Painting furniture white was one of the trickiest tasks we faced when we started painting furniture. It took us a few attempts to figure out how to get great results using white paint. To prove it, here’s a photo of the base of our kitchen table before we figured out the right way to paint white.
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White painted furniture requires a little more effort at two key stages of the painting process: prep and top coat. Below we share with you the our secrets for getting the best finish when painting furniture white.
Why white is so hard to work with
Paint is made up of three things: pigment, solvent and a binder. It’s the pigments added to paint that give it it’s color. Well, to get a little technical for a minute, colors appear the way that they do because of how they absorb and reflect light. It is the metal compounds used to pigment the paint that alter the absorption and reflection of light and produce different colors. White paint is made with titanium dioxide as a pigment. With only, or mostly, titanium dioxide in white paint, it’s easy to see how darker colors with more pigments continue to “show through”.
The best way to paint furniture white
Generally you can follow the same process to paint furniture white as you would any other color. However, there are 3 “tricks” that will make the results much better and save you a lot of time and frustration. This week we’re painting white two vintage Sklar Peppler dressers, with amazing hardware.
1. Choose a non-pure white
I know, you’re scratching your head right now. There are probably thousands of shades of white out there and we always try and choose the least white white we can that still suits the particular project. We choose Serenity’s Cloudy Day by Cottage Paint. It has an ever so slight grey tone to it that still fit the clean and classic look we wanted, leaving the focus on the hardware. The slight grey undertone to this white means there is more pigment in the paint and it has better coverage than a pure white. So when choosing white try and pick one that has a warmer or cooler tone to help with coverage.
2. Preparation – priming
These days we love using mineral paint by Cottage Paint. It has such fantastic coverage we can often skip the priming step (you can read here why we never skip sanding). But we DO NOT skip priming when we are using white paint. Because other colors and stains bleed through white very easily, you must take this important step. We learned the hard way that a shortcut is not a shortcut if it makes for more work later. If you skip priming, you almost certainly have to do more coats in then end to get consistent coverage. The Zinnser primers work well for us. If you know your piece is likely to have bleeding issues, use the Shellac version.
3. Top Coat
If the paint you are using requires a top coat, you have to make sure the product you choose does not change the color. Oil based top coats will yellow your white, which after all your hard work, is super frustrating! Water based polycrylic is a much better option, as is clear or white wax. We’ve gotten good results with Minwax. However, if you’re using a very porous paint, like chalk paint, there’s a greater risk of yellowing and wax is likely your best bet.
For our vintage dressers, we used mineral paint which has resin in it and does not require a top coat. We painted the hardware a stunning metallic navy blue by Rust-oleum. We love the color but it took the entire can to do all the hardware on these two pieces.
There’s no getting around that painting furniture white is a little extra work. But the beauty and simplicity of white painted furniture is worth it. If you pick a slightly off white, take the time to prime and use a non-yellowing top coat, you will get good results without too much frustration. We hope you’ll remember these 3 tips the next time you want to paint white right.
Here is another example of white done right. We painted this vintage Victoriaville dresser in Cottage Paint’s Cottage White for our daughter’s room.
Do you have white paint horror stories? Or maybe you have tips or tricks you use to paint furniture white. We’d love for you to share in the comments below!