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Painting White Furniture: The Best No Fail Method!

Painting White Furniture. Lets face it, the vast majority of us LOVE a piece gorgeous white painted furniture! Whether decorating our own home or painting for clients and customers, it comes up often. Farmhouse shabby white painted furniture will forever have a place in homes across the world as will modern and sleek white painted furniture have their place in modern or transitional homes. Something pulls us to it! As a painter or furniture artist though, the white painted furniture makeover is often one of the things we dread the most. There are a few reasons for this and one is that there is typically very little creativity involved. The other reason we can tend to cringe at the idea of painting furniture white is that its so much more difficult than any other color in existence!

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One of the first white pieces of furniture I painted was a mid century modern piece that would become a changing dresser for a nursery.

White Furniture Paint

Its almost white to begin with! Easy right? No, it’s never as easy as you think it will be BUT with a little patience we were able to come up with a sweet creation. Using hairpin legs you can find here I was able to raise the dresser to the perfect height for a changing station. Then I added glass knobs you can find here. I decided to paint in Benjamin Moore Advance (waterborne alkyd) in the clients preferred shade of white. (out of all the thousands…) Certain areas of the piece were sanded to bare wood and sealed to keep the wood tones.

White Furniture Paint

We also decided to add sweet little painted details to the inside.

White Furniture Paint

White can be such a timeless touch. It was completely perfect for the nursery and will be used for years to come. This is a great example of a genuinely modern finish free of any distress or antiquing.

White Furniture Paint

Believe it or not rustic white painted furniture can be just as difficult if not more for reasons I will explain in a bit. If we didn’t realize before we should now know wood wants to look like wood. It doesn’t prefer to be WHITE! And so… it may resist but, with the right practices we just may be able to pull it off to perfection.

White Furniture Paint

This was a table I finished for the living room of a home on DIY Networks Restoring Charleston. Of COURSE we needed white furniture right? Yes, the show needed lots of it. For instance the other rustic white painted shadowbox coffee table...

White Furniture Paint

Or the White table to vanity conversion we did for the bathroom…

White Furniture Paint

or the white painted farmhouse table for the dining room…

White Furniture Paint

White painted furniture becomes a staple in home decor and design! It ties new and old, rustic and chic. It just looks beautiful. Here is a Pinterest friendly image if you want to pin it for later!

best paint for wood furniture

When painting white furniture above all other colors we have to remember that NO MATTER what the can or literature says you will always at the very least want to lightly sand and clean to remove any grease, dirt or debris from the surface.  I generally use an orbital sander for big areas and for smaller nooks a mouse or sand by hand using maybe 80 grit to break the existing finish.  Should we prime before we paint? Yes.  No matter how great the adhesion of the paint we want to use a shellac based primer, oil based primer, or another stain blocking primer (my favorite is the Dixie Belle Paint Companies BOSS which comes in Clear or White!) to seal the surface and lock in any stains, oil, or tannin.  By sealing the existing surface you lock in those impurities that can otherwise seep into your paint as it dries to contaminate your lovely white finish.

But WAIT! Do you prefer hand painting over spraying your white painted furniture??

So let me spill it all… What is the best way to go about painting fail free white furniture?

Im going to break down how I do it and explain why. Just click the image above.

Prep when Painting White Furniture

How do I prep the furniture? 

I’m glad you asked.  First clean to remove dirt and grime.  I use a simple solution of half and half vinegar and water with a touch of dish detergent.  I use a scrubby if need be, and wipe away with a clean rag until the rag stays clean.  But the paint I use says No Prep!? What can I say.  They are liars. Im kidding! …but Im not! Can you paint without prep? SURE! Will it always work? Who knows?! You wont until your done! ..and that my friends is the WORST time to find out! (You may want to read Prep: Everything You Need to Know)

how to chalk paint
Reader Submitted Photo: Marsha Gale Jewell

Of course this isn’t white but you can see the problem.  This is usually caused by some sort of residue on the surface (even cleaner residue can cause this) or oils.  You don’t want to run across this at the END of the project! **Sometimes I use TSP or a deglosser, KNOW THIS, these can cause your WHITE to turn yellow!! Wipe down with water and vinegar before painting if you use this!

