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How to Paint IKEA Laminate Furniture

The complete guide for how to paint IKEA Laminate Furniture! Tested different primers, paints, and whether to sand or not for proven results!

how to paint IKEA laminate furniture

Who doesn’t love a budget-friendly furniture makeover? If you have ever wondered about painting IKEA or laminate furniture and weren’t sure what paint to use or if it was even gonna stand up at all this is the post for you because we tested everything to get the most accurate information on How to Paint IKEA laminate furniture!

This started because I wanted to paint an IKEA furniture piece and my husband was not convinced that this DIY project was going to stand up and last the test of time. To convince him, I decided to do a little experiment and test the different painting options. Whether you are painting an IKEA billy bookcases, a malm dresser, or a kallax shelf, these results will show you how to get the best results when painting IKEA hacks!

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The IKEA Painting Experiment

What did we test?

There were four things that I wanted to test on a laminate surface like those of IKEA furniture pieces:

  1. How much do we have to sand?
  2. Do we have to primer?
  3. Which primer works best?
  4. Is cabinet paint worth the extra money?
how to test primer and paint on laminate furniture

With these questions, I grabbed some laminate drawer fronts from an old piece of furniture, and tested everything. We split the boards into four sections to test all of the most popular primers. The tests compared:

  1. No primer
  2. Zinsser BullsEye 1-2-3 Water-Based Primer – a commonly used primer that we really like for interior walls, etc.
  3. Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer – an commonly recommended primer
  4. Sherwin Williams Extreme Bond Primer – our personal favourite (we used it on the exterior windows of our home!)

Next we gave them the appropriate drying time, and taped off the next sections. Within each taped off primer section, we tested the following:

  1. No sanding with latex paint
  2. No sanding with cabinet paint
  3. Sanding once before primer and latex paint
  4. Sanding once before primer and cabinet paint
  5. Sanding twice (between primer and paint) with latex paint
  6. Sanding twice (between primer and paint) with cabinet paint

My assumption going into this was that the “no primer” option would not work well, and that the BIN Shellac and Extreme Bond options would work best when painting laminate furniture, but I was curious to see the results.

testing paint and primer on IKEA furniture

How we did our paint and primer test

Once all of the coatings were applied, with a brush and a foam roller, we let them sit for over a month to give everything enough time to cure properly. Then I grabbed a few different scrapping tools and tested out the pieces.

This scratch test started with just a swipe of my finger nails, then progressively moved to more aggressive tools, and more pressure on my part to see where it required more effort to scratch.

A more accurate test would’ve been to test all of the paints blindly to eliminate any bias, but I’m not a scientist, lol. I think bias would’ve been minimal since my only real goal was to convince my husband that it’s ok paint IKEA furniture and to find the best option!

As for as paints go, I chose to just test the ones I would typically use and not every kind of paint out there. I chose not to test paints like chalk paint and milk paint because they are not known for their durability, and they also do not give a final look that I’m typically looking for on furniture. I typically would not use spray paint for big furniture projects because it’s cost prohibitive, and the aerosol cans have a negative environmental impact.

testing paint and primer on IKEA furniture

Do you have to use primer before painting IKEA furniture?

The results here were a resounding yes.

Without primer, my finger nails were able to scratch the IKEA pieces without much pressure at all. The spaces without primer preformed worse during my experiment every single time.

I wanted to do this test partially because I was seeing tutorials online where people painted without sanding, and I just couldn’t believe that the paint was going to stand up over time. I’m happy to finally have an answer to that question!

Do we have to sand before painting IKEA furniture?

I experimented with different levels of sanding including no sanding at all, sanding before the primer, sanding between primer and paint.

I came to two conclusions based on the experiment. The first, that you definitely need to sand in order to get good adhesion. Second, that you don’t need to sand between the primer and paint, because in our opinion, the results were no different.

My husband is a firm believer that more sanding is better, and although I’m sure it does help with adhesion, overall my ability to scratch and mark up the drawer fronts really showed no difference between the first and second sands and likely won’t make a huge difference on your piece of IKEA furniture.

However, there is a significant difference between no sanding and sanding once, because you’re adding texture and scratches to help the paint to bond to the newly rough surface.

Make sure after you sand your IKEA piece that everything is wiped down with soap and water and a damp cloth, or with a tack cloth, to remove any dust and debris after sanding. Any leftover dust could affect how the primer or paint adheres to your piece.

What about Paint & Primer in One? Can I use that instead of Primer?

No. Primer and top coat are totally different, as are primer and paint & primer in one options. Big box stores often promote paint and primer in one as a faster option, but it’s not the way to go.

Any time that you are painting raw, unfinished materials (like wood, or drywall) and any glossy or greasy materials that may be more difficult for the paint to adhere to you need to use a primer and then a paint. Paint and primer in one is really meant for painting over previously prepared and painted surfaces, not surfaces that are being painted for the first time.

Regular latex paint vs. Cabinet Paint

The next thing we tested was whether or not the specifically formulated cabinet paint was really worth the extra cost. We compared your everyday latex paint to cabinet paint over each of the primers.

From the look of the surfaces after our scratch tests, the cabinet paint performed better than the latex paint every time with every primer. Because of this, I would definitely suggest using cabinet paint, when budgets allow. If you’re going to be painting IKEA furniture or laminate furniture. It will stand up better over time to any wear and tear.

