How To Paint IKEA Furniture – A Complete Guide

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Have you decided that you want to paint a piece of IKEA furniture? Not sure where to start?

No worries!

Let’s take a look together at all the best ways to paint IKEA furniture that will help you achieve a professional-looking and long-lasting finish.

This guide will cover how to paint:

  • laminate furniture
  • solid wood furniture
  • metal furniture
Beautiful example of painted IKEA cabinets in a deep navy blue
Livet Hemma

IKEA and I have a long history together.

Like many other humans out there, I’ve bought countless pieces from IKEA over the years.

I’ve also eaten many meatballs.

Once you’re there, it’s tempting to buy everything because it’s all so dang cheap.

And sometimes impulsive decisions are made, and I’m not just talking about eating too many meatballs. It happens to the best of us.

Perhaps you bought a lot of black pieces and now you’re more into light color schemes. It may also be that your dresser or bookshelf is just a bit scruffy looking after a few years of use.

Or your living room is screaming for a bold pop of color.

Lovely IKEA cabinets painted in violet purple
Sofie Wrede

The aspect I find liberating about IKEA furniture is that usually their items are not so crazy expensive that you feel scared to try your hand at DIY’ing them.

If the project is an epic failure, well, at least you tried and you didn’t lose thousands of dollars ruining an expensive piece in the process.

And say what you will about IKEA furniture, but in general their furniture is pretty robust; it can last you many years.

If you aren’t in a place where you can buy new furniture, then painting your IKEA furniture can be a relatively fast and very cost effective way to upgrade your space and inject new style into your home.

The desire to take an inexpensive, mass-produced IKEA item and put a personal spin on it is nothing new – there are so many IKEA hacks floating around the internet that it inspired the creation of the wildly popular website called IKEA Hackers back in 2006. The site is a fabulous resource if you’re looking for some “hacky” inspiration.

There are endless ways to personalize (or “hack”) your IKEA products and paint is just one of the many.

So, whatever your reasons may be for wanting to paint your IKEA furniture, you’re in the right place.

Let’s dive in!

Hacked IKEA cabinet painted in red, with pulls replaced with custom gold pulls
Anika’s DIY Life

How to check what material your IKEA piece is made of

The first thing you need to do is check what material your IKEA piece is made of.

The way you paint your piece is going to depend on its material! This is really important.

If you don’t know what your product is called, there is a 99% chance you’ll find a sticker on the product somewhere that says the name of the series (like LACK, MALM, BILLY, etc).

Search in inconspicuous places like underneath or on the back. Literally every product that is big enough is sold with a sticker on it.

Once you know what your furniture piece is called, you need to head over to the IKEA website, look up your product and check the materials.

Here is what to look for.

Laminate (aka plastic) looks like this:

How to find out if your IKEA furniture is made of laminate

Solid wood looks like this:

ikea solid wood bed and where to check on their website to see if the product is solid wood

Metal looks like this:

ikea hallan metal steel furniture and how to find out if your IKEA furniture is made of metal

What is laminate?

You may be wondering what the heck laminate actually is. You could google it, or you could just read on. I recommend you read on ’cause it’ll be faster.

Remember how in elementary school everything was laminated in plastic? Well it’s the same thing.

Something that is laminated is essentially covered in plastic.

So, if your IKEA piece says it has a “clear acrylic lacquer“, that means it’s covered in plastic. Which means it’s laminated.

Laminate furniture is essentially a photo of wood slapped onto a piece of particle board, covered with a clear plastic coating.

cross section example of a piece of laminate

Do I paint assembled or disassembled?

You are going to make your life a lot easier if you paint your IKEA furniture when it’s disassembled.

If you already know you are going to paint your piece right off the bat when you buy it, then great. Don’t assemble it!

Maybe you don’t have time to disassemble, or you’ve had your piece so long that you lost the tools (I actually have about 2 million different IKEA allen keys).

