How to Paint Ikea Furniture Including Expedit, Kallax, Lack and Malm

Before and After of Painted Ikea Tarva Chest

Painting Ikea furniture can transform a generic mass-produced product into a personalised item unique to you. A lot of people are keen to customise their Ikea furniture for this reason but many find themselves put off by horror stories of people trying to paint their Ikea furniture and it all peeling off a few days later. It even leaves some wondering ‘can you paint Ikea furniture?’ This guide will explain how to paint your Ikea furniture so that it doesn’t chip and instead becomes a fresh piece of unique furniture with a new lease of life.

Painted Ikea Malm Drawers in a Nursery

Assembled or Disassembled?

Opinions differ as to whether you should paint Ikea furniture while it is assembled or when it is in pieces. Both ways have pros and cons but generally if you’re prepared to put the extra time in for a slightly better finish then you should take your furniture apart and paint the panels separately.

Painting assembled Ikea furniture obviously has the advantage of not having to take apart and put back together your furniture, which can be a time consuming process that could also damage the components if care isn’t taken. It also means that you’ll only be painting the parts of the furniture that will be visible saving you time and paint. The panels are mostly suspended in midair so you can paint both sides at the same time without having to wait for one side to dry before you can flip it, rest it on the ground and paint the other side (which typically causes the painting process to take twice as long).

Priming Ikea Malm Chest of Drawers Furniture for Painting

The obvious downside of painting assembled Ikea furniture is that it can be very awkward to get into all the corners and this can end up giving you an uneven paint finish with brush strokes not all going in the same direction. There’s also the risk of accidentally painting parts of the furniture you didn’t intend to such as handles or if you were trying to paint different panels in different colours.

For these reasons it can be worth taking the Ikea furniture apart and laying the panels out flat to get a smoother finish, but be prepared for far longer drying times. There is also the risk of chipping the paint when it comes to re-assembling the finished piece of furniture if you don’t give the paint enough time to cure fully. Ikea furniture is essentially designed to be disposable and was only really intended to be put together once. As a result taking it apart and reassembling can weaken the integrity of the chipboard, particularly around the screws where over-tightening can cause them to lose grip. We gave some tips in a previous article on moving Ikea furniture which can help you safely disassemble and reassemble it without damaging the furniture.


Preparation and Primers

This guide focuses on painting the cheaper, basic Ikea furniture ranges such as Expedit (Kallax), Lack and Malm. These are all composed of laminated veneer chipboard which is notoriously difficult to work with as paint doesn’t adhere well to the smooth, non-porous melamine surfaces. Preparation is key to any sort of painting and doubly so when it comes to painting Ikea furniture. If you want a smooth finish that won’t chip away, it’s absolutely vital that you key and prime your surfaces prior to applying primer.

If your furniture has a smooth, satiny feel such as the basic white Expedit shelves (soon to be Kallax) or particularly the glossy finishes found on the new Ikea Malm ranges, then it is vitally important that you give the surfaces a light sand to create what is known as a key. P120 grade sandpaper is ideal for this and rubbing it at random in broad curves over the laminate roughens up the surface and gives the paint and primer we’re about to apply something to grab onto.

Zinsser BIN Shellac-Base Primer for Painting Ikea Furniture

Priming is the second vital preparation step and is essential if you don’t want your paint to chip. Primer is a remarkable substance which is intended to stick to any surface, and in turn allow any paint to stick to it. It provides a bridge between furniture surface and paint and ensures good all round adhesion. The best primer to paint Ikea furniture with is undoubtedly Zinsser BIN Shellac-Based Primer which is specially designed for laminate surfaces.

Most primers form a white surface which is great if you’re painting over in a light colour but can require multiple coats of darker coloured paints to get an even finish. It is possible to tint your primer to make it a slightly grey shade which goes a surprisingly long way to make your desired colour easier to achieve with darker paints. I recommend applying primer with a simple mini-roller instead of paintbrushes which can leave brush marks,  nor paint spray guns which aren’t optimised for primer and tend to leave a dusty finish. After you’ve primed your Ikea furniture panels and it has fully dried, be sure to give them a super-light going over with some medium-high grade sandpaper to remove any bumps (but be sure not to sand away too much of the primer!)


Painting Ikea Furniture (finally!)

Once you’ve keyed and primed, it’s finally time to paint Ikea furniture – hooray! If you’ve decided to skip these preparation stages, let me just warn you that you’re making a big mistake and will soon regret it. Seriously.

The colour of the paint is of course up to you but I’d recommend going with gloss or eggshell over standard emulsion for a much tougher finish. Be sure to read the tin to ensure the paint you’ve chosen is compatible with the primer and follow the instructions with regards to drying and re-coat times down to the letter.

Most people recommend using a paint spray gun (which have become more affordable in recent years) for the most even and professional looking finish, but if you don’t have one to hand then a foam mini-roller should suffice. Note that a mini-roller might require a few extra coats to get rid of the unsightly marks and lines they can leave. Generally I’d say to avoid paint brushes at all costs, particularly cheap ones, as you’ll end up applying countless coats of paint to get an even finish (it’s a false economy). Be sure to follow the recommended instructions for drying times between coats of paint or the earlier coats will never fully dry and will eventually come off.

Once you’re satisfied with the finish you’ve achieved, you need to allow the paint to dry fully which is known as curing. This takes far far longer than you might expect and if you’re not living in a warm climate, could take weeks or even months. If you don’t allow your Ikea furniture enough time to cure, you’ll soon know about it. The paint will chip off with the slightest knock and this is particularly noticeable for tables in which the paint will come off on anything you happen to put down on them such as cups. Follow the instructions on the paint tin about drying times in relation to temperature and humidity, and remember it’s best to err on the side of caution if you don’t want all your work to have been in vain.


Polycrylic Topcoat Sealing (optional)

Once you’ve waited for the paint to cure over the course of a few days and are happy with the finish you’ve achieved on your Ikea furniture, it could be a good idea to add a topcoat of sealer, particularly if you haven’t used an eggshell paint. There are a number of different types of poly- sealant, with both oil-based polyurethane and water-based polycrylic varieties. Polyurethane sealants are perhaps better known, but as they are nearly always oil-based they tend to yellow over time. Whereas Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish is water based and so isn’t prone to this yellowing issue, plus it’s also much easier to apply and cleanup.

A coat of transparent satin polycrylic will barely alter the appearance of your paintwork at all (although do a test patch to double check you’re happy with it on your particular piece), and will ensure an even stronger and longer lasting paint finish on your Ikea furniture. I’d typically go for 2-3 coats of polycrylic sealant, and as always give a light sanding between coats with a very high grade sandpaper (220+). Remember to carefully remove the dust from this sanding with a quick wipe down from a damp cloth before applying the next coat as polycrylic is completely transparent and will really show up these specks.


Finishing Up

Good luck and may your furniture end up looking as good as this painted Ikea Tarva Chest (similar to Rast) by Luisa from ‘Why Don’t You Make Me?‘ who used Behr Coral paint mixed with varying quantities of white to create this progressive piece.

Painted Ikea Tarva Chest in Behr Coral Shades

If you found this guide useful, you might also be interested in other articles Homeli has about DIY projects for Ikea furniture. In the past we’ve looked at ways to customise Ikea Expedit shelves(Kallax), how to make your Ikea furniture look vintage, and some ingenious ways to repurpose your furniture known as ‘Ikeahacking.

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