The idea of an upcycled piece can be a rewarding and fun project which you see come to life as you make your mark with paint; maybe some stencils; or whatever takes your fancy.

Upcycling is still relatively new, but its popularity has continued to soar as people look for new and interesting ways to give it a second life to unwanted furniture and objects. And MDF furniture is particularly suitable.

It might not seem like you have much choice when it comes to painting MDF furniture because of its unappealing porous surface. However, painting MDF is possible and there are a few steps you can follow to ensure the paint finishes exactly as you want it.

Before we go into how to paint your MDF furniture, let’s first consider whether it is better to refinish or strip the surface of the wood before you start.

Stripping Your Existing Surface

If you decide that stripping and sanding your existing surface will give the best results, then here are some pointers: Sand with an 80-grit sandpaper, applying even pressure across your work piece, following its grain pattern Repeat this step with a 100-grit paper until all scratches from the previous step have disappeared Follow up with a 220-grit sandpaper on both sides of your MDF to provide an even smoother surface

While it might seem like a lot of additional work, the effort will be worth it because your finished paint job will last longer.

Refinishing Your Existing Surface

If you decide that stripping is too much hard work, then refinishing your existing surface should produce good results for you as well. It’s definitely an easier option! You can use water-based or oil-based primer before applying your first finish coat,

Once you have cleaned any dust off your piece with soapy water and left it to dry overnight, you are ready to begin painting.

All MDF furniture is likely to be very absorbent as a result of its porous surface, so applying three coats will give your piece the best protection and appearance. After each coat has dried thoroughly – roughly 24 hours – sand back any rough areas with a fine grit sandpaper and move on to the next coat until all three have been applied and left to dry overnight.

How To Paint MDF Furniture With Water-Based Paints

You can save yourself some time by using water-based paint instead of oil based because it won’t need such thorough drying between coats. It’s also safer for use in homes where there are children or pets who might knock over open tins. Water-based paints are easier to clean up, so you can use less time cleaning brushes and rollers after you have finished painting.

Applying the first two coats is pretty much the same as with oil-based paint – sand back any rough areas with a fine grit sandpaper, leave to dry, then apply your second coat of paint until it has dried thoroughly. Apply your third and final coat once that too has dried thoroughly (24 hours).

How To Paint MDF Furniture With Spray Paints

If you want the quickest possible way of finishing your project, spray paints are what you should look for. Bear in mind though; unless you invest in high quality paint guns and compressor systems, it’s unlikely that you will get very good results. Due to the porous surface of MDF, spray paint is likely to look rough and blotchy unless you do some careful masking in advance.

Difficult Areas To Paint

As mentioned previously, painting MDF furniture is difficult simply because it absorbs excess paint in a matter of minutes. If you want to avoid any running or pooling in certain areas, use an old piece of card as a shield right from the start.

Better still; if you can bear to wait for a couple of days until your project has thoroughly dried out (oil based paints take longer), then it might be easier to sand off any raised grain first with a fine grit sandpaper. Any remaining stains will need a lot more sanding though, so it’s not really an ideal solution.

How to paint MDF furniture without sand papering first

If you have already stripped your existing finish or are planning to apply a water-based or oil based paint over the top of any existing stains, there is no need to sand your MDF before applying primer and undercoat. Primer binds better with wood than paint does anyway, so by skipping the sanding step you are just saving yourself some time.

Apply 2 coats of primer if you are planning on painting your new surface with water-based paints – 3 coats for oil-based paints – leaving each coat overnight to dry thoroughly before moving on.

Sand back rough areas between coats with fine grit sandpaper (220) and leave to dry again before applying the next coat once you are finished.

How To Paint MDF Furniture With Stains

Another option is to use wood stains rather than paint – although this will take much more time to achieve a uniform appearance across your project.

Generally speaking, it’s only really worth staining unfinished MDF if you are planning on covering it with wallpaper or fabric because otherwise, the stain will be very obvious through any layers applied over the top.

If this is your plan; firstly prepare your piece by checking for any rough areas that need sanding (220 grit), then apply either sealer (clear varnish) or primer (tinted) depending which type of stain you choose.

Avoid applying any stains on a dry piece of MDF as the grain will tend to mark the surface rather than absorb it meaning that your final finish will be blotchy. Instead; dampen your piece thoroughly with clean water, either wipe down or leave overnight (or both), then follow this stage by wiping down again to remove any excess moisture.

Apply stain directly from bottled or tinned wood stain using a paintbrush – for more detailed work you can use an old toothbrush instead. Make sure that you apply it thoroughly and evenly right across your entire project; if you miss any areas you won’t achieve a uniform appearance even if the rest of your project looks ok by itself. Once finished; allow at least 24hours for the stain to dry before applying your final coat of sealer or primer.

How To Paint MDF Furniture With Varnish

Of all the painting options available; varnishing will produce the best long-term results with MDF furniture – it is also likely to be the most expensive and time consuming process too.

A word of warning: you should always avoid using water based (acrylic) varnishes on MDF as this may cause cracks and peeling later down the line; gloss or semi-gloss oil based varnishes are a much better choice. Make sure that you sand down any raised grain first (220 grit) before applying 2 coats of primer (3 coats if you plan on staining afterwards).

Before applying your first coat of varnish; make sure that you dampen the surface as described earlier (water or wipe down) to help even out any variations in absorption. When finished; leave between 4 and 8 hours before applying a second coat just like you did with the primer – allow another 48 hours for it to dry thoroughly before using.

If your MDF furniture is too large to work on comfortably, break it down into smaller sections by removing drawers and doors etc. Next up; remove loose paint flakes from the surface by vacuum cleaning or rubbing over with a wire brush – you can also use an old toothbrush for this job if necessary.

If your MDF furniture is going to be painted a slightly different shade – for example, gold onto black, you should apply a base coat of the darker colour first before beginning. All you need to do now is follow the usual painting process explained above by applying 2 coats of primer and allowing about 48 hours to dry between each step. How To Paint MDF Using Spray Painting

Working in a well ventilated area; make sure that you wear your mask and goggles before starting this stage – it’s important to do it properly! Apply several thin layers of spray paint instead of one or two thick ones; allowing between 10 minutes drying time in-between coats. Once finished; leave overnight (best) or at least 6 hours before removing tape/masking off your MDF furniture.


MDF can be finished in a number of different ways to best suit your final project. If you want a painted look for wood effect furniture; it’s as easy as applying 2 coats of primer and one clear coat over the top – just like you would with traditional wooden surfaces.

Wooden effect wall tiles are also available that can be applied using glue or double-sided tape, however, if you’re looking to achieve more of an authentic ‘stained’ finish then direct application on the surface is probably going to give the best results instead.

Alternatively, consider painting first and re-staining afterwards. If you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort; varnishing MDF furniture can produce amazing quality results, however, it’s certainly not something that should be taken lightly. Do your research before starting any project – it will save you hours of wasted work later on.

I hope these tips have proved useful for upcycling furniture made from MDF. Thanks for reading!


Write A Comment

Pin It