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10 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Spray Painting Furniture

Spray painting is a relatively easy and popular way to paint furniture. It’s a sure-fire technique for achieving a smooth, evenly-coated finish with hardly any cleanup!

However, even though spray painting is an untroublesome alternative compared to other paint methods, you can make it even simpler by avoiding common mistakes.

Keep reading to learn about these ten mistakes when spray painting furniture and how to circumvent them.

Man spray painting furniture a white chair

1. Skipping the Prep

If you’re spray painting furniture or painting furniture using another paint type, it’s important that you work with a clean surface.

Skipping the prep, or moving straight to spray painting furniture without cleaning the surface first, will compromise the quality of the finish. It can also cause the furniture to look like a DIY project–and not in a good way!

Before you begin, make sure you clean the furniture thoroughly. Mix soap and water, and use a damp cloth to apply. You can also use a tack cloth, which is ideal for wood, as it doesn’t allow water to seep into the surface. Allow the surface to dry completely before you move on to the next step.

You should also sand the surface if needed. Sanding creates added surface abrasion, which helps paint bind to the surface. Sanding also removes knicks, chips, and damage that can compromise the quality of your finished piece.

2. Painting Without Primer

When spray painting furniture, you’ll need to use a primer to prepare the surface. If this step is skipped, the paint will likely chip and flake over time. You might also experience an uneven, blotchy finish.

If you’re working with a porous surface like wood, you also run the risk of the paint seeping into the wood and appearing unfinished without primer.

Primer acts as a base coat and adds a stronger layer of adhesion for the paint to bond to the surface. You can either paint on the primer with a brush–after sanding, of course–or use a spray primer.

If you’re spray painting over dark furniture with a lighter color, primer can prevent the dark color from showing through the new coat. Using a primer can also save money on the project. Without primer, you’ll need to apply more coats of paint to achieve your desired finish.

3. Spray Painting When It’s Too Hot or Cold Out

When spray painting furniture, you’ll need to be vigilant about the surrounding temperature.

If you spray paint when it’s too cold, it can cause the paint to freeze in the nozzle. When the paint does come out, it’ll appear as large clumps, causing an uneven paint job. It can also prevent the paint from drying correctly and cause it to crack and flake off.

If you paint in hot or humid conditions, the paint can dry too fast, which also causes cracks. The paint is also more likely to drip, causing runoff and a streaky finish.

The optimal condition for spray painting furniture is between 50° and 80° Fahrenheit. If you’re painting indoors, you should do so in a ventilated area with low humidity.

4. Standing Too Close or Too Far Away While Spraying

Spray painting furniture seems pretty straightforward, but it’s important that you stand at an appropriate distance when doing so.

Standing too close to the furniture will cause too much paint to reach the surface. Excess paint will drip down and form hardened teardrops in the paint, known as runs. If this happens, you shouldn’t wipe them from the surface, as it can significantly affect the finish.

Spray painting a chair blue

Standing too far away can also leave an unfinished surface. It can also cause the spray paint to dry before it even reaches the surface.

You’ll be left with a blotchy finish if you shift between standing too close and too far.

For consistent application while spray painting furniture, you should stand at a distance of 8-10 inches and apply the paint using slow, controlled, sweeping motions.

5. Using the Wrong Type of Spray Paint

When spray painting furniture, there are certainly right and wrong paints for the job. Whether you’re using spray paint or brush paint, using the wrong paint is one of the most detrimental mistakes you can make. It can certainly mean the difference between a botched DIY project and a sleek-looking, finished piece.

A rule of thumb is to avoid choosing the cheapest spray paints available. While it’s easier on your wallet, cheaper paints tend to be less resilient and are more likely to chip, especially if the furniture is used outdoors.

When you’re choosing a paint, make sure you select one that’s appropriate for the surface you’re working with, i.e., plastic, wood, veneer, metal, etc. You should also choose a paint that’s appropriate for the use of the surface: use indoor paint for indoor furniture and outdoor paint for exterior pieces.

A few options to consider are Rust-Oleum’s Universal All-Surface Spray Paint in satin black, Krylon’s Premium Metallic Spray Paint in gold, which resembles real gold plating; Rust-Oleum’s Chalked Spray Paint in linen white, for a chalk-like finish; and Krylon’s COLORmaxx Spray Paint and Primer for Indoor/Outdoor Use in gloss black.

