Best Type of Paint for Furniture

What is the best paint for painting furniture? Comparison between latex, chalk, milk, and acrylic paint and which one is best for painting furniture

If you’ve ever painted furniture, or started looking into how to paint furniture, you’ve seen all the different types of paint that people swear is the best paint for furniture.  I must say, I would never be able to commit to using only one type of paint for my furniture painting, because I’ve found that each one is best in certain circumstances.

I’ve used most types of paint, many different times, and feel as if it’s time to break down all of the different types of paint I use to paint furniture.  I’ve included the pros and cons of each of these types of paint, my tips for using it on furniture, my favorite uses for each one, along with the projects I’ve completed with them.  Just click on the picture of the project to be directed to a complete tutorial.

I hope this post is informative and helpful!

What is the best paint for furniture? | comparison of chalk paint, milk paint, latex paint, and acrylic paint | Best type of paint for furniture

Latex Paint

Overview:  Latex paint is the type of paint you can buy from any hardware store.  It’s water-based and comes in a variety of sheens ranging from flat to gloss.

Pros:

  • It’s the least expensive option for painting furniture.
  • It’s tintable to pretty much any color you can imagine.  If you don’t love any of the paint swatches, you can bring in a paint swatch from another company, or have the store color match it to an item you bring in.  Yes, you can paint a dresser to match the color of your favorite shirt!
  • It comes in many different sheens (flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, gloss) which allows you to choose the amount of shine you’d like on your piece.
  • The glossier sheens (satin, semi-gloss, gloss) don’t really need a top coat.

Cons:

  • You definitely need to prep your furniture piece well before painting.  I would recommend sanding and priming with a good, strong primer (this one is my favorite primer for furniture!) which is time consuming.  Here’s an entire post devoted to priming furniture before painting.
  • The finish never seems as durable to me as I’d like.  I often find pieces at thrift stores and garage sales that have been painted with latex paint and they are peeling, chipping, and scratching like crazy.  Now, this could be a result of poor preparation, but either way, it’s important to note that latex paint requires correct preparation.

Tips for Use with Furniture:

  • PREP and PRIME!
  • Honestly, I almost always turn my latex paint into a homemade chalk paint if I want to use it on furniture.  I’ve found it requires a little less prep (I always sand, but don’t need to prime) and adheres better to the surface.

Uses for Latex Paint:  I don’t generally use latex paint for interior furniture, unless I change it into a chalk based paint (here’s my favorite way to make my own chalk paint), or if it’s unfinished wood.  I will use exterior grade latex paint for the furniture pieces I build.  It adheres to the raw wood nicely and holds up well to the elements.

Chalk Paint

Overview:  I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s taken the furniture refinishing world by storm.  It’s a chalky, water-based paint that requires very little prep work.  It finishes in a soft, matte finish.  There are a large number of companies that make “chalk paints”.  I’ve used paint from five different companies, and I’ll say that they are all very comparable.

Pros:

  • Prep work really is minimal.  I always sand anything I’m painting, but chalk paint really does stick well even to glossy finishes.
  • It dries really quickly, allowing you to re-coat sometimes in an hour or so.
  • It’s very easy to distress, so if you’re looking for a shabby-chic look, chalk paint is great.
  • It really is silky smooth to the touch once it has dried.

Cons:

  • It dries very quickly, which means that brush strokes show up more more easily.  Keep reading for my tricks on how to help with this.
  • It’s thicker than other types of paint, almost too thick for my liking.
  • I’ve read you don’t need to add a top coat, but I’ve found that if I don’t use a top coat, it distresses, in other words, it can be scratched off, too easily.

Tips for Use on Furniture:

  • I always sand all of my furniture pieces, and I would recommend doing the same, even with chalk paint.
  • I’ve found that if I add water to the paint (at about a 5%-10% ratio) it’s the perfect thickness.
  • In order to avoid brush marks, leave the paint alone once you’ve painted it on.  Sometimes, it’s tempting to go back to a spot that’s already been painted to perfect it.  Don’t do it with chalk paint!  It dries quickly, and if you go back, you’ll feel your brush dragging through the paint, and it will leave more brush strokes than were there before.

