5 Best Paint Types for Furniture: Pros and Cons

Painting furniture is a great way to give it a fresh new look and protect the surface. With so many paint options available, it can be tricky to decide which type is best for your project. Here we look at the pros and cons of 5 of the best paints for furniture to help you choose the right one.


When painting furniture, you need a paint that will adhere well, be durable, and provide the finish you want. The 5 main types of paint for furniture are:

  1. Latex paint
  2. Acrylic paint
  3. Enamel paint
  4. Chalk paint
  5. Milk paint

Each has its own characteristics, advantages and drawbacks. Factors like the furniture material, whether you are painting over existing paint or bare wood, and the finish you want will determine the best choice.

We’ll examine each paint type in detail below, looking at:

  • What furniture it’s best for
  • Benefits
  • Drawbacks
  • Top brands

Armed with this information, you can confidently select the right paint for your next furniture makeover.

Latex Paint

What Furniture is Latex Paint Best For?

Latex paint, also called acrylic latex paint, is ideal for wooden furniture, medium density fiberboard (MDF), particle board, plastic, and metal. It adheres well to slick surfaces other paints may struggle with.

Benefits of Latex Paint

Durable and long-lasting – Latex paint creates a flexible, durable coating able to withstand the knocks furniture takes. It won’t crack or peel easily.

Wide range of sheens – Choose from flat, eggshell, satin or high-gloss. Match the sheen to the piece. High traffic areas like tabletops suit tougher gloss finishes.

Easy cleanup – Latex paint brushes and rollers rinse clean in water. No harsh solvents needed.

Low odor and VOCs – Latex paint has a mild odor and low VOCs (volatile organic compounds). It’s a good choice for indoor furniture.

Can be used directly on wood – No separate primer or sealant required on bare wood. The paint acts as its own primer.

Various colors and finishes – From neutrals to bright colors, flat to metallic, latex paint offers endless options.

Drawbacks of Latex Paint

Multiple coats often needed – Expect to apply at least 2-3 coats for best coverage and durability. Primer may still be required on patched or repaired areas.

Long drying time – Each coat needs 2-4 hours drying time before recoating.

Not ideal for antiques – Latex paint forms a plastic-like coating. If you want to retain the natural wood look and feel, other paints are better.

Prone to scratching – The surface can get scratched or nicked over time with heavy use. Gloss finishes offer the most scuff resistance.

Visible brush strokes – Due to slow drying time, brush strokes may be visible in the final finish, requiring extra sanding.

Top Latex Paint Brands

Some top-rated latex paint brands for furniture include:

  • Behr Premium Plus Interior
  • Valspar Premium
  • Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Interior
  • Benjamin Moore Advance

Look for an interior latex paint with an eggshell, satin or semi-gloss sheen for furniture. The higher gloss gives added protection for tabletops and high-wear items.

Acrylic Paint

What Furniture is Acrylic Paint Best For?

Acrylic paint works on almost any furniture surface – wood, metal, glass, plastic, wicker, and more. It adheres well and dries fast. Acrylic is ideal for painting small furniture pieces and craft projects.

Benefits of Acrylic Paint

Dries fast – Acrylic paint dries lightning fast, usually within 30 minutes. You can quickly do multiple coats.

Versatile uses – Acrylic sticks well to porous and non-porous surfaces. Use it to paint almost anything.

Thin or thick – Acrylic paints can be watered-down into a wash or used straight from the jar for thicker coverage.

Won’t yellow over time – Acrylics stay truer to color than other paint types that tend to yellow as they age.

Easy water clean-up – Like latex paint, acrylics rinse out of brushes with just soap and water.

Affordable – You can buy acrylic paint very cheaply making it ideal for quick small projects.

Drawbacks of Acrylic Paint

Less durable than other paints – Acrylic paint cures to a more flexible, plastic-like finish. It can chip or scratch more easily with heavy use.

Can peel or flake if applied too thick – Multiple very thick coats can cause cracking as paint struggles to fully cure.

Requires primer on wood – Acrylic paint alone doesn’t provide enough protection on raw wood. Use an acrylic primer first.

Not self-leveling – Brush strokes tend to show in the final finish. Several thin coats give better results than one thick coat.

Short shelf life when opened – Acrylic paint dries out quickly once exposed to air. Keep opened jars sealed.

Top Acrylic Paint Brands

Good acrylic paint options for furniture painting projects include:

  • Liquitex Basics
  • Winsor & Newton Galeria
  • DecoArt Americana Acrylics
  • Golden Fluid Acrylics
  • FolkArt Multi-Surface Acrylic

Heavy body acrylics offer thicker paint. Fluids give greater flow and transparency if you’ll be doing acrylic washes.

Enamel Paint

What Furniture is Enamel Paint Best For?

Enamel paint provides an extra tough, glass-like finish ideal for heavily used wooden furniture like kitchen tables, desks, benches, and cabinets. It’s suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.

