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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Comments

  1. Bob

    I have a question. Is the recommended primer an oil based product ? If so shouln’t the top coats be oil based as well.?

    1. John

      Zinsser is shellac/solvent based. It can be topcoated with oil or water-based paints after 45 minutes in ideal conditions.

  2. Barbara Jones

    I have painted kallax storage unit grey to match the grey kallax I bought but what colour do I use for the outside edges to match?

  3. Alie

    Hi,
    I just bought an IkEA Liatorp console table which is just what I wanted style-wise except for the white color. Is there any way I can follow your instruction ‘but’ get it to match the rest of the stained furniture already existing in my living room ???

  4. Helen

    Thank you, this is a great help. I’d also like to add a bit of shine to an existing matt Ikea Veddinge door (not painted by me, just as it comes) to make it look more silvery, could I just add a mid sheen varnish layer or would I need to prep somehow? Thank you in advance for any help you can give.

  5. Julie

    So..I have Ickes wardrobe. The doors have wood border down the sides of door with off white doors. I want to white gloss them. So light sanding down,good primer,light sanding down, dry then gloss with sponge roller ..right?? If it goes wrong I will have to get new doors..or leave home coz hubby will kill me lol thankyou for you’re advice on this

  6. Holly

    I have a White Malm Single Bed from Ikea, I’m not sure how I’ll be able to paint it white (it’s black) will it be hard? It probably will be harder to paint than a black dresser but I really want to! I’m not sure if I will consider getting a new one knowing that there might be a possibility of painting it over. Has anyone managed to paint their bed black to white? Does anyone know if it’s possible?

  7. Claire

    This is so helpful – thank you! I would like to turn an Ikea laminate mirror frame into a copper colour. If I follow all the above advice (sanding & primer) can I use Rust-Oleum copper metallic spray paint? Quite difficult to find a metallic paint as good as Rust-Oleum. Thanks again

    1. Homeli Author
      Homeli

      Hi Claire, I haven’t tried it myself but it should work if you prime it correctly, but make sure you give it plenty of time to cure and are careful when hanging the mirror afterwards. I’ve used Rustoleum spray paint on my radiators and if you so much as touched them within the first few days it’d scratch off, but after a month or so it became much stronger

  8. Tiffany

    Is it okay if I use synthetic shellac of the Zinger bin advanced primer. Or should I get the exact one posted above. The only difference is mine is synthetic shellac.

  9. Michelle

    Is eggshell paint different in the UK than North America? I saw you reference in some comments where people asked if they could use regular wall paint, and you recommended eggshell. Eggshell is fairly standard for “wall paint” here, so wondering if there is a more specific finish/paint type I should be looking for? Thanks for any tips you can provide.

    1. Homeli Author
      Homeli

      Perhaps there is a bit of a difference in terms across the pond. We do have eggshell wall paint here but when someone just says eggshell here they’re usually refers to an oil based paint for woodwork as far as I’m aware.

  10. RD

    Can you please advise on where to dry the items – I cannot imagine letting to dry this outdoors due to British weather! I am worried about stinking the whole house if I let this to dry indoors. Do you think it is ok to let it dry in the shed? While the paint is still wet, is there a risk or letting particles stick to the paint?

  11. Moya

    Hi

    Thank you for this. I am wanting to paint an aneboda wardrobe its light wood coloured and wanting to paint it white would the above steps work for this ?

    Please help.

    Thank you Moya :)

  12. Sami

    What steps should I follow if the furniture is not laminated please e.g. Sundvik wardrobe. Do I still need to sand and prime? Many thanks in advance. Regards

  13. Cassie

    Wonderful advice! I’m trying to figure out what I need to do for an ikea bed I bought on craigslist (Gulliver Toddler Bed). It was not painted to begin with (though I’m guessing some kind of sealant) and then the person I bought it from painted it purple. I love the color, thats why I bought it, but I’m finding that as time goes on it keeps chipping and wearing. I don’t really want to strip it all down and repaint it, so any suggestions what I could do for it? She gave me a little paint for touch up, but not much. If I did repaint it, would I need to totally strip it, or just sand on the paint thats already there and use a primer on top of that? I’ve never really painted furniture before. I also have some Sherwin Williams Emerald® Interior Acrylic Latex Paint that I could use, but I’m not sure if that’s just for walls or if it would work. The color would be just a little darker purple then what I already have, so visually I think it might work.