It’s ok. You can still go ahead and paint.

You can cut corners by not disassembling, but be warned that certain steps later are going to take you a bit longer.

Time wise, in the end it kind of evens out.

If you choose to paint with your piece still assembled, you may need to mask off certain areas: you can do this with painter’s tape to get clean lines and minimize the risk of the paint bleeding where you don’t want it to.

Moral of the story: if your piece is already assembled, I would strongly suggest disassembling. You will get a more professional looking finish if you take the time to do this.

Do I need to sand my piece first?

Should I sand my furniture before I paint?

It depends. This is a widely debated topic so I will tell you what I know from my own personal experience. I’ve been painting different types of furniture for about 20 years.

  • Painting metal does not technically require sanding (unless it’s rusty), although some advise you to do so. If you want to sand your metal piece, start with an 80 grit piece of sandpaper for the rougher bits, and then make your way up to a 120 grit. The idea is that your paint will adhere better to the surface if you roughen up the metal. But primer will also help with that so … you decide!
  • If you are painting solid wood, then yes, you should sand it. Sometimes people are a bit lazy (myself included) and don’t sand. That’s ok too. It’s up to you. But I would recommend sanding solid wood.
  • If you’re painting over laminate, then NO, sanding is not necessary. Contrary to what a lot of tutorials say out there, you don’t HAVE to sand your laminate furniture before painting … provided that you follow the correct steps, which I cover below. To learn how to correctly paint IKEA laminate furniture without sanding, keep reading!

If you are sanding a solid wood piece, a good orbital sander will get the job done quickly.

Some orbital sanders like this one even come with a little vacuum/microfilter system so that the dust gets sucked up as you go and prevents you from breathing it in. Pretty neat!

What’s a primer and do I need it?

Primer is basically a base coat of paint that prepares your surface for receiving the final finishing paint. It helps provide a smooth surface to paint your final color on and helps with paint adhesion.

Some people live life on the edge and skip the primer, and it doesn’t even haunt them late at night.

However, I would suggest you do NOT skip priming your piece.

This shellac based primer is the one all the professional painters rave about:

  • it sticks to ALL surfaces WITHOUT SANDING, so it will work for laminate, solid wood and metal.
  • dries really quickly.
  • covers all odors, even nasty ones like cat urine and stale smoke.
  • seals stains and knots and provides a perfect base for your finish paint.
  • works with ANY top coat.

So you really cannot go wrong. I highly recommend you choose to use this primer; if you do, then you can skip the rest of the following information on primers.

NOTE: Make sure you get SHELLAC BASE PRIMER !!!
zinsser primer is the best primer on the market!

If you don’t plan on using the primer mentioned above, then you will need to keep the following things in mind:

  • If you’re going to be painting with a water based latex paint, then you must use a water based primer. Technically you can use an oil based primer and then paint on top with latex paint, but just keep your life simple and make sure they match.
  • If you are painting with an oil based finish paint, you must use an oil based primer. No exceptions.

No matter what, you really need to use a primer. Don’t skip this.


If your final paint color is going to be dark, ask the paint mixer to tint your primer. The tint can be a greyish blue color, or you can have it tinted to a similar color to your finish paint. This will help coverage, won’t be as difficult to conceal versus having a pure white primed base, and thus will require fewer coats of your final color.

What kind of paint should I use? Pros and Cons!

what kind of paint to choose when painting furniture
Wise Geek

So by now you have learned that if you go with the Zinsser Primer mentioned above, then you can choose any kind of paint you like.

If you have another kind of primer, check to see what kind it is and make sure to get the appropriate type of paint.

Pros and cons for the most popular types of paints for painting furniture.