Benefits of Enamel Paint

Super durable finish – The hard enamel surface is extremely scratch, chip and scuff resistant. It stands up to heavy wear and tear.

High gloss sheen – Enamel paint dries to a shiny, light-reflecting surface. For a more understated look, satin enamel is available.

Resists yellowing – Formulated not to yellow over time like some oil-based paints, so color stays true.

Withstands heat, spills and moisture – The tough enamel won’t blister or crack under hot pans. It resists water damage.

Easy to clean – The slick finish just needs wiping to keep it looking new.

Drawbacks of Enamel Paint

Long cure time – It can take 2-3 weeks for enamel to fully harden and become scratch resistant. Handle surfaces gently during this time.

Can be tricky to apply – Enamel paint is thick like glue. It takes skill to brush on smoothly and evenly. Several thin coats work better than one thick coat.

Strong odor and VOCs – Oil-based enamel paint has a very strong smell during application from the solvents. Use in a well-ventilated area.

Requires paint thinner for cleanup – Enamel paint won’t rinse out with water. Mineral spirits or paint thinner are needed to clean brushes.

Prone to chipping if overapplied – Too many coats can cause the enamel to bubble or crack. 4-5 thin coats are ideal for full cure.

Top Enamel Paint Brands

  • Rust-Oleum High Performance Enamel
  • Krylon Fusion All-In-One
  • Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Alkyd Enamel
  • Benjamin Moore Stays Clear Acrylic Enamel
  • Behr Premium Interior/Exterior Gloss Enamel

Alkyd enamel paint and acrylic enamels like Benjamin Moore’s offer increased durability over typical latex paints.

Chalk Paint

What Furniture is Chalk Paint Best For?

Chalk paint creates a matte, velvety, vintage-looking finish on furniture. It works well on almost any surface – wood, laminate, metal, glass, and more. Chalk paint is ideal for shabby chic, cottage, vintage or rustic furniture styles.

Benefits of Chalk Paint

No stripping or sanding required – Chalk paint adheres to existing finishes so you can paint over glossy, polyurethane, stained, or painted wood with no prep.

Soft matte finish – The flat, porous finish looks like chalked paint. Waxing seals it while retaining the patina.

Sticks to anything – In addition to wood, chalk paint bonds well to glass, metal, concrete, and laminates without priming.

Very forgiving – Chalk paint camouflages imperfections like wood grain and scratches so furniture doesn’t need to be pristine.

Quick drying – With thin coats, chalk paint is usually dry to touch within 30 minutes. You can rapidly build up layers.

Easily distressed – The soft finish is simple to sand off and distress to create a worn-in, timeworn look if desired.

Drawbacks of Chalk Paint

Requires protective wax top coat – On its own, chalk paint rubs off easily. 2-3 coats of paste wax are required to seal and protect the painted surface.

Prone to scratches – Even with wax topcoat, chalk paint shows scratches more readily than enamels and other paints. Use caution around high-wear surfaces.

Can be tricky to apply smoothly – The thick paint requires a learning curve to apply evenly. Too much brushing can remove paint.

Limited color options – Many brands offer 30 or fewer colors, mostly softer pastel shades. Other paints offer far more choices.

Not as durable – While sealing wax helps, chalk paint finishes are not as inherently tough and resilient as enamels and lacquers.

Top Chalk Paint Brands

  • Annie Sloan Chalk Paint – the original and most popular brand
  • Rust-Oleum Chalked Paint – available widely in hardware stores
  • Waverly Chalk Paint – good value at Walmart
  • FolkArt Chalk – comes in smaller craft sizes
  • General Finishes Milk Paint – can be layered for a chalk paint look

Stick to name brand chalk paints. Lower quality reproductions often don’t spread or adhere as smoothly.

Milk Paint

What Furniture is Milk Paint Best For?

Milk paint gives wood furniture an authentic, early American style finish reminiscent of Shaker, primitive Colonial, and folk-art painted pieces. Use it to refinish antique wooden furniture or create vintage-inspired projects.

Benefits of Milk Paint

Contains no VOCs or odor – Made from milk protein, clay and natural pigments. Safe for use around kids and pets with no fumes.

Adds aged character – Brush strokes remain visible and the porous paint penetrates wood, aging it by decades in minutes for an authentic time-worn look.

Simple ingredients – Pre-mixed milk paint just requires water. Or make your own from milk powder, lime and earth pigments.

Non-toxic and food-safe – Milk paint contains no solvents or toxins. When fully cured, it’s safe for use on food surfaces like cutting boards.

Compatible over existing finishes – Can be used on stained, varnished, painted and waxed wood with no chemical stripping required. Just degloss first with sandpaper.

Subtly tints wood – The thin paint doesn’t totally obscure wood grain, leaving some of the natural texture and variation visible beneath for added depth.

Drawbacks of Milk Paint

Thin and less covering – Don’t expect deep, opaque coverage from milk paint. The natural formulation is more translucent, letting wood show through.