Uses for Chalk Paint:  I enjoy using chalk paint to create a rustic, matte finish.  If I’m wanting to distress to show wood the wood underneath or if I want a super flat finish, I use chalk paint.

Milk Paint

Overview:  Milk paint is an all-natural paint made with, you guessed it, milk protein!  It’s been used for centuries and creates a natural, old-world look.  Milk paint is known for creating a chippy look, but it actually is fairly versatile and can be used to create different finishes.

Pros:

  • It’s made with all-natural ingredients (from the earth, not scientists!) with no VOCs or chemicals.
  • It comes in a powder form, so you only mix up the amount you plan to use.
  • You can add a bonding agent to the paint that ensures it will adhere to furniture that has already been finished.
  • It penetrates the pores of unfinished wood.  If you strip a piece of furniture or find an unfinished piece, milk paint won’t just sit on the surface, it will actually penetrate the wood.  It gives a beautiful look!

Cons:

  • It can be a tad bit unpredictable if you’re applying it without the bonding agent on pre-finished wood.  It’s difficult to know just how much it will chip until you actually apply it.
  • It may chip more over time if the bonding agent is not used.  Now, this creates a time-worn look that mimics the look of antique furniture (because milk paint was used to paint a lot of those pieces!), but when I’m selling those pieces, it makes me a little nervous.  If you apply additional wax or topcoats it will slow down the chipping, but I always feel bad telling customers that they’ll need to upkeep the finish or the paint will continue to chip.
  • After it’s mixed, you need to use it.  There’s no storing the paint on the shelf to touch up the piece in a couple of months.  Remember, it’s made of milk protein…  You’ll have a smelly, sour milk mess if you try to keep it.

Tips for Using on Furniture:

  • If the thought of chippy paint scares you, use the bonding agent.  You can apply less than the suggested amount and you might get a little bit of chipping.  But then again, you might not.  (Remember, it’s unpredictable!)  If you apply the suggested amount of bonding agent and sand your piece, you won’t have any chipping.
  • I always sand pieces before I paint, but especially if I plan to use milk paint without the bonding agent.  I’ve found that if I don’t sand and don’t use the bonding agent, the paint does not adhere.  The paint sticks to the places you sand more.  If you miss a spot, you’ll see chipping in that area (without the bonding agent).

Uses for Milk Paint:  I love using milk paint to make washes for unfinished wood.  By adding extra water when I mix the paint, it shows off the grain of the wood beautifully.  Milk paint is also my go-to paint for antique furniture pieces.  If I know a piece is 100 years old or more, I love to use a paint that would have actually been used back then!

Acrylic Paint

Overview:  The name “General Finishes Milk Paint” is a tad bit misleading, because this paint is actually a water-based acrylic paint, engineered to give a similar finish to the milk paint that has been used for centuries.

Pros:

  • It can be used for both interior and exterior applications.
  • It does not require top coat like chalk paint or milk paint.  Its finish is strong, but a top coat can be added for extra durability.
  • It levels beautifully.  Honestly, I’ve never used a paint that smooths out so nicely as it dries.  Simply put, you might see brush strokes as you’re painting, but once this paint dries, those brush strokes are gone!
  • It has a little bit of a longer drying time than chalk or milk paint, which means that it gives you a little extra time and flexibility to catch a drip or fix a mark without it ever showing once it dries.
  • I’ve read some people say you don’t need to sand prior to using this paint.  It does adhere well, so they might be right, but I’ve never tried it out.  I always lightly scuff up the surface with 220 sandpaper and it always has adhered perfectly.  Either way, it’s less prep than most other paints require.

