Spray-painting furniture — instead of going the traditional paintbrush route — isn't as weird as it sounds, especially when you want to save time on an upcoming project. Spray-painting gets the job done really fast, often in under 10 minutes. And compared to regular paint, it dries quickly, and you won't be dealing with any telltale brushstroke marks.
Once you master the art of spray-painting, you can flip any object, and you can do so without breaking the bank. Thrift stores and garage sales are overflowing with well-made furniture with great lines that just needs a little TLC. In addition, some of your own older pieces can become favorites with a new coat of color. A can of paint and a paintbrush may seem like the way to go, but you'll end up with brushstrokes and likely be stuck doing multiple coats. Don't let spray paint intimidate you — it's easier to get a smooth finish than you think.
Step 1: Shop
Stock up on all the supplies you need to ensure you can complete your job quickly without another trip to the store. You'll need a mask, sandpaper, primer, spray paint and a sealer, depending on the project. Don't be tempted to buy the cheap or generic brands of paint. Brand names like Krylon or Rust-Oleum may cost a buck or two more but it will be worth it in the end.
Much like other paint, spray paint has several different finish options, from flat to high gloss. Be sure to select the finish to fit your needs; for furniture, the higher the gloss, the easier it will be to clean. If it is a high-use piece, avoid flat paint — satin or gloss finishes work best for most projects. If you have a large project on your hands, do yourself a favor and invest in a spray paint handle — it can save your finger from aches and pains and make for a quicker job. They're only a few bucks at most hardware stores.
Step 2: Clean and prep
Be sure your furniture piece is clean and free of loose pieces or cracks. Tighten any loose screws and fix any structural issues so the piece is sturdy. For best results, sanding your furniture first is essential. Depending on the finish, you'll likely need a medium- to high-grit sandpaper. Sand the piece thoroughly, paying specific attention to any inconsistencies in the original finish or any rough areas. Always sand in the direction of the wood grain. If you're painting over a piece of furniture with a smooth glossy finish — like most pieces made of particle board or MDF — you'll need to get that finish off as best as you can. Once it is sanded, wipe it down with a damp cloth to remove all the dust from the piece.
Step 3: Find a space
You should only spray-paint in a well-ventilated area and always wear a mask. Ideally you will be outdoors, so pick a day when the weather is neither too cold nor too hot, as that may affect dry times and create a bubbly finish. In addition, avoid painting on a windy day. Not only will a lot of your paint blow off into the breeze, but you risk having particles of dust blow onto your wet project. Be sure to cover any surfaces that you don't want to get paint on, even if you don't think you're close enough for it to matter. Spray paint can travel.
Next Up: Step 4: Prime
Step 4: Prime
Other than sanding, priming is the most important part of your project, and it can even help make up for a poor sanding job. It will ensure even coverage and help the paint stick. There are several varieties of spray paint primer available, including some tinted options that are perfect for projects where you're using a dark color like black or red. Using long, even strokes, cover your piece with primer. Don't spray over areas that don't seem to be covered, as it can lead to dripping. Wait until the first coat dries and then add another coat or touch up if necessary.
It's a good idea at this point to do another brief round of sanding to remove any bubbles or inconsistencies that appear during the priming process. Be sure your piece is completely dry before you move on to color.
Step 5: Spray-paint it
Begin painting by using long, even strokes. Don't hold the paint too close to the piece or you may get rings or other marks of built-up paint. Much like the primer, don't try to cover it all with the first coat. A second coat is much better than drips that you'll have to sand off. Pay close attention to corners, arms, legs or ornate details, as that's where you are likely to get drips. It may look stripy initially, but those will be covered as you add more paint.
The best thing about spray paint compared to regular paint is that it takes less than 10 minutes to dry between coats, making for a quick job. Darker colors may require more coats than lighter colors. Let each coat dry completely, then assess if you want to add another.
Step 6: Seal it
Not all projects need to be sealed, but if you're spray-painting a high-use piece of furniture like a dining room table, a coat of polyacrylic will keep your furniture looking nice longer. Other projects may include desktops, armchairs and even coffee tables. Feel free to seal any project — it won't hurt it, it's just one more step.
Some other tips
If you make a mistake or have dripping or bubbling, don't panic; you can correct just about any error with another sanding job. Yes, it does take more time and work, but your piece won't be ruined. If you find your paint isn't sticking even after sanding and priming (this is rare) try another coat of primer and sand afterward before applying paint again. Spray paint doesn't work as well on some materials like plastic and some metals, so read the label carefully to be sure the paint will work for your project.
Originally published March 2012. Updated September 2016.