(This is a complete guide. I apologize for the length, but it’s all good ! )
Have you decided that you want to paint a piece of IKEA furniture? Not sure where to start?
Let’s take a look together at all the best ways to paint IKEA furniture that will help you achieve a professional looking and long lasting finish.
This guide will cover how to paint:
solid wood furniture
IKEA and I have a long history together.
Like many other humans out there, I’ve bought countless pieces from IKEA over the years.
I’ve also eaten many meatballs.
Once you’re there, it’s tempting to buy everything because it’s all so dang cheap.
And sometimes impulsive decisions are made. It happens to the best of us.
Perhaps you bought a lot of black pieces and now you’re more into light color schemes. It may also be that your dresser or bookshelf is just a bit scruffy looking after a few years of use.
Or your living room is screaming for a bold pop of color.
The aspect I find liberating about IKEA furniture is that usually their items are not so crazy expensive that you feel scared to try your hand at DIY’ing them.
If the project is an epic failure, well, at least you tried and you didn’t lose thousands of dollars ruining an expensive piece in the process.
And say what you will about IKEA furniture, but in general their furniture is pretty robust; it can last you many years.
If you aren’t in a place where you can buy new furniture, then painting your IKEA furniture can be a relatively fast and very cost effective way to upgrade your space and inject new style into your home.
The desire to take an inexpensive, mass-produced IKEA item and put a personal spin on it is nothing new – there are so many IKEA hacks floating around the internet that it inspired the creation of the wildly popular website called IKEA Hackers back in 2006. The site is a fabulous resource if you’re looking for some “hacky” inspiration.
There are endless ways to personalize (or “hack”) your IKEA products and paint is just one of the many.
So, whatever your reasons may be for wanting to paint your IKEA furniture, you’re in the right place.
How to check what material your IKEA piece is made of
The first thing you need to do is check what material your IKEA piece is made of.
The way you paint your piece is going to depend on its material! This is really important.
If you don’t know what your product is called, there is a 99% chance you’ll find a sticker on the product somewhere that says the name of the series (like LACK, MALM, BILLY, etc).
Search in inconspicuous places like underneath or on the back. Literally every product that is big enough is sold with a sticker on it.
Once you know what your furniture piece is called, you need to head over to the IKEA website, look up your product and check the materials.
Laminate (aka plastic)
What is laminate?
You may be wondering what the heck laminate actually is. You could google it, or you could just read on. I recommend you read on ’cause it’ll be faster.
Remember how in elementary school everything was laminated in plastic? Well it’s the same thing.
Something that is laminated is essentially covered in plastic.
So, if your IKEA piece says it has a “clear acrylic lacquer“, that means it’s covered in plastic. Which means it’s laminated.
Laminate furniture is essentially a photo of wood slapped onto a piece of particle board, covered with a clear plastic coating.
Do I paint assembled or disassembled?
You are going to make your life a lot easier if you paint your IKEA furniture when it’s disassembled.
If you already know you are going to paint your piece right off the bat when you buy it, then great. Don’t assemble it!
Maybe you don’t have time to disassemble, or you’ve had your piece so long that you lost the tools (I actually have about 2 million different IKEA allen keys).
It’s ok. You can still go ahead and paint.
You can cut corners by not disassembling, but be warned that certain steps later are going to take you a bit longer.
Time wise, in the end it kind of evens out.
If you choose to paint with your piece still assembled, you may need to mask off certain areas: you can do this with painter’s tape to get clean lines and minimize the risk of the paint bleeding where you don’t want it to.
Moral of the story: if your piece is already assembled, I would strongly suggest disassembling. You will get a more professional looking finish if you take the time to do this.
Do I need to sand my piece first?
It depends. This is a widely debated topic so I will tell you what I know from my own personal experience. I’ve been painting different types of furniture for over 15 years.
Painting metal does not technically require sanding (unless it’s rusty), although some advise you to do so. If you want to sand your metal piece, start with an 80 grit piece of sand paper for the rougher bits, and then make your way up to a 120 grit. The idea is that your paint will adhere better to the surface if you roughen up the metal.
If you are painting solid wood, then yes, you should sand it. Sometimes people are a bit lazy and don’t sand. That’s ok too. It’s up to you. But I would recommend sanding solid wood.
If you’re painting over laminate, then NO, sanding is not necessary. Contrary to what a lot of tutorials say out there, you don’t HAVE to sand your laminate furniture before painting … provided that you follow the correct steps, which I cover below. To learn how to correctly paint IKEA laminate furniture without sanding, keep reading!
If you are sanding a solid wood piece, a good orbital sander will get the job done quickly.
Some orbital sanders even come with a little vacuum/microfilter system so that the dust gets sucked up as you go and prevents you from breathing it in. Pretty neat!
What’s a primer and do I need it?
Primer is basically a base coat of paint that prepares your surface for receiving the final finishing paint. It helps provide a smooth surface to paint your final color on and helps with paint adhesion.
