5 Different Paints You Can Use On Furniture (Stylish Finish)

Last Updated on September 15, 2023 by Web Operator

Painting wood furniture has always been a popular thing to do, and with the rise of restoration and upcycling old pieces into something new, I think it’s something that will remain popular for some time to come. But using the correct paint is key, which is why I recommend using the likes of milk paint, acrylic, oil, chalk, or latex paint to get the best outcome.

But look, I get it. You don’t feel like simply grabbing a pot of paint and getting to work on revamping that piece of furniture without knowing more about it all. After all, nobody wants to make a mess by using the wrong materials.

So, that’s what I’m going to focus on over the course of the next few minutes. But I admit that there is not one single type of paint that is perfect. Each option has its own set of pros and cons. So, it’s only fair that I also seek to cover those pros and cons as well to ensure you have the most accurate picture of what each type of paint can do.

After all, I want you to feel confident in your choice when selecting paint for your furniture. I don’t want you to put in the effort only to find that the paint simply does not work and you need to go all the way back to the start and do it all over again.

That would be highly annoying, so let’s avoid that happening, and it all starts by ensuring you have the perfect paint to get the job done at the first time of asking. After all, I don’t want you working away on things only to then feel disappointed. 

But why listen to what I’ve got to say?

I’ve been working with furniture for more years than I care to remember, and I’ve tried and tested all types of paint, with varying degrees of success. However, that does mean I have a good understanding of what works, and what doesn’t, and that information is what I want to provide to you.

What I’m going to do below is to look at five different types of paint that you can put on wood furniture. Now, I’m not talking about individual brands here. Instead, it’s actual types of paint and how they react with furniture. It’s more about this rather than how to use a paint sprayer or the best brushes around. Those topics are for another day.

So, let’s work through them and set you on the road to knowing which paint type is best for your own individual requirements. Honestly, it will make such a difference that you will be glad you spent these few minutes getting a better understanding of what you should be using. 

paint options for wood furniture

Type 1: Chalky Paint

It’s perhaps fair to say that chalky paint is currently the most popular, and it’s all because it can create something of a shabby chic style to a piece of wood furniture. If you want that kind of distressed look, then chalky paint will work exceptionally well in that situation.

Chalky paint can give even a new piece of furniture something of an old-world feel to it. Also, it’s largely water-based, so you won’t have to generally worry so much about toxins when using it either.

But chalky paint has the ability to produce a relatively smooth finish to it. Also, it’s a type of paint you can layer, which is pretty cool in my book. 

But I’m going to be honest: chalky paint is not always the easiest of paints to work with. It’s the kind of paint where I feel you need to try it out on a scrap piece of wood first to get a better understanding of how it is applied. In my experience, it’s all too easy to leave behind far too many marks if you fail to use the paint correctly.

The problem is that it does dry fast, and I really mean fast. Now, it’s not 100% dry, but the upper layer of the paint, which means the part you see, will dry in no time at all. That does mean I recommend you seek to work fast with this paint in order to get the best possible results. 

While that may sound like a cool thing to happen, it does mean it’s very easy to leave some brush marks behind if you are not careful. Those brush marks will also prove to be highly visible, and that’s the type of thing that will then draw your eye to the marks rather than the piece of furniture.

Yet, I think the key thing for chalky paint, and its main advantage is that you can easily sand parts of it and create a distressed look. It’s the perfect paint for that very reason, and if that’s the sort of look you want, then chalky paint will deliver every single time.


  • It does create a smooth finish
  • You can layer the paint easily
  • It sticks to almost any surface
  • You can sand it down to create a distressed look


  • It can leave brush marks very evident
  • It dries fast, so you need to work fast
  • You need to protect it, or the paint will scratch off

Type 2: Latex Paint

Another good option is latex paint, and what I love about this is that it’s very easy to get some, and you have a wide range of colors to choose from. This versatility, at least regarding the color, certainly adds to its popularity as an option. Basically, you can paint any color you imagine on your furniture.

I would suggest you focus on getting your hands on paint with a low VOC content. It just means it’s less toxic, and there’s not so much of that chemical smell that tends to come with latex paint. I feel it is nicer to use when you are not inundated with those smells, which can be overpowering if you are working in a condensed space.

But in order to get the best results with latex paint on furniture, it does mean you need to do some additional work that may not be required with other paint options. Sadly, it’s all too easy for it to go wrong if you fail to take the correct steps. 