Requires primers on new wood – Bare wood needs sealing with an oil or shellac-based primer so the thin milk paint has something to grip and doesn’t absorb unevenly.

Challenging for large surfaces – Milk paint dries fast. You must work in small sections and maintain a wet edge when painting big pieces or uniform coverage becomes difficult.

Not very durable unsealed – Once fully cured, milk paint hardens well but it needs sealing with wax, varnish or poly for added protection, especially on frequently handled surfaces.

Limited colors – Most brands offer fewer than 20 mostly low-key, muted, earthy tones resembling clay and minerals. Bolder bright colors are hard to achieve.

Top Milk Paint Brands

  • General Finishes Milk Paint – available in local stores and online
  • The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co. – sold online
  • Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint – popular for chalk-style finishes
  • Annie Sloan Chalk Paint – can be thinned to achieve a milk paint look
  • Amy Howard At Home Milk Paint – water-based acrylic milk paint

Look for actual milk protein-based paints instead of latex or chalk paints marketed as “milk paint.” Authentic milk paint has a thinner consistency.

How to Choose the Best Paint for Your Furniture

Now that you’re familiar with the characteristics of the main furniture paint types, take into account the following factors when deciding which one is right for your upcoming project:

  • Type of furniture – Is it indoor or outdoor? High or low use? Wood, metal or another material? Match the paint to the furniture’s specific needs.
  • Painting over existing finish? – Will you be painting over wood stain, varnish, laminate or another coating? Some paints adhere better directly over old finishes than others.
  • Desired final finish – Do you want high gloss, satin, matte or a distressed paint finish? The paint type affects the final sheen and texture.
  • Durability required – Consider wear and tear. Kitchen tables need tougher paints than accent side tables or dressers. Outdoor furniture requires maximum weather-resistance.
  • Skill level – Some paints like chalk and milk paint require practice to master an even coat. Beginners may find latex or acrylic easier to get the hang of.
  • Odor and VOC sensitivity – Milk paints and newer low-VOC acrylic enamels make sense for use around children or those sensitive to paint fumes.

Doing a small test patch first on a furniture area that won’t be seen helps evaluate a paint’s adhesion, dry time, and final smoothness before embarking on the full project.

Furniture Painting Tips and Best Practices

Whichever paint type you select, following proper preparation, application and drying practices ensures you’ll achieve the very best painted finish:

  • Always clean surfaces thoroughly first and sand to degloss and roughen slick, shiny finishes.
  • On raw wood, prime first with an appropriate primer unless the paint specifies it can be used directly on bare wood.
  • Stir paint well before use and intermittently during painting. Pour paint into roller pans instead of fully dipping rollers to prevent contaminating paint in the can.
  • Use high quality applicators – microfiber or foam rollers and high-density rounded trim brushes intended for the paint type you are using.
  • Work in sections, maintaining a wet edge as you go to prevent lap marks. Always do the undersides and backs of furniture first.
  • Apply multiple thin coats for a smooth finish, sanding lightly between coats. Thick coats can crack or bubble.
  • Check the manufacturer’s specified dry time between coats. Recoat enamel before the previous coat fully cures.
  • Remove hardware like knobs before painting. Fill any holes or imperfections with wood filler and sand smooth.
  • Use painter’s tape for super sharp paint lines. Remove tape immediately after painting before the paint fully dries.
  • Work in a dust-free area. Lightly sand then wipe furniture with a tack cloth before final coat to remove any debris.
  • Allow paint to cure fully before use. Provide airflow to speed drying. Cold or humid conditions increase drying time.

With careful surface prep and application of the right type of paint for your project, you can give tired furniture new life with a durable, beautiful painted finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most durable paint for furniture?

Enamel paint provides the hardest, most scratch resistant finish for furniture that gets heavy use. Both oil and water-based enamel paints cure to a tough, glossy surface able to withstand bumps and spills.

Does chalk paint need a topcoat?

Yes, chalk paint requires a topcoat like paste wax to seal and protect the porous painted surface, otherwise the paint would rub off on contact. Two to three thin coats of clear or tinted wax are typically applied over chalk paint.

What paint adheres best to laminate furniture?

Both latex and acrylic paints adhere better to slick laminate than many other paint types. Scuff the surface before painting for better adhesion. Acrylic enamel spray paint in a semigloss sheen provides a very durable finish.

Can I paint over polyurethane with chalk paint?

Yes, a big advantage of chalk paint is that it can be applied directly over existing finishes like polyurethane, lacquer and varnish without stripping or sanding to bare wood first. This makes prep easy.

Is milk paint durable?

On its own, milk paint provides only light protection for wood. Once fully cured, milk paint hardens well but it’s thin so wood grain and variations show through. Topcoating milk painted furniture with wax or polyurethane boosts its durability.


There are lots of quality paint choices when it comes time to repaint tired furniture pieces. We’ve covered the unique benefits, drawbacks and ideal uses for latex, acrylic,