Cons:

  • If you’re looking for a super-matte finish, this paint won’t work.  It’s definitely not shiny, but it does have a slight sheen to it.  I’d compare it to an eggshell finish.
  • It can be distressed, but it’s not as easy as chalk or milk paint.  Plan to use a bit more elbow grease to take off the paint, or distress it right after it has finished drying.

Tips for Using on Furniture:

  • This is the most straightforward of all of these types of paint.  Lightly sand, and then start painting!
  • If you see a drip or puddle, there’s usually time to go back with your brush to fix it.
  • I love using General Finishes Flat Top Coat if I need a strong finish on a piece (painted dresser tops, chippy milk paint, table top).  It can be used over any of the paints I have mentioned in this post, and gives a flatter sheen than any topcoat you’ll find at the home improvement store.

Uses for Acrylic Paint:  I’ve found a use for this paint practically everywhere.  I think it’s a fabulous paint to use if you’re new to painting furniture, because it doesn’t require much prep, and is very easy and forgiving to paint with.  This is the only paint in the bunch that I have used to paint cabinets (both kitchen and bathroom) with beautiful results.  It’s durable and cleans up well.

What’s the Best Paint for Furniture?

Now, which is the best paint for painting furniture?  I would never be able to choose just one because I love certain characteristics about each one.  When I’m painting furniture for clients, I always use one of the specialty paints (chalk paint, milk paint, or acrylic paint), but the one I choose always depends on the look they’d like.  Sorry I can’t give you a clear cut answer, but hopefully the information I included will help you to make a decision on the best paint for you and your project!

best type of paint for painting furniture | best paint for furniture | chalk paint | milk paint | latex paint | acrylic paint

If you’re ready to start painting, I have the five most important tips to remember when painting furniture.  I learned almost all of these by trial and error, so if you read up before getting out that paint brush, you’ll probably avoid a lot of the mistakes I made!

I wish I had known these 5 tips for painting furniture before I started painting! They would be helpful for anyone wanting to paint a piece of furniture.

Now that you’re equipped with all the information you need to start painting furniture, it’s time to start shopping!


 

So much of furniture painting is trial and error.  Once you use a certain type of paint, you’ll figure out how best to use it and your own personal preferences.  If you’ve never painted a piece of furniture but have been thinking about it, give it a try.  You’ll be impressed with yourself.  Here are a few more posts that might help you on your furniture painting journey!

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34 thoughts on “Best Type of Paint for Furniture

  1. Thank you for putting this guide together! I am a total newbie to furniture painting, and am almost ready to start my first teeny project, painting an old desk chair from my childhood. This info will help me figure out which paint to use.

      1. HI Jenny, I also love this article and I too am a newbie, which brings me to my question because I’m still not sure of how to proceed. I have a French provincial dresser I’m planning to refinish for my 4 year old granddaughter. This dresser was already stripped once and refinished only with 2-3 coats of a polyurethane top, no stain. My plan is to strip it, sand it, prime it and paint it white. Id like it to have some sheen maybe between an eggshell and satin. My question is, what paint would be best for this job? Should I also give it a protective top coat, if so, what product? How many coats of each thing? Should I sand at all between coats? I don’t want any distressing or chipping. I guess these are more than one question but I’d really appreciate your input. Thank you in advance.

        1. Hi Beatriz! I have a couple ideas of what I would do to get the type of finish you want. If the finish on the dresser is in good condition right now (no peeling or chipping) then you probably don’t even have to strip and sand it, which will save you a TON of time! However, if it was finished with polyurethane, you’ll want to prime it (like you said) because polyurethane yellows overtime and it may bleed through white paint. As far as the paint, I would recommend General Finishes paint. It gives a very subtle sheen (I’d equate it to an eggshell), covers really nicely, and I love to use it when I don’t plan to distress at all. I’ve used this paint without a topcoat and it holds up well, but I think for your dresser you’ll probably want a topcoat. You can buy regular Polyacrylic at most Home Improvement stores, but I’ve only seen it in satin and gloss finish, so it will probably end up being shinier than you want. General Finishes makes an acrylic topcoat in flat (I think it’s called High Performance Topcoat in Flat) and it gives an eggshell/satin finish. I used to use Polyacrylic, but once I tried GF topcoats, I was hooked and will never go back. With that being said, they are more expensive, so that is definitely something to consider. As for the number of coats, because you are priming, you’ll probably only need to do 2-3 coats of white paint (a quart will be plenty for a dresser). I always lightly sand between paint coats, but not after the final coat. Same goes with the topcoat. Lightly sand between topcoats (2 coats is usually what I do), but you won’t sand after the final coat. You’ll want use a fine grit sandpaper (220 grit). Sorry for the lengthy response. I hope it was helpful! Let me know if you have other questions, and best of luck on your dresser!