The problem is that latex paint will bond to the upper surface of the furniture and just sit there. It’s not absorbed so much into the wood, which makes a difference in how you prepare the wood furniture before painting. 

What this means is that latex paint will just sit there, and if you are painting onto a layer that is varnished or some sort of lacquer, then it will look horrible.

However, there is a way around this issue.

You see, this paint does require sanding of the surface, followed up by using a primer. It would be best if you did this to ensure the latex paint has the best possible chance of adhering to the surface.

You need to break that upper layer so the paint can then attach to it. I’m not saying the layer should be rough or anything of the sort, but it’s certainly going to require the surface to be all scratched up. 

But there is another problem, and it’s the length of time latex paint takes to cure. It takes longer than you think, meaning the paint on the furniture is pretty fragile at that point. Ultimately, this is not the type of paint you want to use if you are in some sort of rush. It’s just not going to work well. 

I see the main issue with latex paint is that it’s not best for dealing with damage. It does improve when you prepare the surface correctly, but if you don’t, then it should come as no surprise when your furniture looks terrible not too long after painting it.

Also, you do have different finishes to choose from with latex paint that will completely change the final appearance. You can have flat paint, which does give it a duller appearance, satin, semigloss, and gloss. Each one reflects light more, giving more of a shine than you would get with others. This does change the way the piece of furniture would look when you have finished painting, and it’s something you need to think about if you intend to use latex paint. 


  • The color selection is impressive
  • You can change different finishes to get a different look
  • It’s very easy to clean as it’s often washable


  • You really need to prepare the wood first
  • It can be quite fragile if you fail to prepare
  • It takes a long time to dry

Type 3: Milk Paint

milk paint for furniture

I think the first two options I’ve mentioned are the most popular, but they are not the only types of paint you can use on furniture. Instead, there’s also milk paint, and I feel it’s not represented enough, considering how good it is at going on wood.

The thing about milk paint is that it comes across as quite natural, but be aware that it is relatively thin and is certainly thinner than the chalk paint I mentioned earlier. Actually, that does make it slightly harder to work with, especially if you are brand new to milk paint. I would avoid diving straight in with painting a piece of furniture until you have tried it out elsewhere. 

It’s called milk paint because it really is manufactured from a milk protein. That instantly means this paint is non-toxic, and that’s clearly an excellent thing for so many people. The paint does not give off any fumes, and it’s also exceptionally easy to work with, once you are used to it, which is another great bonus.

But what you may notice is that this paint comes to you as a powder. So, you need to add water yourself and then mix it. While this may put some people off using it, I think it’s not that big a deal, especially if you are going for a particular look with your furniture.

One thing I love about milk paint is that it’s very easy to make it look older than it really is. This is perfect if you are going for that aged or distressed look with the item of furniture you plan on painting, as all it takes is the lightest of sanding, and you can completely change the outward appearance of the paint.

But as it’s quite thin as paint, you may want to give the finished look some protection once you are happy with the painting part. That involves adding either some oil or wax to the wood furniture, and that should be enough to give it some protection from knocks and scratches. However, as you probably want a more distressed look, the occasional knock or scratch is hardly a bad thing.

Overall though, I think milk paint is an interesting option, and it’s one I’ve personally used in the past. However, I get that it does fall into the bracket of being something you would experiment with at first. 


  • Milk paint is very easy to use, when you practice with it
  • It creates a wonderful distressed or aged look
  • It does dry very quickly, so work fast to get the best results
  • It doesn’t give off any fumes and is non-toxic, which is great for small spaces
  • You can easily add it to any wood surface, and do so with ease


  • You do need to protect it once finished painting, or it will simply damage
  • If you are looking for a thick layer of paint, it’s tough with milk paint

Type 4: Oil Paint

If you prefer to use paint that comes with a high durability factor, then an oil-based paint is one you need to check out. However, you should know that these paints come with a higher VOC rating, so expect a whole lot of fumes to be flying around. Using it in a well-ventilated area is an absolute necessity.

Also, it may even be the case that you cannot get your hands on oil paint where you live. That’s because some areas have banned certain types of it because of its toxicity. Honestly, I can understand why that happens. I’ve used some in the past and the smell from it is overpowering, and that stuff cannot be good for you.

But even though I just said that, I still wouldn’t completely rule it out in some instances. It’s all a case of being in an area where you have a huge amount of ventilation. 