Sand the piece of furniture?

Yep, this time I asked the question!  Do we always need to sand it? I thought the paint said no prep? Lies… haha kidding, not kidding.   If you come across an early 1900s Eastlake with a broken finish like this…

there is no need to sand unless its for aesthetic reasons. However, if you have a piece that is super smooth or shiny, definitely sand to break the finish. You just need the sheen removed. (I usually use 100 grit sand paper on an orbital sander, then by hand where needed. If you need more information about sanders, you can also check out excellent articles on Bob Smith Tools.) After sanding be sure to clean everything off. I usually just wipe down again with the water/vinegar mixture.

Prime and SEAL the piece of furniture. 

What do I use to prime the furniture?

Again, I’m glad you asked!  You need to use a stain blocking primer when painting white furniture.  Typically this is where I would gush over how much I love Shellac!  Its a sealer and its SUPER fast drying and it naturally levels AND it comes in a spray can!  (I never like to brush on gooky stuff do you??)  PLUS if I am painting something white, I can make the piece white before using my expensive paint to do so, wasting less fancy paint!  BUT HERE IS THE HUGE DOWNSIDE.  Personally I love the smell of shellac,.. the first time I used it, this hurt me badly.  Literally.  Shellac is incredibly dangerous to breathe in.  For this reason it really should just be used outdoors and/or use a respirator!  If not, you are harming your body and if you’re like me end up with a MAGNIFICENT migraine last 3-5 days!  No bueno guys!!! So, this means lugging the piece out side before bringing it in or doing the cleaning and priming before bringing it in.  Hot a huge deal breaker but sometimes we don’t want to haul these thing even one step more than we have to! Why prime if the paint adheres so well?? Let me introduce to you what is likely the number one chalk paint fail!

white chalk paint
Reader Submitted Photo: Chris Fairbanks

See those orangey lines?  Thats bleed.  Tiny little fissures (or large ones) allow stain, oil, or tannin from the wood to wick up into the paint!  What is even worse is sometimes this doesnt happen until you add your top coat.  WHAT A BUMMER!  You THINK you are done and get smacked with “The Bleed” ..Its so frustrating and can make you want to just throw in the towel!  This is why we seal up the piece of furniture before painting.  Now, I dont want to turn this into an ad, but Dixie Belle has a game changer for me.  Its a WATER BASED stain blocking primer.  So, everything that pains me about shellac is missing from this stuff! If you WANT to learn more about it you can find it HERE. So whether shellac or the Dixie Belle Boss in Clear or White I recommend 2 or 3 coats.  I let that dry overnight for two coats.  With 3 I do 2 coats the same day spread apart by hours, add the third coat the next day and wait several hours before painting.  (keep in mind temperature and humidity should always be factored in)

Now, Painting White Furniture: The Best No Fail Method!

Its time to paint!!! If you want an artistic, kinda white furniture with other colors layered or blended, I recommend grabbing your favorite brush and having at it! BUT, if you want a PERFECT, No fail, blemish free, CRISP WHITE PAINT FINISH like these…

This is the winning combo to keep in your paint arsenal to Paint White Furniture

Why? Why that paint and why a sprayer?

The best Benjamin Moore paint for furniture is Benjamin Moore Advance.  It was designed for cabinetry!  (think high use, kitchens, bathrooms etc)  It DOES NOT HAVE TO BE SEALED.  (Genuinely, thats not a gimmick and they dont use that as some farse of a selling point, its just true)  Do you remember what we said about bleed? “What is even worse is sometimes this doesn’t happen until you add your top coat.” This means one extra step to avoid  inviting bleed when painting white furniture! PLUS it has some of the same properties as painting furniture with oil based paint, which helps to also prevent bleed! Something you may want to note though is regardless of the slight oil content, you never have to worry about your Benjamin Moore Advance Paint Yellowing.  Find your local Advance dealer HERE and have it tinted to ANY WHITE YOU WANT! **Full disclosure I do add a top coat on the surface of dressers, tables, etc.

