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!


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Jenn Menteer

Jenn Menteer

Jenn Menteer

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  1. 1

    Love your furniture! Just one question, were you using the foam brush with a poly? I had a major mess up using a foam brush with poly on the top of my dresser… I ended up with bubbles and a very rough texture… was it just me? Thanks :)

    1. 1.1

      SUCH A GOOD QUESTION! Oh I’ve made that mistake too :D NEVER use a foam brush with poly and NEVER shake a can of poly. It will develop air bubbles and the little foam brush with all of those spongy little holes is the air bubble’s greatest friend and poly’s worst enemy. I prefer wiping on poly with a rag–you can find bags of jersey knit rags on the paint aisle for about $1.50 and they won’t leave bubbles or holes behind. If you get the occasional air bubble, rub it out a bit immediately and then smooth the finish back out while it’s still wet. Sand between coats with the finest sand paper you can get, something 220 grit or preferably higher!

      Also important to note: make sure if you’re PAINTING furniture, not staining, you use a water-based poly. Oil-based poly can yellow fairly quickly. It says water-based right on the cans :D

      1. susan

        I used 00 and 000 steel wool between coats for a much smoother finish with poly.

  2. 2

    Hi! Love your blog and all your helpful tips. I do have a question… this is all new to me and I am wanting to redo my kitchen table. Do you have any helpful tips for me. I would love to distress it but I really have no clue where to start. Its a cheap wood table. With some kind of laminated top. Thank you!!

    1. 2.1

      Thank you! With laminate I would ALWAYS sand to rough it up and give the paint something to stick to. I’m going to cover several of my favorite painting techniques in the next “installment” so watch in the next few weeks for some tips on distressing!

  3. 3
    Ashley Evans

    So helpful, I am the diy game but what about if you want to paint a piece black, maybe even distress the black….then what?

  4. 4

    Hi there. I enjoyed your post. Can you help me I started my first project and its not turning out quite right. It was a cherry wood end table. Primed it then spray painted. I planned to use glaze and latex mixed on top. It really didn’t take well so I decided to give it a good sanding to make wood grain type scrapes on it. What is showing underneath is the white primer but I need to know what I can use that will stick to what I have so far to make the white a little antiqued looking. By the way the primer I used was oil based which is what the girl at lowes recommended. I think that might have been wrong. I would like to use a stain on it to see if it darkens the white on the piece. Will that work? Also do I just use polycrylic on it to finish it.

    1. 4.1
      Cassidy Kohler

      I am using a black paint and primer combo on a non sanded wood surface. The first few coats went on fine, and now the last few coats leave a sticky / textured look. Help, I was using the sponge brushes. It is like it drys to fast before you can smooth it out. How so I fix this? It is a bunk bed.

  5. Pingback: Page not found - Craftaholics Anonymous®

  6. Pingback: Craftaholics Anonymous® | How To Paint Furniture Part 2: Distressing Furniture

  7. Pingback: Craftaholics Anonymous® | How to Spray Paint Furniture

  8. 5

    Thank you, thank you for your tutorial! I have a rocking chair that I picked off the street and I’ve been thinking of painting it a barn red but want brown to show through ( mind you, the chair is an off white color). Do you think spraying it brown first and then painting it red would show the brown when I distress it? Thanks for your awesome tips!


  9. 6

    I would love to have your recipe for chalk paint – thanks!

  10. 7

    I have a chair with much of the raw wood exposed. I’d like to distress it since it’s for a country style home. I’m wondering how the foam roller would work on a chair? I will be hand painting designs on it in acrylic. Love your stuff!

  11. 8

    Jenn. We have a problem. My daughters and myself are painting an old metal steel case tanker desk with a wood composite???? top. They told us to use Oil based primer which we did and we applied it with a sponge roller. It now has a rough surface and we already painted two coats of paint on top of it and still have to paint more. The also sold us a water based poly to finish it. Do you know if that will make it become smooth?? I’m thinking we should have sanded the primer a bit before we painted and looking at your info we should have had a water based primer. Not happy with HD people right now. We are on a time crunch as she is moving Sunday so we have to finish the desk. I think I am going to try to lightly sand it today before putting more paint over it. We really wanted it to be sleek, not rough. Any thoughts? Should we use the poly??? I’m scared…we did that on advice from HD on my moms countertops we painted once and they turned yellow.

  12. 9
    Lisa Martz

    I have a pine 4 poster bed that I want to paint black or espresso. Do you recommend sanding and priming when using a dark color? Or can I skip those steps? This project is calling my name for this weekend, so any help you can give is appreciated!

  13. 10

    I like the way the chest turned out! We are moving and in 2006 bought a dark Red barn style tv armoire-what can I say? I wish that I’d bought the black or white, but it was focal point in the living room! It has a hard finish that I think is a commercial water based paint, as it will come up if something damp is placed on it. My problem is that I want to turn it into a combo tv/clothing armoire for the bedroom and preferably it’ll be white-not distressed-although I could do black or even a dark grey since my ten percent color is black and my bedding will be grey, yellow, celadon and white. Even though I have done a lot of painting and refinishing I am not sure what to do-just prime dark and go black? I read that oil based primer is needed in a case like this! Thanks ; )

  14. 11

    I am painting my kitchen table white. It is medium oak. So, I should leave the glossy poly on and just prime over it (I’m not distressing). After I prime & paint, should I cover it with a poly or no?