  • Water based paints (latex, aka plastic) are popular because they emit fewer toxic fumes than oil based paints
  • They are easy clean up as you only need water
  • They dry quickly and are flexible
  • Will not yellow over time


  • The disadvantage to painting furniture with water based latex paints is that you run the risk that sometimes the paint won’t behave as planned, which can result in stains and wood knot bleeding, which is disastrous (this has happened to me – I didn’t prime first). If you use primer, you should be able to avoid this happening, however water based primers are known to have the same issue (staining/bleeding).
  • Less durable than oil based paints



  • Oil based paints provide excellent durability
  • They cover any odors that may be stuck in your furniture much better than water based paints


  • The clean up is tedious as you need mineral spirits or turpentine to clean your paint brushes as opposed to just water. If you don’t clean your brushes with mineral spirits after painting with oil based paints, you can kiss your brushes goodbye once they dry
  • Oil based paint can yellow over time
  • Less flexible than latex water based paints, meaning it can crack
  • Very strong odor during application
  • Longer drying times



  • Lends itself well to distressing for a “shabby” or vintage look
  • Some stunning effects can be achieved by layering chalk paints


  • Visible brush strokes
  • Often requires multiple coats to get an even finish
  • Less durable than latex paint

Chalk paint technically does not require a primer ON SOLID WOOD. If you are painting laminate furniture with chalk paint, you will still need to prime first. You must seal furniture painted with chalk paint with wax. All chalk paint is is latex paint with powder mixed in – usually plaster of Paris.

It is incredibly easy to DIY your own chalk paint if you don’t want to buy the ready-made stuff.

Learn more about how to chalk paint IKEA furniture here.

Layered green chalk paint on an antique dresser
Salvaged Inspirations



  • Easy to apply
  • Even coverage, provided that it’s applied properly
  • Dries quickly


  • Can require multiple cans for a large project, which gets pricey
  • Difficult to get even coverage on large pieces
  • Can drip if not sprayed properly
  • Strong odor during application

What are the best tools to apply my paint?

required painting tools for painting IKEA furniture

To paint your furniture you can use any of the following:

  • spray gun
  • roller
  • synthetic or natural bristle brushes
  • foam brushes

Spray guns can be tricky to use because you can’t just dump the paint in the canister and spray – you need to thin your paint first. If you don’t get the paint consistency right, you will have a lot of problems getting your paint to spray properly – it won’t come out at all if it’s too thick, or will come out in fat droplets if it’s too thick or thin. Cleaning your paint spray gun is also a massive pain. But once you get the hang of them they speed up the process significantly.

Rollers are handy and allow for lighting-fast paint application. If you use a roller that is wider than the opening of your paint can, you’ll need to remember to get a tray or something to put your paint in.


If you use a paint tray, you can line it with plastic for super quick clean up.

Foam brushes are good and generally ensure smooth application in terms of brush strokes. They are cheap and pretty much only good for one time use so you’ll have to throw them away once you’re done. You could try to clean them with water if you’re using water based products but it may not be worth the effort.

Bristle brushes are my favorite method of application for painting furniture, but they sometimes can lose a hair or two along the way. Be sure to remove any stray bristles immediately if you see any. Tweezers help, or just pinch with your fingernails then touch up with another stroke of paint. I prefer angled brushes to flat brushes as it allows for a more comfortable wrist position while I’m painting.

Brushes can come in natural bristles or synthetic bristles. Choose whichever you like. Natural bristles can leave more obvious brush strokes whereas synthetic bristles generally provide a smoother application.


Don’t make your life difficult and buy brushes that are too small. It will take you forever and will be incredibly frustrating. I recommend using a combination of tools when tackling furniture painting projects: a roller for large surfaces and a couple of different sizes brushes for harder to reach areas or for areas like grooves.

When you’re done, you must make sure to clean your brushes appropriately based on the type of paint you used. Water for water based paint, and turpentine/mineral spirits/paint thinner for oil based and shellac paints.

What should I use to seal my piece? Everything you need to know about topcoats

Sealants, varnishes and top coats can be really confusing. They’re also especially intimidating because they are the very last step after all the work you’ve put in to repaint your piece.

