How to paint IKEA furniture

We all have IKEA pieces in our home.
But we don’t always want them to look like IKEA.

Creating unique and personal solutions is my favourite thing to do so it’s no surprise that 90% of my home is from IKEA.
But you’d never be able to tell because almost every piece is customised and personalised somehow.

One of the easiest ways to do that is painting – if you’re doing it right.
So let’s have a look at what that means and how to do it!

What you’ll find here

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How to paint IKEA furniture.

Hi, I’m Nadine

Interior design expert, globetrotter and the creative mind behind this blog and NH.DESIGN.

I’m originally from Germany but have been living abroad for over 10 years, from Canada and the UK to Sweden.

So I ask myself the question what “home” means every day.
I have made it my mission to help as many people as possible to find their own answer to this.

Join my creative world on Instagram @nhdotdesign or find out more about me

What kind of IKEA furniture do you have? Let's find out...

There are different kinds of furniture materials and the tools you need and steps you need to take depend on which material it is.

Wooden IKEA furniture

IKEA produces furniture from a  variety of wood – pine, birch, beech, acacia, bamboo…just to name a few. Lucky for you, if the wood is (almost) untreated, like IKEA’s beloved IVAR storage range, painting it is quite simple.

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Pro tip:

A lot of the furniture from IKEA is wood veneer, or wood effect. It will say so on the website or the price tag in the store. For that kind of furniture you need to head over to the next section.

The good thing with natural wood furniture is that you don’t even have to paint it, you can simply stain it with wood stain or oil. That way you get a slightly see-through look, leaving most or all of the wood grain visible.

Veneered furniture from IKEA

Some of IKEA’s most popular furniture pieces are some type of veneer.
The MALM chest of drawers, almost all kitchen fronts (and all kitchen cabinets), most storage solutions including PAX, KALLAX and BESTA, are made from particle board and wood effect veneer or solid coloured veneer. 

That’s not a bad thing, it’s just one way of how IKEA manages to keep their prices low and bring their beautiful home furnishings to many people around the world. Oh, and did you know it’s more sustainable, too? Because the pressed wood from particle boards is recycled from scraps? But more about that some other time.

A veneer is basically a plastic-y surface glued onto the pressed particle board, creating a smooth surface. Veneer comes in all kinds of colours and patterns, even wood effects.
Obviously this type of material requires a different approach to painting (read all the details in the next section).

From Bland to Bold - 5 easy ways to customize your IKEA furniture


From Bland to Bold

Transform your IKEA furniture into one-of-a-kind pieces without breaking the bank, and add your own personal touch to create a unique home you love.

    Use the right tools to paint your IKEA furniture

    Different materials and surfaces require different types of paint, stains or tools.
    Luckily most of the tools for painting IKEA furniture are the same no matter what material it is.

    The basic tools you need to paint your IKEA furniture are sandpaper, a spray gun or small paint roller (I’d recommend the spray gun for a more even finish) and your primer, paint and top coat (optional).

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    Pro tip:

    You can buy all the tools to paint IKEA furniture at any regular hardware store, nothing fancy needed.

    I’ve created this shopping list for you with all the tools you need to paint IKEA furniture.
    Save it on your Pinterest for your next DIY project!

    The right paint for IKEA furniture

    If you’re wondering what kind of primer, paint or top coat you need to paint your IKEA furniture, don’t worry, it’s all right here.


    Before you can paint your IKEA furniture it’s a good idea to prime it. 
    Primer is a type of underlayer before the paint goes on. Different primers have different purposes, some seal the surface so it doesn’t absorb the moisture in paint or wallpaper adhesive, some primers just provide a “rougher” surface for the paint to stick to. That’s especially important if you have veneer furniture, not (untreated) wood.
    The best primer to paint IKEA furniture is Zinsser BIN Shellac-Based Primer, or any other shellac-based primer for laminated surfaces.

    This is super important, so if you’re in doubt (or can’t get this specific primer in your hardware store, ask a professional about a shellac-based primer for laminated surfaces).


    The colour of the paint is up to you, but the type of paint is not (at least not if you want the best possible outcome). I would recommend a gloss or eggshell sheen because those have a much stronger finish, meaning the paint won’t chip or scratch that easily. If you’re thinking now that you want a matt finish for your IKEA furniture, don’t worry, you can achieve that with your top coat at the end.

