are oak and must admit had more wipping than polish is there a paint I can use without a lot of sanding please .

    1. 53.1

      Check into Chalk Paint {not chalkboard paint}. There is no prep or sanding and it can be painted onto about anything.

  4. 54

    Thank you so much for your posts about painting furniture. I’m about to take on several furniture painting projects in my own home, and I wouldn’t even know where to begin without your ‘tutorials’. So THANK YOU! I hope they turn out as pretty as yours!

  5. 55

    Do I need to sand down furniture that the original finish is ivory? Or can o just prime before I paint?

    1. 55.1

      If you use chalk paint, you don’t need to sand or prime. :)

  6. 56

    We are painting oak cabinets white. We cleaned with TSP, sanded, latex primed with two coats and latex painted with two coats… and still getting tannin bleed thru…

    Can we use an alkyd primer over the top of all this… maybe two coats, then latex paint again?

    Or is there a problem mixing latex with alkyd primer?


  7. 57

    I bought a used dresser for my daughter and realized it’s not the same shade of white, can I re-paint over the current white or do I need to sand it down and start from square one?

    1. 57.1

      If you use chalk paint, you can just paint over it.

  8. 58

    I have a large pine bookcase and pine dresser that are both light pine with clear polyurethane coats. I want to paint them ivory and distress them. If I use ivory chalk paint, and distress it, only pale pine will show through. So, I must put a color underneath the ivory chalk paint first. Should I use Minwax Polyshades (a stain/poly) for the dark base? Or should I use another chalk paint as the dark base?

  9. 59
    Debbie Wilson

    I have a honey oak dining room set and hutch that I would like to paint white. how do I prepare the oak for white paint so there will be no bleed through and the paint will cover completely. And what kind of paint should I use ? The chair backs have spindles also. Is this a huge thing?

    1. 59.1

      Have you tried Chalk paint? {not chalkboard paint, but chalk paint}

  10. 60

    Hi Jenn I’m new at this I sanded down a maple rocker then put a thin coat of white flat with primer in it let dry sanded lightly , applied another coat sanded again ,after drying over night distressed ,applied satin polyurethane when dried noticed yellowing sanded the yellowing applied another coat of polyurethane let dry . there is yellowing mainly around the rungs of the chair . Thankfully its not around the seat , arms or back . Looks nice and can get away with it but don’t want that to happen again . Any suggestions ? Thank you I love chalk paint but a little costly . Cindy

  11. 61

    Hi I just found your blog and it’s very helpful, it’s my first time doing anything like this, after following your instructions I will give it a go, only thing I didn’t see was which paint I should use for the several coats, I want it to look white and not distressed. If you could advise me on this that would be great.

  12. 62

    This is the exact kind of furninture my mother would love having in her house!

  13. 63
    Janette Naylor

    What type of paint do you use for the final coat if I am not distressing the wood?

  14. 64

    I have a distressed mirror that I want to paint. What do I do to cover the distressed look?

  15. 65

    We’ve got an old wardrobe in our daughters room that desperately needs a make over, it’s not quite the same colour as the paint we’ve bought though :(. Can we just apply it over the top or do we need to get the hand sander out?

    Thanks, Carly x

  16. 66

    Can I use a sponge to paint ?