If you get it wrong, you risk messing everything up. I have done this and it sucks.

If you’re not sure what kind of topcoat to use, read on. It’s best to not have any doubts when choosing a topcoat.

One thing is for sure, and that is that you definitely want to use one. It will ensure that your piece and the paint job underneath is protected from wear and tear.


I recommend using water based polyurethane topcoats.

Oil based top coats will yellow over time (similar to oil based paints!). You really don’t want this happening, especially if you’re sealing a very light or white piece.


You CAN use a water based top coat over an oil based paint, you just need to make sure the paint has dried completely before sealing.

My top recommendation for a water based sealant is Minwax Polycrylic (check links below to purchase).

You can choose either a matte finish, semi gloss finish, a gloss finish or a satin finish.

You can use Minwax Polycrylic over both oil based and water based paints.

To be safe, you can always test a small patch in an inconspicuous area before finishing the whole piece.


If you painted your IKEA furniture with chalk paint, some say that the best way to go is by sealing with wax.

I would tend to disagree.

Wax sealed pieces give a nice velvety finish but are not as durable as pieces sealed with acrylic varnishes.

Wax is not a permanent finish, meaning that it will need to be reapplied every so often. The other tedious thing about sealing with wax is that if you ever want to repaint your furniture, the wax MUST be removed otherwise your new paint will not adhere to the surface.

Removing the wax topcoat involves wiping everything down with mineral spirits and ain’t nobody got time for that.

If you do want to seal with wax, I recommend Minwax Paste Finishing Wax in Natural.

But I would recommend using the Minwax Polycrylic Matte Poly finish instead.

Now that you know:

→ what your furniture is made of

→ whether or not you need to sand and prime it

→ what type of paint to use

→ how to apply the paint

→ what kind of final topcoat to use …

you can finally get started!

I’m not going to go into how to protect yourself from paint fumes, or how to avoid getting paint all over the place.

Use common sense and stay safe.

You may also require basic tools like screwdrivers or a drill.

How to paint IKEA laminate furniture

Painting laminate pieces is the trickiest surface to get right, so we’ll start by talking about that one.

Tired of reading? Watch my video instead 🙂

You can also watch me paint and transform this boring Kallax unit:

You hear a lot of horror stories about how it all went wrong and the paint started peeling off after 2 days.

I assure you, your paint is not going to peel off if you follow these steps!

Because of the vast number of laminated (acrylic covered) IKEA products, it’s also probably the most common scenario you’ll encounter if you want to paint IKEA furniture.

This method doesn’t require sanding your piece before priming and painting. Some people swear by sanding every single layer in order to get a perfectly pristine and smooth finish. By all means, do this if you want to, it certainly won’t ruin any of your work! Decide if it’s worth the effort and go for it if you feel like it’s necessary 🙂


  • Shellac-base primer – I recommend this one from Zinsser (if you missed the part about why it’s awesome, then scroll back up!)
  • Sanding paper (optional)
  • Brushes, rollers or spray gun
  • Rag or paper towels
  • Paint
  • Topcoat

  1. Disassemble if you can. If you can’t disassemble, at least remove any hardware like knobs or pulls.
  2. Wipe down your furniture with water and a damp (not sopping wet!) paper towel or cloth. You want to remove any dust, dirt or residue that can be removed so that it doesn’t get trapped underneath the paint. Allow to dry, it doesn’t take long.
  3. Prime – usually only one coat is needed. OPTIONAL: You can scuff the primer with sanding paper once it’s dry if you want but it’s not really necessary. If you really want to sand your primer, go ahead and do it! Allow time to dry according to instructions on the product.
  4. Paint your piece. You may require multiple coats of paint – make sure you allow time to dry in between coats. OPTIONAL: You can sand between coats of paint if you want to! I recommend doing this if you have visible drips, brush strokes or any small debris caught in your paint. Sanding will smooth all of that out.
  5. Once your furniture is completely dry, you can add your topcoat. Allow time to dry according to instructions on the product.
  6. Reassemble if needed, and put back all the hardware.

