Painting Furniture White: Tips with Before & After Makeovers

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Is there a secret technique for painting furniture white?  Are there special steps you should take for any white furniture painting project?

White continues to be one of the most popular colors for furniture makeovers, and it’s easy to see why– white furniture can work in any decor scheme, from mid-century modern to cottage and farmhouse.

But painting furniture white isn’t always as easy.  

White paint can be tricky, and there are sometimes issues with that pretty white finish turning out pink and blotchy instead.

So let’s dive in today and talk about what it looks like to get that perfect white finish on your next piece of painted furniture.

We’ll talk through how to prep your project for painting, what types of paint to use and the best way to get a smooth finish, so your hard work will pay off with a beautiful, finished project.

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What is the Best Paint to Use for Painting Furniture White?

My favorite type of paint to use on furniture is one that is made specifically for furniture painting projects.

I have found that I get the best results, most consistently with actual furniture paints, rather than with using latex paint from the hardware store.

When looking at furniture paints, you have options for chalk paints, acrylic paints, and milk paints.  

I have worked with all types and find they all get the job done, just require a bit of different prep and finishing work, and will produce different looks.

What about using latex paint?

Well, latex is an inexpensive filler, so it’s a great option for making affordable wall paint–it covers a lot of surface area for pretty cheap.

But when painting furniture, you’re working with a much smaller surface area, so you can afford to use paint that has ingredients that are more durable and better suited for the unique needs of furniture.

Wood furniture expands and contracts with humidity and temperature change, so the right paint will be able to breathe a bit also. Latex paint doesn’t do that well, which is why you will see it crack and chip off of furniture.

Essentially, latex paint is a cheaper paint that I don’t think performs well on furniture over time.

There are so many furniture paints on the market right now, it’s impossible for me to review them all.

But I will share some current favorites from several different furniture paint brands:

How to Prep Your Furniture Project for Painting White

Whatever kind of paint you pick, prep is always your most important step! And when white is your paint color of choice, the right prep is even more important. 

That sleek white finish won’t hide any imperfections or issues, so doing the right work first will pay off later.

​Whenever I start a new makeover, my first step is to spray the entire piece down with a degreasing cleaner, then scrub clean. 

Cleaning furniture before painting

I like to use the Fusion TSP Alternative to clean my pieces. It’s great for removing all the grease and grime that may have accumulated over the years.

RELATED POST: Why You Should Clean your Furniture Before you Paint It

After cleaning your furniture piece well, give it a light sanding with 180 (around) grit sandpaper.  

Be sure to rub your sandpaper in the direction of the wood grain!

This helps open up the pores of the finish and your paint will stick better.

The glossier the finish is, the more scuff sanding you should do, but think quick–like 10 minutes of sanding or less. You’re not looking to get it all down to raw wood, just rough it up a bit.

RELATED POST: Funiture Flipping Prep 101: When to Sand Furniture

It is super important with white furniture projects to fill in any holes or chipped spots at this point as well, unless you are going for a really primitive, distressed finish.  


Well, just like how a tight white skirt isn’t great for hiding any bumps or dimples you may not wanna highlight (c’mon, we all have them!), white paint isn’t great for hiding dents, dings, and imperfections on furniture.

It actually highlights them . . . it’s trick of the light, and just how white works.

So take a few extra minutes and fill any holes, dents, or other damage with a bit of wood filler, then sand smooth. 

After you finish sanding, be sure to remove all sanding dust. I like to use the brush and hose attachment on a shop vacuum cleaner to suck off all the sanding dust, makes this part of the project super quick!


In general, I do not use a primer when I am painting a real wood piece of furniture with any of the paints I shared above. 

But when you’re painting white, it’s a good idea to take this extra step. 

When painting an old piece of furniture that has little topcoat left, or red-toned furniture like cherry or mahogany, you may have issues with bleed-through.

Sometimes the water in the paint will pull the wood tannins through the paint, and you’ll get pink splotches on the surface.

Nobody wants pink splotches on their white-painted furniture, so it’s best to go ahead prime. 

A shellac primer is the best primer to use for this. 

​Prep Step Summary

  1. Clean with degreasing cleaner
  2. Fill in any dings, dents, or holes with wood filler and sand smooth
  3. Scuff sand entire surface
  4. Vacuum off sanding dust
  5. Paint on basecoat of primer

How Many Coats of White Paint Will It Take?

Now that you’re prep work is done, it’s time to paint!

If your first coat of paint looks terrible, don’t stress.

painting furniture white before and after

It almost always does when you’re painting with white.

The second coat will look better, but I wouldn’t expect it to completely cover either.