The Homeright Finish Max is in my humble opinion the best sprayer around.  No kidding.  I thought I “would try it” because its inexpensive AND you don’t need an air compressor for it! So, what better way to get the hang and figure out if I even like spraying?? But, I first used it 3 years ago and have NEVER been able to justify upgrading.  No, brush marks, AND White can be a PAIN because there is such little pigment.  So, as you drag your brush you just constantly displace the pigments.   When you spray, you just lay them on there to cover and look pretty… No fighting the pigments being pulled and not wanting to cover properly when painting white furniture.  If you want to learn how to spray then check out the related posts below!

Want to buy your own Finish Max? Go HERE. That is my affiliate link, which means if you add items to your cart after clicking on it, I may receive a little commission.  (This also lets you know I LOVE this sprayer!-if not I would likely direct you to those other ones that are over $300!)



Tuesday 19th of May 2020

Hi- I just finished sanding a dresser from the early 1900's. It's veneer and the varnish was really crackled but now it's smooth. I'm terrified on what to do next. I'm hearing you suggest Dixie Bell Boss or shellac primer. I want to use a spray paint either in a satin or semi gloss. Questions are: how many coats; can I use a satin first to see if I like it; if I don't like the satin can I switch to semi gloss? I REALLY want this to be amazing so I appreciate your help.

Thea Osborne

Thursday 21st of May 2020

Hi Nancy! for Primer you really dont want to worry about sheen, this will be painted over and the finish will be whatever the ending product is. I genuinely love using shellac (clear) or clear boss because it preserves the wood grain on older pieces! I would do 2 coats, watch for signs of bleed during painting, and if you see anything do another coat of the primer of your choice! Id love to see your work!

Sheila Adamson

Friday 27th of September 2019

I am refinishing an old bed from my Mother and Father's home. It has always been white. I thought I would strip it and take it back to it's original color. Wrong move. Whatever the bed was primed with is near impossible to remove. I have decided to take it back to the white. However, there is a degree of uneven surface where the primer remained and some of it came off. Is there a primer which will level off the surface enabling me to put on the final white finish? Please advise.

Thea Osborne

Tuesday 8th of October 2019

Hi Sheila! I hope I haven't come in too late or that you have found the help you needed. Sometimes they would have used shellac-its HARD to remove if you dont know how. SO, always have some denatured alcohol handy! If you apply a little and the coating dissolves-you have shellac and continuing to wipe down with DA will remove it. That said, all of the primers I prefer are somewhat self leveling. If you want a level surface and dont want to incorporate the flaws into the design (which I will tend to do sometimes) I would recommend sanding with and orbital sander at 80 grit, then finishing with 120+ grit. I hope that's helpful!


Tuesday 10th of September 2019

For priming white furniture, you use a spray shellac? Which one would you recommend?

Thea Osborne

Tuesday 8th of October 2019

If I shellac with white shellac it is the Sherwin Williams shellac in the purple/white spray can or I brush with the regular canned version (also purple/white) ... that said, I generally stay away from shellac because its so detrimental to my sanity! lol it has to be used outside or in HIGHLY ventilated areas, you must wear a mask or be doomed with migraines, and of course there is no easy clean up. Thats why I switched to using BOSS by Dixie Belle! And fingers crossed I have never regretted it. No smell, water based and blocks bleed! You can find the Sherwin Williams Shellac at a Sherwin Williams store or BOSS here

Lizzy Leff

Sunday 7th of July 2019

This was great info. Thanks! I like to paint with chalk paint and I'm not a fan of waxing afterward, so I've been using General Finishes Flat Out Flat. It works well.


Thursday 4th of July 2019

I found this post on Pinterest today, way later than your original post date but I hope you will still be able to answer my questions. I am about to paint my first piece of furniture ever and I’m terrified. Did you dilute the paint before spraying? And can you paint designs on top of this paint or use water slide decals? Fingers crossed this gets to you. Thank you a million!!