Check out the videos above if you missed them, they demonstrate a couple of my IKEA painting projects!! And below is an example of laminate furniture that I painted one summer for my mum. It’s actually not an IKEA piece, it was just an old laminate dresser that my mum wanted to chuck out. Instead, I transformed it into a TV console for her, because she needed one.

Sorry about the messy photo, lol!

before and after painting on laminate furniture
Posh Pennies

It was really a super easy transformation – I just removed the mirror, primed it with one coat of Zinsser (did not sand!!) and gave it 4 coats of a paint color that my mum picked out. It’s like a light sage green but I don’t think you can really tell from the photos? Anyways, the paint used was just your regular, run-of-the-mill indoor water-based latex paint.

The thing I really liked about the original was the brass trim and handles; the piece itself was in great condition – all it needed was an updated color!

How to paint IKEA solid wood furniture

Solid wood is more forgiving and there are many methods out there if you do some research.

I have tried many of these methods and have found the following to work best:


  • Sanding paper and a sanding block
  • Orbital sander (optional)
  • Rags or paper towels
  • Brushes, rollers or spray gun
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Top coat

  1. Disassemble if you can. If you can’t disassemble, at least remove any hardware like knobs or pulls.
  2. Lightly sand your piece with either sanding paper or an orbital sander. Wipe away the sanding dust with water and a damp rag or paper towel.
  3. Prime – usually only one coat is needed. OPTIONAL: You can scuff the primer with sanding paper once it’s dry if you want but it’s not really necessary. If you really want to sand your primer, go ahead and do it! Allow time to dry according to instructions on the product.
  4. Paint your piece. You may require multiple coats of paint – make sure you allow time to dry in between coats. OPTIONAL: You can sand between coats of paint if you want to! I recommend doing this if you have visible drips, brush strokes or any small debris caught in your paint. Sanding will smooth all of that out.
  5. Once your furniture is completely dry, you can add your top coat. Allow time to dry according to instructions on the product.
  6. Reassemble if needed, and put back all the hardware.

How to paint IKEA metal furniture

To be honest, if I am going to spray paint a metal piece that isn’t overly elaborate, I don’t bother disassembling it.

However, I have learned from experience that metal DOES require a primer and ideally a topcoat. Otherwise, the spray paint will just scratch off, even with the tiniest bump!

If your piece has any rust, or flaking or loose paint, you *will* need to sand it.


  • Scraper
  • Wire brush
  • 80 grit to 120 grit sanding paper
  • Orbital sander (optional)
  • Sponge
  • Rags or paper towels
  • Primer
  • Paint


  1. If your piece is flaking or peeling you must sand and remove all flaking paint. Use a scraper and a wire brush.
  2. Sand the piece starting with 60 or 80 grit sanding paper and progressively make your way up to 120 grit.
  3. Wipe down your piece with a sponge and some water to remove all dust and rust particles. Allow to dry completely.
  4. Prime
  5. Paint, may need several coats. Allow to dry according to instructions on tin.


  1. Give your piece a quick clean with water and a damp rag or paper towel.
  2. Prime
  3. Paint it, it may require a few coats. Allow to dry according to instructions on tin.

Taking IKEA customization beyond just paint

Customized IKEA cabinets with updated paint, scalloped cabinet fronts, new legs and pulls

There are a few companies out there that have become specialized in selling products specially made for “ikea hacking”. These companies mainly sell luxury looking products that you can add to your IKEA furniture to make them appear more custom and high end.

You can buy legs, pulls, fronts for your cabinets, geometric overlays, decals and even marble tops.

Here are a few to check out:


Customized IKEA cabinets with updated paint, scalloped cabinet fronts, new legs and pulls

This Swedish company has a stunning range of Carrara marble tops, cabinet fronts, leather pulls, wood, brass and copper accessories and more.