When it comes to the paint finish, we did our cabinets with the satin finish in the Benjamin Moore line, because we wanted a little gloss to them to match the tops were were planning to DIY, but my personal favourite finish is the matte finish in the regal select line. Just be careful if you choose a matte finish, because it does show imperfections more than a glossy finish – so sand and smooth our your piece well.

What is the best primer for painting IKEA or laminate furniture?

The big question is, which primer worked the best?

Based on this test, the extreme bond worked the best for priming our IKEA piece. Next, the bullseye and the bin shellac preformed similarly.

All three primers passed the finger nail scratch test fairly easily, and for all three primers I had to push harder to get scrapes on any of them. However, when I did try to scrape the surfaces, the extreme bond was hardest to scratch and held up the best, making it a great option for these furniture makeovers.

The issue with the shellac-based primer is that you cannot put it a paint sprayer. We actually sacrificed one of our paint sprayers by testing the shellac paint in it, but since we were unable to clean it properly, we ended up throwing the sprayer away. Since we use our paint sprayer for everything, including primer, paint, stain, and top coat, not being able to use the paint sprayer is a deal-breaker for us.

Do you need a top coat when painting IKEA furniture?

You do not always need a top coat on your IKEA makeovers, but occasionally, if you are painting something that will need a highly durable surface, waxing the surface or adding a top coat is a good idea. We would add a top coat to a desk or a table, for example.

If you’re curious about which top coats to use, we shared our favourite top coats in our post on how to refinish furniture for beginners.

If you are painting something that won’t get a lot of surface wear, or that will have a new top, then you you can skip this step. For example, our Malm IKEA hack below did not need a top coat because we added a wood top.

can you paint IKEA laminate furniture

Conclusions on How to Paint IKEA and Laminate Furniture

Based on our experiment, the best way overall to paint your IKEA or laminate furniture is:

  • Prime your piece
  • Sand before you prime and paint
  • Use cabinet paint, when budgets allow
  • Use the Extreme Bond primer to prime your piece, especially if using a paint sprayer

The best thing about IKEA furniture, is how affordable it is, and how easy it is to transform into something new and beautiful! These simple tips should give you the tools you need for an amazing makeover!

How do you paint IKEA wood furniture?

Since we are talking about painting IKEA furniture, I thought we should take a minute to address some questions about painting wood furniture too.

IKEA wooden furniture is largely made of raw soft woods, like pine. If you are deciding to paint bare wood, you should seal all knots by priming them with a thin layer of shellac based primer to prevent any bleed through so that you don’t end up seeing dark spots around every knot after painting.

The BIN shellac based primer we tested above would be perfect for sealing these wood knots and sap streaks! Since the shellac primer is so expensive, I would suggest spot-priming the knots of the wood piece. You can prime the rest of the piece with any of the three primers tested above. This should prevent any bleed through from the knots.

what primer to use on IKEA furniture

Our IKEA Malm Hack

If you want to see all of these laminate furniture painting suggestions in action, we did an amazing IKEA Malm hack in our reading nook after we were done all of our testing (and I had convinced my husband painted furniture would last!).

We modified the Malm dressers with MDF panels so that they would fit perfectly into the space. Then, as we suggested in the earlier experiment, our first step was to give everything a quick sand before applying our first coat of primer.

We used 220 fine grit sandpaper for this on our electric sander. You want to sand just enough to create a rough surface so that the primer can adhere to it.

how to paint IKEA furniture

We primed the dressers with Extreme Bond Primer, and did a scratch test. Everything had adhered really nicely, so there was no need to apply a second coat of primer. Multiple coats of primer are not as important as multiple coats of paint.

For the next step, we added our first coat of paint. We painted the entire piece with black cabinet paint from Benjamin Moore, in the colour Onyx.

If you have one, use a paint spray gun for this because it’s fast and efficient and results in a smooth finish. If you don’t have one, grab your paint tray, brush and foam roller. I highly suggest finishing every stroke with a foam roller so that you don’t see brush strokes on the finished piece.

We didn’t paint the interior drawer pieces that were made of particle board. I think leaving those the original colour usually makes sense for most of these furniture makeovers.

Since we were adding a custom solid wood top to our cabinets, there was no need to do the extra step of adding a top coat or wax.

Our finished IKEA Hack Cabinet

We absolutely love the new look of our cabinets. They look amazing and the paint has held up so well. This IKEA hack made such a huge difference, I genuinely do not think you would know that these were IKEA cabinets originally.

How to paint IKEA furniture
painted IKEA cabinets
how to make IKEA cabinets look built-in

How to Paint IKEA Laminate Furniture Video

If you’re more of a visual learner, you can watch us tackle this whole experiment on our YouTube channel, Lindi & Russ. We also share our entire IKEA Malm hack, so you can see how we created that gorgeous texture and refinished the wood top!

If you’re interested in furniture flips, you may be interested in our EASY step-by-step guide to refinishing furniture too!

how to flip furniture for beginners

Katie Farruggia

Tuesday 22nd of August 2023

Love this post! So helpful! What do you mean by cabinet paint. Like what brand specifically did you use?


Wednesday 13th of September 2023

We used Benjamin Moore's cabinet paint line! Highly recommend!