What Paint Is Best for Furniture?

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There are a number of paints that can be successfully used on most furniture, including enamel, oil-based, gloss and semigloss latex, durable acrylic and melamine. You also may need to consider paint overlays or finishes, including lacquer, varnish, shellac and polyurethane.

Choosing the best type of paint to use on furniture can vary widely, depending on the type of furniture you wish to paint and what uses you want the furniture to serve.

Initial Considerations

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Wood, plastic, metal and other types of furniture often require different types of paint. Furniture for a child or an infant will require specialised paint. Another consideration is the type of finish you want on the furniture, whether glossy or textured.

You also will need to figure in how you will apply the paint. While brushes are usually preferred when applying paint to most furniture, spray-on acrylic paint may be faster and better for some types of furniture.

Indoor Wood Furniture

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According to BobVila.com, an oil-based paint is best for most indoor wood furniture surfaces because it lasts longer and is better absorbed into the grain of the wood.

Melamine, an oil-based paint used to paint wood kitchen and bathroom cabinets, is also an excellent choice for indoor wood furniture. Melamine paint contains urethane, which adds to its overall durability, according to Home-Improvement-and-Financing.com.

Outdoor Wood Furniture

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Outdoor wood furniture, such as an Adirondack chair or a picnic table, should be painted with latex paint, according to Do-it-Yourself.com. Latex paint does not fade outdoors as quickly as oil-based paint and is more rain and weather-resistant. Also, most brands of latex paint that are marked “for outdoor use” contain mildew-resistant additives that help inhibit the growth of mildew in wood.

Metal and Iron Furniture

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Both latex and oil-based paints can be used on metal furnishings, though latex is more versatile, according to BobVila.com. Oil-based paints should definitely not be used to paint galvanised iron furniture, however--especially the type of wrought iron chairs and tables often used in lawn or porch furnishings.

According to Bob Vila.com, a water-based latex paint or an acrylic spray-on are best, because oil-based paint will quickly chip or peel right off the galvanised iron.

Plastic Furniture

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For plastic furniture, particularly when it's used outdoors, use spray-on acrylic paint, recommends Good Housekeeping. A gloss finish is appropriate for most plastic furniture, though spray-ons that provide a “textured finish” may work if you want to camouflage or hide imperfections, such as dents, scratches and general wear and tear, according to Good Housekeeping.

Children's Furniture

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According to Do-it-Yourself.com, the best type of paint for infant or children's furniture is nontoxic gloss or semigloss latex. You do not want to use an oil-based paint on this type of furniture because children will be in contact with it. Once dried, all varieties of gloss and semigloss latex on the market are considered nontoxic.

You also may want to make sure that the type of paint you use is labelled "washable" so you can clean and maintain children's furniture.

Cleaning and Priming

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No matter what type of paint you select, you should always first clean and prime before you paint. Do-it-Yourself.com recommends washing furniture with a mild detergent, using a scrub pad, for anything other than wicker furniture. Once the furniture is clean, prime using an oil-based primer for oil-based paint and a latex primer for latex paint.