It usually takes 3-4 coats of paint to get full coverage with a white color.  The rule is, the brighter the white, the more coats you can expect.

If you want to drive yourself less crazy, pick an off-white with a bit of cream or gray to get better coverage with each coat. 

RELATED POST: The Two Hardest Colors to Paint Furniture

How do I get a Smooth Paint Finish with White Paint?

​In my experience, white paints tend to run a bit thicker and so can be a bit more challenging to get smooth.  

​And remember what I said earlier about white paint showing every imperfection? That means brush strokes, drips, streaks, etc.  

White paint is just tough to get smooth.

Rolling on and Laying Off Technique

If you’re looking for an ultra-smooth finish, my best suggestion is to apply your paint with a roller (here is my favorite kind).

Even then though, you may find there is a bit of texture left by the roller, so how do you fix that?

I’ve had good success with a technique called “laying off.”

painting furniture white before and after

Working very quickly, you roll on the paint in one area and then lay a flat brush at an angle and very lightly swipe it across the straight lines.

You want to apply almost no pressure with the brush, this just knocks down that little bit of texture left by the roller.

If you want to see more of this process, this post here has a video showing how it works and a bit more info.

Getting a Smooth Finish Using a Brush

Some folks are ok with a little bit of texture but still want the finish to look sleek and clean.  

If that’s you, then my best tip is to use the highest quality paint brush you can find, and paint in thin coats.

Think “thin for the win”.

As a final effort, you can also come back after your final coat is dry and finish sand your project with a high grit sandpaper. This will help the finish feel smooth to the touch.

What do I use to Top Coat White Paint?

The topcoat options for white paint vary, with some of the paint options mentioned not requiring one at all (Fusion Mineral Paint doesn’t need a topcoat to be sealed).

If you’re working with a white chalk paint, then a clear wax will likely be your best option. If you want to deepen the white color, you could choose a white wax also. 

RELATED POST: Best Furniture Wax for Chalk Paint: How to Apply for a Durable Finish

If you’re looking for a hard topcoat, then I suggest polyacrylic.  

Although you have to be very careful to pick one that won’t yellow over your white paint. Be sure to check the label.

​I have used Fusion Mineral Paint’s Tough Coat over white paint with great success.  Another good option is General Finishes High Performance Top Coat.

The thing to remember with white painted furniture is that you want to avoid an oil-based topcoat.

Applying an oil based topcoat will make your pretty white paint turn a dingy yellow.



White Painted Furniture Makeover Ideas

Here’s a collection of pieces of furniture I’ve worked on all over the years, all painted various shades of white. 

​You’ll see that there are lots of different ways to use white to give a piece of furniture a new life!

Mid Century Modern Two-Toned White Dresser

How to Paint Mid Century Furniture


Traditional Dresser Painted White

Chest of Drawers Makeover with Fusion Raw Silk


White & Stained Wood Vintage Desk

White Desk with Stained Wood Drawers

Thrift Store Desk Furniture Makeover


White Painted China Cabinet

white painted china cabinet

Stunning China Cabinet Makeover BEFORE & AFTER


Distressed White Entertainment Center

painted and distressed white cabinet


Milk Painted Pine White Washstand


Off-White Painted Side Table

white painted side table


Washstand Painted with White Milk Paint

washstand painted with milk paint and distressed

Antique White Hutch with Blue Interior

Modern White Dresser with Blue Base

Final Thoughts on Painting Furniture White

White will never be a bad choice for your furniture project. It’s classic, timeless, and goes with just about everything.

Remember that the brighter and cleaner the white color you choose, the more coats your project will take.  Pick a slightly off-white for an easier paint job.

Gray-toned white colors will give your project a modern feel, while yellow-toned white colors are good for that farmhouse or cottage look.

Be sure to prep your piece well so your final paint finish lasts a long time!

And remember, never, ever, ever use an oil product over white paint!

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Friday 24th of November 2023

Always appreciate good tips on painting older or used furniture.

Melanie Alexander

Saturday 25th of November 2023

Glad it was a helpful post Jane! Thanks for stopping by :)

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Monday 21st of August 2023

Melanie - First, I agree painting furniture ESPECIALLY dark woods or red toned woods white is always a challenge. Thanks for the tips and advice. Second - I LOVE General Finishes top coats. I am fond of their flat out flat. Love all the pieces of furniture you shared with us in this post. Now I am inspired to tackle a piece of furniture in my basement.

MaryJo Materazo

Sunday 20th of August 2023

Great post Melanie. You always have such fabulous information about painting furniture. I love every single project you worked on. XO- MaryJo

Melanie Alexander

Sunday 20th of August 2023

Thanks so much Mary Jo!

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