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    Pro tip:

    Follow the instructions on your paint can to the letter! Especially when it comes to drying times between coats, because that can (and will) make or break your whole project.

    When you’re painting your IKEA furniture I would also strongly recommend buying a spray gun instead of using a roller. They’re a lot more affordable these days than you think, and if you’re planning to up-cycle IKEA furniture more often it’s definitely a good investment. The paint goes on a lot more evenly and you won’t have to apply as many coats as you might have to with a regular roller.

    Top coat

    The top coat is especially important if you haven’t used gloss or eggshell paint. It seals the surface and makes it more durable. Go for a water-based poly-sealant, like Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish. Again, if you can’t get this specific one in your hardware store, ask for another water-based poly-sealant. It sounds super fancy and intimidating but basically just means that it’s usable for all kinds of surfaces (that’s the poly part). The water-based part is important because there are oil-based top coats as well but they tend to yellow over time.

    Free resource - NCS paint colour codes for METOD and ENHET kitchen cabinets from IKEA


    The Perfect Match

    Seamlessly match your bespoke IKEA METOD and ENHET solutions with the perfect paint colours from the NCS colour system. 

      Step-by step guide to paint IKEA furniture

      First things first, you have to decide whether you want to paint your IKEA furniture assembled or not. If you’re buying a new piece, paint it before you put it together. It’s a lot easier, but a little more time consuming. BUT the end result will be so much better, trust me!
      If you decide not to take your IKEA furniture apart that’s fine, too, I’ve done it before. It just means you might have a more difficult time getting into all the corners, and of course you’ll only be able to reach the exposed surfaces.

      So once you decide whether you want to paint your IKEA furniture assembled or not, follow these steps.

      1. Clean the furniture with a damp cloth, no soap.
        Make sure it’s dust and dirt free.

      2. Sand lightly with fine P120 sandpaper.
        This is to just roughen up the smooth veneer surface a tiny bit so the primer sticks better. It also helps getting rid of small bumps and imperfections.

      3. Remove dust with a damp cloth.
        All the fine dust from sanding the furniture needs to go otherwise it mixes with the primer and messes up its purpose.

      4. Apply primer with a small roller, not a brush.
        Evenly apply the primer on all surfaces of your IKEA furniture. Using a roller will spread the primer more evenly and you won’t see brush strokes.

      5. Sand very lightly again with medium P80 sandpaper.
        Be careful not to remove any primer, this sanding step is just to create another rougher surface for the next coat to stick even better.

      6. Remove dust with a damp cloth.

      7. Paint using a spray gun or small roller – 1st coat.
        I highly recommend using a spray gun because the paint will be much more even (and the end result will look more professional). When you use a spray gun make sure to wear a mask and cover surrounding walls and floors with paper or plastic sheets to protect everything and everyone from the fine paint mist.

      8. Lightly sand with fine P120 sandpaper.

      9. Remove dust with a damp cloth.

      10. Repeat painting and sanding until you reached desired look and finish. Don’t forget to remove the dust after sanding with a damp cloth.

      11. Let paint dry completely (also called “curing”). This can take a couple of days.
        This step is VERY important. A lot of people underestimate how long it takes for paint to dry because there are actually 2 different types of “drying”. One is in between coats of paint, which is what you’ll find in the instructions on the paint can. The other drying process is called “curing” and is for the paint to dry completely, which can take a few days. So don’t rush this step, otherwise the paint will chip and scratch easier.

      12. Apply top coat (1st coat).
        The top coat is optional but I highly recommend it, especially if you haven’t used gloss or eggshell paint. It protects your IKEA furniture even more from everyday wear and tear.

      13. Sand lightly with very fine P220+ sandpaper.
        In between top coats, sand lightly with very fine sandpaper.

      14. Remove dust with a damp cloth.

      15. Apply top coat (2nd coat).

      16. Sand lightly with very fine P220+ sandpaper.

      17. Remove dust with a damp cloth.

      Congratulations, you’ve just painted your IKEA furniture! And this is just the beginning,
      there are so many more exciting ways to personalise and customise your favourite IKEA pieces.

      Also read my post about how to customize your IKEA kitchen!

      Ready for a space that feels like home?

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