Yet even with that in mind, this paint does work well on wood furniture. It bonds to it with ease, and you can get a good-looking finish to the piece. It’s perfect if you want something that is not going to scratch or peel off with ease. That’s because it has no problem in adhering to almost any surface, and you won’t be required to paint on numerous layers to get a consistent looking end result. Also, you can easily apply it with a roller.

I think that oil paint also works well when you are trying to paint over a surface that already has some sort of coating on it. If the wood furniture has previously been painted in the past with something that could have been oil paint, then a water-based paint would simply not stick. That’s not a problem with oil paint.

But there are, of course, also problems with oil paint, and one of the first issues has to be the drying time between coats.

Some oil paints take up to 24 hours between coats. Thanks to that, you will not be able to rush through this task. Forward planning is key here, and even though it takes up to 24 hours, that’s not even the paint being fully cured. That will take days to happen. 

But if that doesn’t concern you, and you find that water-based paint is just not working for you, then oil paint could very well be the answer.


  • It will adhere to pretty much anything with ease, and often needs just one coat
  • It gives a very even finish to the surface, as long as you use a good brush
  • It is highly durable and will last a long time


  • It does have a high VOC rating, so fumes are an issue
  • You may struggle to get your hands on some
  • It takes a long time to dry between coats

Type 5: Acrylic Paint

acrylic paint for furniture

The final type of paint I would recommend is acrylic paint, and this is another largely water-based option. Also, it’s pretty close to latex paint in its appearance and how it works. 

I do love acrylic paint as I find it is easier to achieve a smoother finish, and there are undoubtedly times when that’s the kind of look you should be aiming for. However, you will often find that it can be tough to get your hands on some, and it’s hardly ever available in larger tins. 

For that reason, I would suggest using acrylic paint on smaller projects. It just makes sense from a cost perspective and the way you purchase the paint. 

But I have a tip should you wish to go ahead and use acrylic paint: use a primer. It just helps it to stick to the surface more evenly, and it results in a better finish. 

Acrylic paint doesn’t even take that long to dry between coats, so the opportunity to add several layers to build up the effect you are going for is always possible. Also, I find that acrylic paint does not chip or crack as easily as other water-based paints. I’m not saying that it’s the same as oil paint because it’s really not, but it can withstand a bit more punishment without starting to look a bit past its best.

Overall, I feel that acrylic paint is a great option to consider, even though it can leave a bit of a dent in your pocket.


  • You can get a smooth finish with this paint with some ease
  • It adheres well to surfaces, but best to still use a primer
  • It dries quickly between coats, so layering is not an issue
  • It’s pretty resistant to chips, but only up to a certain point


  • You can only really get it in small tins
  • Even though it dries fast, the curing time is long

Which Option is Best?

best paints for painting wood furniture

Those are my five options when it comes to paint you can use on wood furniture, but which one do I think is best? Honestly, it all depends on what you want the end result to be, as the different paints can produce different looks.

If you want something durable, then oil paint is best. If you want something that’s more shabby chic, or distressed, then either chalk paint or milk paint works well. If you want a more shiny or gloss look, then latex paint works well.

Also, it depends on how much effort you want to put into painting your wood furniture in the first place. Oil paint can be pretty much thrown on, and it will stick there, but other types of paint will often require sanding or priming of the surface before the new paint can bond.

As long as you know your project’s intended outcome, there will be a type of paint out there for you.

But here is something else to consider: I want you to experiment.

I do love to experiment with things when it comes to woodworking. I enjoy that part where you are just never sure as to how something will turn out. Sometimes it’s not as good as you had hoped, but with adequate planning it should very rarely turn out to be a nightmare for you.

Of course, that’s no guarantee, but it’s certainly something to think about doing even in a small way. 

Ultimately, I just feel having a clear idea of what you want to have as your end result will make a difference in selecting the best paint for the job. But don’t forget about those fumes. You certainly don’t want to use paint with high VOC if working in an area with poor ventilation. It’s just not good for your health.

Overall Conclusion

Painting wood furniture is easy to do, and the ability to completely change the appearance of a piece of wood with just a coat of paint is amazing. You have a wide range of both looks and colors to choose from, and I don’t see this as being a difficult project to work on either. 

But even though this is a simple project to work on, I still think you need to check out these additional articles before you go ahead and get started.

Photo of author

Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.