  2. Thank you for this post. I’ve just finished an old table (found by the street) and it did not turn out like I wanted it to. Oh well, I can always do over.

  3. Milk paint seems really interesting, I never heard of it’s existence before. Those example pictures you gave for it look really incredible though, I’d love to try it on something of mine. The older weathered look is one of my favorite things to have on my furniture.

  4. I just embarked on my first chalk paint project. I am painting a laminate bedroom set. I didn’t know exactly the color I wanted when I started – but thought I would try the Annie Sloan Pure White color to see how it would go with the room. After trying that- I knew it was wrong and wanted to aim for a Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter. I decided to paint over the AS pure white with a flat latex deeper color Brandon Beige that I had on hand to provide a better base for the next color. Then I mixed the flat latex with the pure white AS chalk paint- half and half- and painted the entire set. The color is perfect- and what I thought was brilliant to begin with- now I wonder if I have made a big mistake by using the latex on the furniture- though mixed with chalk pain. Do you have any experience with mixing chalk paint with latex? Also- what do you think would be best for the finish- wax or a varathane? thanks! Bev

    1. Hi Bev – Don’t worry at all, I think by mixing the latex and chalk paint you should be totally fine. The chalk paint gave your latex more gripping power, so I’m sure it’s adhering just fine. Honestly, you would have been able to tell right away if they weren’t mixing properly or if it wasn’t sticking well. As for the finish, wax will give a very low sheen, soft finish, and any type of poly will give a shinier finish (with a little more durability). Either one should work well, it’s more of just an aesthetic choice. I’m so glad you shared this and to know it worked out! Good luck finishing up your piece!

  5. Jenny, Thanks for an excellent explanation of the different paint types. I’ve only used chalk paint (the one in your photo) and absolutely love working with it. I would love to try the General Finishes ~ just need to find it.

    1. You’re so welcome – I’m glad it was helpful! I use chalk paint for a lot of projects, but now that I’ve tried a couple of others, they are my favorites for certain types of projects. I’ve noticed that General Finishes seems to be putting paint in a lot more retailers in my area (you can go to their website and search your location) or I know they also carry it on Amazon if you were wanting to give it a try. Happy furniture painting!

  6. That’s great info! Thanks for all the tips here Jenny. I had no idea about all those details and my next attempt with chalk paint is to paint a part of a rug with it, not the whole thing, just on the sides. Any thoughts?? Thanks for linking up at Sweet Inspiration #2, have a fantastic weekend!
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    1. I’ve heard you can paint rugs and upholstery with chalk paint, but I’ve never tried. I wonder if you’d need to top coat it, or if it penetrates differently into the fiber where it won’t rub/scratch off? Let me know how it goes!

  7. Is it possible to turn gloss latex paint into the chalk paint to use on the top of a dining table? Or would it be better to paint with it “as-is” and then maybe even add a top coat of clear poly?

    1. Hi Heather – I don’t think gloss latex paint would mix well with the calcium carbonate, but I’ve honestly never tried. I would probably just paint it with a more matte paint and then cover it with a top coat. A clear polyacrylic would be the best, because it doesn’t yellow over time like polyurethane. Good luck!