If you live in Europe, you can buy any of their products.

US and Canada can only buy handles and legs at the moment.

Norse Interiors

Customized IKEA cabinets with updated navy paint, cabinet fronts and new legs.
norse interiors

Norse interiors makes wood tops, cabinet doors, panels, dresser drawer fronts and accessories like knobs, pulls and legs, for the Besta and Malm series.


IKEA drawers customized with orange and pink paint and overlays on the drawers

As the name suggests, this company specializes in kits containing overlays for some of the most popular IKEA series, like Besta, Kallax, Malm and Pax and many more.

You can buy overlays to apply on top of your furniture to give them a more glamorous and personalized look. Most of the designs offered at the moment are geometric.

Check out their inspiration gallery for an idea of what you can do with their products.

Pretty Pegs

custom ikea furniture add ons, custom legs
pretty pegs

Pretty pegs ships worldwide and sells legs, pulls and front layers for IKEA furniture. They carry a truly impressive selection!

Behang Fabriek

decals for ikea furniture
behang fabriek

If you’re into decals, this is the place to buy them. Their website is a little confusing, as they also sell wallpaper and the menu is a little crazy. If you want to see all the decals they sell specifically for IKEA furniture, then just go here directly.


Custom IKEA cabinet fronts and hardware
semi handmade

This company carries a pretty decent selection of cabinet fronts for IKEA kitchen, bathroom and media storage units. Also a small selection of decorative hardware (pulls and knobs).

I hope this article gave you the confidence to tackle your next (or your first!) IKEA furniture painting project!

I’d love to hear what you get up to, and I’m always available to answer any questions! Do not hesitate to drop me a comment below!

Now get painting, buddy! 😁




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  1. I used to love the look of darker furniture but now i walk into my bedroom and it’s so depressing. I know it needs an overhaul but i don’t want to go out and buy a whole new set of everything when what i have works just fine. I loved your article that was so well explained from start to finish. I purchased everything you suggested!! Fingers crossed it works hahahha

      1. Just found your site and I love it! Quick question. I’m buying an Ikea bookcase to paint navy blue. Should I buy the black one – I was thinking it would be easier to cover the black with navy blue than the white? Many thanks.

    1. Hi, really find your blog useful! What kind of paint should i use for a Docksta table top? Do you have a blog on this?

    2. Great post! How long did you wait between painting with a latex paint and sealing with poly for the piece? The cure time for the paint I have is 4 weeks, should I want to seal until the 4 weeks? Thanks!

  2. Outstanding blog! Great information and ideas! Brilliant! I found your page while researching how to remove gloss finish. I have the vision to redo my kitchen set. It has a gloss finish but it’s wood.

  3. Great article. I want to paint my old rectangle Bjursta dining table but I don’t want to see a solid color, is there a way to make it look like it has some wood te texture? Thanks

  4. Hi! We have a laminate project that we’re trying to paint, and we’d really like to seal it with something once we get it fully painted. Do you recommend the polycrylic sealant for laminate projects? We’ve messed up projects in the past by either not priming or sealing or using the wrong sealant, and we don’t want to make the same mistake! Thank you for your help!

  5. Very informative article, but I’m still not sure what to do. I have a Froset chair,
    which says it’s “Molded layer-glued wood veneer with surface of, Oak veneer, Tinted clear acrylic lacquer”. I really want the true red I see in the photos but the piece I got is more of a dull salmon red, so am thinking of working on it. I do like the “stained” effect, with wood grain showing through. What would you recommend? Thanks in advance–

  6. I’m at a loss. I primed my Billy bookcase with the shellac primer (rolled on 1/4 nap). Next day I painted 2 coats of behr matte paint (rolled on 1/4 nap). Day three I brushed on a coat of clear matte top coat. Waited 24 hours. I can easily chip the paint down to the primer by barely scratching with my nail.