6. Not Sanding Between Coats

Again, just because spray painting furniture is easier than other methods, you can’t forget to sand the surface between coats.

If you don’t sand between coats, the finished product will appear uneven, so it’s definitely a step you won’t want to skip over.

7. Overspraying Areas

It can be easy to get carried away when spray painting furniture. Without even realizing it, you might overspray some areas more than others. Perhaps there’s a corner that’s hard to reach, and you want to make sure you fully cover it, so you go over it a few extra times. This is a no-no.

Overspraying is especially an issue when spray painting over drawers. Because of the shape of the drawer, excess paint will gather and pool inside. To prevent overspraying drawers, you’ll need to cover the top of the drawer opening and the sides that jut out with a piece of plastic. You’ll also want to secure the plastic in place using painter’s tape, and ensure the tape covers any minimal spaces.

You also have the option to remove the drawers completely and work on them separately, but using plastic and painter’s tape, and keeping the drawers intact, is an easier option.

When spray painting in general, you’ll need to take your time while applying to achieve a smooth, evenly-coated finish.

8. Painting Without Wearing Safety Equipment

Some folks make the mistake of assuming that because spray painting furniture is “faster,” they don’t need to take the same precautions as they would with regular paint. This is simply untrue.

Because spray paint is paint converted into aerosol form, it is vaporized, which means it’s easier to breathe in. Spray paint can irritate the eyes and isn’t healthy to breathe in. Wearing a mask to avoid paint inhalation and safety goggles to keep your eyes covered is the safest option.

9. Not Following Proper Dry Times

When you’re spray painting furniture, there’s one golden rule to follow: don’t rush the job!

While you can apply as many coats as desired to achieve your intended look, you must follow the dry time procedures for that specific paint type.

Two chair spray painted blue and drying on a piece of cardboard

Each paint type has a different dry time, which also depends on the surface you’re working with.

Applying another coat too quickly will cause the paint to drip and eventually peel and crack.

10. Painting in a Poorly Ventilated Area

If you’re spray painting furniture, it’s ideal to do so outdoors–depending on the temperature and climate, of course.

Painting outside provides enough ventilation for the paint to dry properly, and prevents the aerosol from entering the air indoors.

If painting outdoors isn’t an option, then you’ll want to make sure your workspace is ventilated. Open windows and doors if you can.

It’s also important to be mindful about how poor ventilation affects dry time. If you’re painting in an area where there isn’t adequate airflow, then it’ll take longer for your furniture to dry.

Protecting Spray-Painted Furniture

When you’ve finished spray painting furniture, you can protect your finished piece by adding a clear topcoat. A topcoat helps shield the furniture’s surface from dust, abrasions, knicks, and scrapes. Using a clear topcoat also ensures your piece will last longer.

Spray Painting vs. Brush Painting

Are there pros to spray painting furniture as opposed to brush painting? There certainly are, though each method carries its own added benefits.

Spray Painting Furniture

Spray painting is typically less costly than brush painting. It’s also easier to apply, because there’s no need for brushes or rollers, or the cleanup that comes with it.

Spray painting furniture isn’t ideal when working with a large flat surface, such as tables and dressers. When working with large surfaces, achieving an even finish using spray paint is particularly challenging. However, spray paint is ideal to use on surfaces like chairs and smaller items, like picture frames.

Brush Painting Furniture

Brush painting furniture is costlier than spray paint. It’s also more time-consuming. However, this method allows better accuracy when painting, because you can really take your time going over any spots that were missed.

There is also a wider range of colors available for brush paint as opposed to spray paint, providing you with more options. Depending on the paint you use, you can combine and blend paints, which isn’t feasible with spray paint.

Room with a grey wall and the desk, computer, wall hangings, and decorations all spray painted yellow

Wrapping up Spray Painting Furniture

Spray painting furniture is an easier and more hands-off option to consider when you’re looking to refinish pieces. However, it’s certainly important to take proper precautions and remain mindful about the features of spray paint, including dry time, ventilation, and surrounding temperature.

Taking the time to learn about the nuances of spray paint can make your experience easier and your finished product exactly what you envisioned.

Are you interested in learning more about how to seal painted furniture for long-term protection? Visit our page on this topic for everything you need to know and more.