  8. This post is amazing! I’ve always been an artsy person, so getting into furniture repainting just seemed right. That being said, I had no idea what paint to go with. This post has helped a ton, thank you so much!!! I’m not a huge fan of distressed stuff, and I like keeping things simple, so I think acrylic will be the best bet for me.

  9. Thank you so much for this post. This is exactly the information I’ve been looking for, and more!!

  10. This was so helpful! Thanks! I’m wanting to redo my kitchen table, chairs and stools. They have the wood butcher block tops and hunger green legs!

    I am going to look into the General Finishes paints now. I wonder if they are durable enough for the chair seats? I wasn’t sure if I should leave those wood or paint them. They need to be sanded and a new coat of poly at least. It would be so much easier just to paint them!

    1. I can totally picture your kitchen table set! I’ve used General Finishes on a lot of pieces, but not chair seats, yet. My thought is that it would probably hold up pretty well, because I’ve use it on dressers and table legs without sealing and it has been fine. But, just to be safe, you could add a topcoat which should really be fine. Because you are doing chairs, you might actually want to splurge and just get a couple of cans of clear topcoat (Polyacrylic or another acrylic based topcoat). It will save you a lot of time in the long run, because painting poly on spindles is no fun at all. Oh, one more thing. If you wanted to change the color of the stain of the seats without sanding, General Finishes makes a gel stain that “restains” over existing finishes. You’d just need to do a light hand sand rather than strip them all the way down. Good luck!!

  11. I am painting a dresser and thinking of going with the acrylic milk paint – do you have a favorite brush or roller you like to use?

    1. I actually just use regular paint brushes from the hardware store and they always work well for me. As for rollers, I also use foam rollers, but I’m not partial to any particular brand. Good luck on your dresser!

  12. Have you tried Repurpose Recolor paint yet? If so how does it compare to the others? That sell it in a store near me and they said it’s easier than chalk paint. I want to paint a couple of old wooden dressers.

  13. Awesome post! I have a question… I’m in the middle of painting my pedastool oak table and started with valspar furniture paint but not real happy with results. Can I paint over that with milk paint? Same color ?

    1. Hi Amanda. Thanks for the question. I don’t really like using milk paint to paint over something that’s previously painted, unless I’m trying to do a distressed, two color layer finish. Although, if you do milk paint with the bonding agent, it will probably work and stick just fine to the first layer paint. I’d make sure to do a topcoat (and maybe you already were planning on it) if you do paint with milk (or chalk) paint on a table, because it will see quite a bit of use/wear and tear. I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  14. Hi there! I feel like I have read & reread this post multiple times to try to figure out which paint option would work best for my first “major” project. I’m pretty crafty, and love decorating. I’ve painted an entire bedroom set for my daughter, ( I feel like I just used a latex paint with a poly top coat). For the end tables I want to start (I’m terrified to start them because in my head, I want them to look a certain way.) They’re older tables, not too shiny at all. I want them to be closer to a matte finish ( a little sheen is OK), and I’d like to try a little distressing around the edges. What would you suggest that I try? For some reason, I’m a little interested in the milk or chalk paint, but the wax coat makes me nervous (I don’t know why)…because I’m afraid I’ll do it “wrong.” Any particular brand you’d recommend? You mentioned Janesville so I figured whatever products you used I could probably get a hold of (I’m about an hour away…Union Grove, and we have a permanent place in Milton, so I know the area). Thanks for any help/advice!

    1. I think it sounds like you could use chalk paint and probably be really happy with it. The great thing about it is you don’t have to use a wax as your topcoat, you can definitely just use a regular clear one. If you do end up going that route, I’d recommend an acrylic top coat (because it won’t yellow over time). I think you might be able to find matte or “eggshell” like topcoats in home improvement stores now, as most stores are carrying more furniture painting supplies. My favorite topcoat is General Finishes High Performance topcoat in Flat, but they only carry it in specialty stores and online. Let me know if you have any questions – I hope that helped!

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