Some people live life on the edge and skip the primer, and it doesn’t even haunt them late at night.
However, I would suggest you do NOT skip priming your piece.
it sticks to ALL surfaces WITHOUT SANDING, so it will work for laminate, solid wood and metal.
dries really quickly.
covers all odors, even nasty ones like cat urine and stale smoke.
seals stains and knots and provides a perfect base for your finish paint.
works with ANY top coat.
So you really cannot go wrong. I highly recommend you choose to use this primer; if you do, then you can skip the rest of the following information on primers.
If you don’t plan on using the primer mentioned above, then you will need to keep the following things in mind:
If you’re going to be painting with a water based latex paint, then you must use a water based primer. Technically you can use an oil based primer and then paint on top with latex paint, but just keep your life simple and make sure they match.
If you are painting with an oil based finish paint, you must use an oil based primer. No exceptions.
No matter what, you really need to use a primer. Don’t skip this. Unless you’re painting on metal – then it’s not as vital.
TIP → If your final paint color is going to be dark, ask the paint mixer to tint your primer. It can be a greyish blue color, or you can have it tinted to a similar color to your finish paint. This will help coverage, won’t be as difficult to conceal versus having a pure white primed base, and thus will require fewer coats of your final color.
What kind of paint should I use?
So by now you have learned that if you go with the Zinsser Primer mentioned above, then you can choose any kind of paint you like.
If you have another kind of primer, check to see what kind it is and make sure to get the appropriate type of paint.
Here are some pros and cons for the most popular types of paints for painting furniture.
Water based paints (latex, aka plastic) are popular because they emit fewer toxic fumes than oil based paints
They are easy clean up as you only need water
They dry quickly and are flexible
Will not yellow over time
The disadvantage to painting furniture with water based latex paints is that you run the risk that sometimes the paint won’t behave as planned, which can result in stains and wood knot bleeding, which is disastrous (this has happened to me – I didn’t prime first). If you use primer, you should be able to avoid this happening, however water based primers are known to have the same issue (staining/bleeding).
Less durable than oil based paints
Oil based paints provide excellent durability
They cover any odors that may be stuck in your furniture much better than water based paints
The clean up is tedious as you need mineral spirits or turpentine to clean your paint brushes as opposed to just water. If you don’t clean your brushes with mineral spirits after painting with oil based paints, you can kiss your brushes goodbye once they dry
Oil based paint can yellow over time
Less flexible than latex water based paints, meaning it can crack
Very strong odor during application
Longer drying times
Lends itself well to distressing for a “shabby” or vintage look
Often requires multiple coats to get an even finish
Less durable than latex paint
Chalk paint technically does not require a primer ON SOLID WOOD. If you are painting laminate furniture with chalk paint, you will still need to prime first. You must seal furniture painted with chalk paint with wax. All chalk paint is is latex paint with powder mixed in – usually plaster of Paris.
Can require multiple cans for a large project, which gets pricey
Can drip if not sprayed properly
Strong odor during application
What are the best tools to apply my paint?
To paint your furniture you can use any of the following:
synthetic or natural bristle brushes
Spray guns can be tricky to use because you can’t just dump the paint in the canister and spray – you need to thin your paint first. If you don’t get the paint consistency right, you will have a lot of problems getting your paint to spray properly – it won’t come out at all if it’s too thick, or will come out in fat droplets if it’s too thick or thin. Cleaning your paint spray gun is also a massive pain. But once you get the hang of them they speed up the process significantly.
Rollers are handy and allow for lighting-fast paint application. If you use a roller that is wider than the opening of your paint can, you’ll need to remember to get a tray or something to put your paint in.
TIP → If you use a paint tray, you can line it with plastic for super quick clean up.
Foam brushes are good and generally ensure smooth application in terms of brush strokes. They are cheap and pretty much only good for one time use so you’ll have to throw them away once you’re done. You could try to clean them with water if you’re using water based products but it may not be worth the effort.
Bristle brushes are my favorite method of application for painting furniture, but they sometimes can lose a hair or two along the way. Be sure to remove any stray bristles immediately if you see any. Tweezers help, or just pinch with your fingernails then touch up with another stroke of paint. I prefer angled brushes to flat brushes as it allows for a more comfortable wrist position while I’m painting.
Brushes can come in natural bristles or synthetic bristles. Choose whichever you like. Natural bristles can leave more obvious brush strokes whereas synthetic bristles generally provide a smoother application.
TIP → Don’t make your life difficult and buy brushes that are too small. It will take you forever and will be incredibly frustrating. I recommend using a combination of tools when tackling furniture painting projects: a roller for large surfaces and a couple of different sizes brushes for harder to reach areas or for areas like grooves.
When you’re done, you must make sure to clean your brushes appropriately based on the type of paint you used. Water for water based paint, and turpentine/mineral spirits for oil based paints.
There are no limits to success to those who never stop learning. Learning will also nourish your personal growth. I hope you enjoy this website and visit often so you keep learning and growing too!
View all posts by Dennis Hickey