How to Paint Furniture White

How to Paint Furniture White
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Here we are again gazing at gorgeous piece of vintage furniture and seeing it in a brand new white coat of paint.  So how do you paint furniture white successfully?

You guys I get it. After all, I paint furniture for a living.  White furniture is beautiful. At the same time painting furniture white is kind of a pain in the butt.

Don’t fret! You can paint over even the darkest finish with white paint but you might need to know  a few things to get the perfect white finish.


The first thing you will want to do is choose your paint.  Are you choosing a latex or a chalk paint? These are two VERY different animals. Let me explain.

Latex Paints

Latex paint is a water based paint that comes in several different finishes (ie – egg shell, semi-gloss, gloss). It does not require a top coat to successfully paint furniture with a latex paint and in most cases doesn’t require a primer even though it’s still probably a good idea to use one.

Chalk Paint

Chalk Paint is a water based paint and that’s where the similarity to latex ends.  It has one finish – Ultra Matte. You absolutely MUST use a top coat on chalk paint if you’re painting furniture (you can see my top coat tests here).  If you are painting furniture white in about 99.9999999% of the cases you will want to use a primer and if you’re painting antique furniture with white paint you’ll want to use a specialty primer like Bungalow 47 to make sure you seal the tannins in. Read Why Is My Chalk Paint Yellowing here.

What Is the Best White Paint to Use of Furniture?

That’s a loaded question because people are very passionate about THEIR paint. They will defend their paint choice like a feral cat defending their young. They will start a flame war if you challenge their choice of paint. How dare you have a different opinion! Heretic!

The truth is any paint can successfully be used to paint furniture white.  If you like the white (yes, there are shades of white) then buy that one.  If you believe all white paints look the same then grab the one closest to you and let’s get started!

Yes, I would Prime

I’m not sure why but when you tell people to prime a piece of furniture they groan and roll their eyes. For some reason I think they believe that people who professionally paint furniture have some short of short cut.

We don’t.

What’s more I wouldn’t recommend EVER painting furniture white without a primer coat.

Here’s why:

  1. A quart of Zinsser water-based Shellac costs around $12 a Gallon only around $22 (depending on where you get it). Paint costs a lot more so I lose money even with two coats.
  2. I can be assured that after one coat of primer my white paint is going to WHITE.

With a good coat of primer you can paint wood white and even paint black furniture white.  Bottom line, if you want a flawless white finish . . . prime first!

Top Coats

Nothing worse than finishing your project and the white is lovely.  Then you decide you want the extra protection of a clear coat and it yellows. Yep. Been there my friends!

Here’s a dirty little secret of the paint world. Most clear coats yellow like crazy! And they do it on purpose.

What did I just say?!!!! On Purpose?!!!

Yep. Because clear coats are primarily used to cover stains and the yellow makes stains look rich.

Boom! Little truth bomb for you.

Over the years I have tried many different types of top coats and I have had success with Varathane Water  Base Polyurethane. It stays clear on all surfaces and comes in different sheens for a reasonable price. Bonus it’s available at your corner hardware store. No stockist, or specialty paint retailer required.

Why would I Want to Top Coat?

In short, durability.  At the very least I will add a clear coat to the tops of all the pieces I paint. Any table top, buffet top, or bar top is going to get heavy use.  Polyurethane adds a layer of protection to ensure your tops last as long as the sides and fronts of your furniture. Even after years of heavy use and cleaning. And you will want to keep a white surface clean!

More Questions?

I always hope that my posts answer all the questions you have. It can be frustrating to try and figure things out on your own. I want you to feel like you’re not alone in this and that we are a team! So if there are questions that I didn’t answer I want you to ask them in the comments section below.


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