  15. 12

    I was wondering if I could use chalk paint on a table and hutch that was previously painted black. Do I need to sand the furniture first ? I have never used chalk paint and would like to give my kitchen a face lift…thanks for any suggestions.

  16. 13

    Thanks for the tips. I’m going to paint oak furniture that my hubby made (he’s a carpenter) years ago. It was stained and polyurethaned as well. I’m going to get Kilz. I’ve got a question on ‘white’ colors. I know you’ll probably say it’s personal preference but – first – should the paint be high gloss, gloss or satin? I’m thinking gloss but I’m not sure AND – is there a white you’ve used that you like? I don’t want any beige or warmth/yellow color in the white – but I’m just not sure which white is really the best to use. I’ll be painting two night stand tables and a comforter storage chest that he made. I think they’ll look so updated when they are painted nice and bright white. Thanks again.

    1. 13.1
      Sara Headington

      Did you get an answer on this post? It is exactly the questions I have.

  17. 14

    I painted my wood piece with kilz primer couple coats of white latex now should I use a water-based polyurethane or would wax to protect and also add a am I do want a little bit of sheen

  18. 15

    What color paint did you use on this bench?

  19. 16

    I have a question about painting over white primer. If I put enough coats on do I still need to paint it white over the primer or can I just poly over the white primer? I am new to painting and I don’t want to be über unhappy with my project when I’m done. Thank you! :)

  20. 17

    Where do you get your “sponge” rollers? I’m having a hard time finding the high density sponge ones.

  21. 18

    Thank you so much for posting this tutorial. I’m about to start on a few furniture pieces for our home and i’m so glad you addressed the yellowing issue! I never knew why that happened and it was always a pain to try and fix! Hopefully due to this tutorial i’ll be able to avoid those issues in the future :)

  22. 19
    Linda Veylupek

    i have 3 pieces of furniture that are all different colors one is stained light brown, another is dark cherry and the third is antiq. gold painted with dark stain in grooves. i want it all to end up turquoise sanded off here and there with the groovs dark. should the first step be to paint them all a dark brown color?

  23. 20


    I am painting my oak dining room table that had a natural stain, with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. Did not sand it and painted at least three coats to cover well. I want to distress it. Can you please tell me how to distress. I have 320 sand paper. I also have the dark wax to finish it. I distress first and then the wax, correct? I look forward to hearing how to do this. Thank you in advance!


  24. 21
    Debbie H.

    Hi, I love your post on painting furniture. It is the best explanation I have ever come across. One question though is in the post you suggest Chalk paint, etc or my own version. I clicked on the highlighted “my own version” and it took me to another blog but I could not find info on your “own version” I am sure it is there but I just cannot find it.

  25. 22
    June Siegel

    Can you give me advice? i have no idea where to start. I have a white dining room table and matching wall unit type of thing to display dishes. I bought it with the distressed look 10 years ago, and I want to repaint it white so it looks modern. It’s a very heavy wood – I don’t know what kind. Can you tell me if I need to sand it, and anything else I need to know? Thanks so much.

  26. 23
    tartil ali

    Hi! I was wondering whatvtype of paint you used? Is it okay if i bought Color Place interior flat latex paint for my dresser? And i wanted to know if i need to get my paint can shaken at the store before i use it! Sorry i have a lot of questions!

  27. 24

    Making footstool out of pine. Primed it with water based Bulls eye primer twice. Painted it with water based Krylon latex enamel. On third coat and the grain is still showing through. Looks like I stained it with paint and its not the look I want. How can I get this to cover? Thank you

  28. Pingback: White Painted Furniture

  29. 25

    I am painting my first piece of furniture (which is my great-grandmothers french provincial bedroom set) and after sanding and priming the furniture is a bit yellowed. I have applied 2 coats and still just a bit yellow. What should i do? Go ahead and paint because the primer will do its job or try a different primer? (I used Zissner)

    thank you for your help!

  30. 26

    Hi Jenn,

    I’ve had fitted wardrobes made in my alcoves in pine.
    The look I want is fresh and even. I love distressed furniture but really want the look this time to be immaculate.
    Trouble is I spot painted with zinsser bin to treat the knots and I’m worried my annie sloan paint will show dots all over it from my dodgy shellac application. Any tips?
    Thanks muchly!


  31. 27

    Thanks for all your help! I’m going to be painting a small dining table I was just curious does it matter what brand or type of paint I use?

  32. 28
    Sherry Tiddy

    I recently painted a vaneer vanity for my granddaughter. I followed instructions I found on line. The only thing I did different, is I used a spray polyurethane. She loves it and uses it every day. However, she has a tray sitting on the vanity top, a round hand mirror and a few other things. She was cleaning her room and took everything off the vanity and it had turned a dark yellow where the things were sitting. Can you help me as to what I can do to fix this and what I did wrong.
    Thank you

  33. 29

    how do you distress furniture?

  34. 30

    I just started painting our wood cabinets white. While I started on the back of the cabinet doors first I made a mistake and painted the sides as well. After drying and I flipped them over to paint the front and noticed that the paint dripped and dryed in clumps. Do you have any tips to help get rid of the dried paint..


  35. 31
    lydia caruana

    So, i;m thinking of painting white most of my antique furniture pieces. they are medium dark oak. i’ve never painted furniture but love to work with my hands. do you think i’ll manage. If i do one piece at a time, how much time should i wait to be sure that no yellow spots will be coming out, before i take on the next piece. I hope i’ve understood right, that i should prime, but not sand(which is a relief) and that i should use chalk paint.

  36. 32
    Hannah Hirst

    During the summer I am looking to paint and distress all the pine furniture in my bedroom. I have a huge wardrobe that is definitely pine but it’s finished with something to make the wood look darker and shiny… Perhaps it is polyurethane, but I’m really not sure as I’m new to all this stuff.

    Therefore, am I best leaving it unprimed before painting and distressing it?



    1. 32.1

      I’ve distressed and painted a variety of furniture. It sounds like your piece was stained and then poly’d. Personally, I’d either use chalk paint from Annie Sloane (not a stickiest, just like her paint) and either wax or seal with polyacrylic. Better then polyeurathane as it won’t yellow over time.
      You could lightly sand the poly, prime and then paint it. I like the Home Depot Behr and Sherwin Williams cabinet paint. Have used both with nice results. Some people only paint. I seal everything. No point in repainting. I also use a brush and roller like the blogger. It is the best!
      Good luck, you will be fine.

  37. 33

    Great post :) but you didn’t mention what paint you used for your white furniture. You mention milk/chalk paint if you’re sanding/distressing, but what if you’re not? Still use milk or chalk paint?

  38. 34
    Cassidy Kohler

    I am using a black paint and primer combo on a non sanded wood surface. The first few coats went on fine, and now the last few coats leave a sticky / textured look. Help, I was using the sponge brushes. It is like it drys to fast before you can smooth it out. How so I fix this? It is a bunk bed.

  39. 35

    What is the best high gloss paint to use for redoing bedroom furniture and what method is best to make a padded headboard

  40. 36

    I have been suckered over the years into buying expensive reproductions of antique furniture. Just recently I’ve
    been picking up pre loved pieces including a full 30’s dinning set complete with a superbly carved hutch. I only paid $200. For this fabulous ,solid oak set. I just hope everyone doesn’t jump on the band wagon or there will be nothing left for me. I just can’t wait to paint them in shades of grey, taupe, white. Looking for suggestions on colors in that range that more experienced folk may recommend.

  41. 37

    Can you help me please!
    I have only discovered yellow patches after I have painted a later
    Of water based satin over a spray pimer. I had also sanded lightly… Can
    Paint primer over all of this and start again?
    Thanks so much! X

  42. 38

    Kitchen chairs. all natural wood.(what baseball bats are made of) but they have poly on them . do I need to strip or sand before I paint them white?

  43. 39

    Have just used Annie Sloan soft wax over chalk paint on a little pine cupboard and it has turned yellow.I realize this is bleeding through (only just finished after trying to buff) Do I start over again ?or what is the best way to rectify.
    Have painted my pine bed and bedside cabinets and they have turned out fabulous….. Help!!!!! Lesley.

  44. 40
    Christopher Hoagland

    I am trying to distress a piece of plain wood. I have seen people paint the wood white, sand it, then go over the wood with stain. The stain is supposed to only stain the exposed wood and wipe off the white paint, leaving nothing behind except the stained exposed wood and nice clean white paint. However, I have been using a flat interior plaint and a dark oil stain. Yet, after i sand and stain, the white paint and entire wooden board has turned a light purple color. Is this normal? Is this how it is supposed to go? What if I used a high gloss interior paint and an oil stain? Would the stain wipe off and leave the white paint white while just staining the exposed wood? Or would it just make it purple again? What has been your experience? Please let me know. I am curious. Thanks

  45. 41

    Hi I am just curious I have a pine Bedroom set, which was originally light in colour, I then sanded and stained it a darker colour. My questions is do I have to do any other steps because of the stain or can I go ahead and follow your steps, with the primer and paint?


  46. 42

    Quick question.. I have a pine double bed which I wish to paint.. I would like a shabby chic look but not completely rubbed down.. Do I need to sand the pine down before using the chalk paint? Or can I just paint away? And then clear wax to finish? Thanks

  47. 43

    I have a piece that i stained and then sanded to give a distressed look. now what do i do? do I have to put polyurethane on it?

  48. 44

    I built a American doll bunk bed. I used a paint prime spray sanded before applying and after painting. I can’t get the wood smooth. If I put just a primer on top will that help before painting not spraying.

  49. 45
    Marsha Paul

    Love your helpful tips! I am new to this, too. I have an oak end table purchased from a furniture store years ago that I would love to paint a metallic silver. (It’s in excellent condition.) My understanding is that I should not sand it, but to definitely prime. What metallic paint would you recommend? Thank you for your advice!

  50. 46

    what kind of white paint did you use?