    I really like this piece, but I worry about the paint chips with my toddler….

  14. shlendie

    HI, I was wondering if IKEA furniture coated with reinforced polypropylene could also be refinished? IKEA has a round extendable table but it only comes in black or white :(. In the product desctiption its says that the table top is made of: Particleboard, Beech veneer, Reinforced polypropylene, Stain, Clear acrylic lacquer. Is there anyway I can refinish this to look more natural wood or at least a more espresso colour to match the kitchen?

    Thank you!

  15. Kat

    Hi Homeli,

    Thank you so much for your article, really useful information.

    I’m struggling to get any zinsser primer. Could you give some specifics of what type of primer I would be best to find. E.g. oil or water based.

    Many thanks

  16. Horst Mall

    Hi Homeli,
    I have read your wonderful post with great interest, however, I’m interested in Billy shelves.
    I’m thinking of turning a couple of boring Billies (Birch finish) into a – hopefully – great looking built-in shelf using Farrow & Ball colors. Do you think the process you have described will work here, too?
    Or should I just hang curtains and forget about the whole thing?

    Greetings

    Horst

    1. Homeli Author
      Homeli

      Hi Horst, this should work just fine. Painting IKEA furniture successfully is mainly about the preparation and primer and not the final paint. Good luck with your Billy shelves.

  17. Elise

    I do not know why people create a 5 page article for something so simple that can be explained in maybe 6 steps total. Sand surface, apply primer and lightly sand between coats, paint (roller, spray or brush …there are multiple ways of doing things, this is just preference), apply a sealent of choice (test a patch before applying), done! People do not make it more complicated than it needs to be! There are multiple ways of doing things just choose one. And if you don’t like the color just cover it up or sand it away, not a big deal! I think the more you exaggerate unnecessary details (your furniture is not going to fall apart from one dismantle, i know because i’ve taken my cheap piece apart three times already.), the people will second guess themselves and ask a ton of unneccessary questions (as shown in this comment section). Just go the your home improvement store, buy the supplies, and get the job done. You are not the first and you won’t be the last so i’m certain the paint dept has heard your questions thousands of times, and can suggest or help out with any questions.

    1. Homeli Author
      Homeli

      I don’t know why people write a 199 word comment that could be written in 4 letters. The fact is some people feel uncertain about projects like this and hence they look up detailed articles. Ikea recommend you don’t disassemble and reassemble their furniture so I’m sure some people would want to know if it can be done without having to ruin a piece of furniture first. You might be willing to dive in, mess up and sand back as you said, but some people might decide not to try it all if they don’t feel confident. This article written by one person in an hour or two has been viewed almost 300,000 times, has given people the confidence to try it, and has no doubt saved a lot of paint dept employees a lot of questions and time. Ikea chipboard and melamine furniture isn’t designed to be painted, its not as simple as slapping on some emulsion and hoping it sticks. Not quite sure why you decided to come here yourself if its as simple as you say.

  18. liz

    Hi Sweety
    I read ur article with great interest but am abit stuck.
    I also use primer when painting my splid wood doors. And you can tell the difference primer makes :-)
    I bought the Lack sideboard and Hemnes Day bed a year ago and want to paint them as they have yellowed in colour from White.
    The cabinet and day bed r used regularly couldn’t wait for a week or two to finish the painting job :/
    Any tips u could offer I don’t have the space to dismantle them both and paint individually or drying space :( What should I do? These r used in the kids room where they play chill do homework etc its a busy room with 4 kids 3 whom have Autism aged 12,10,8&6 yrs old :-)
    I’ve got lots of gloss paint with satin finish ceft over from when I was doing the doors could I use that or spray paint after primer and would I need a sealer on top??
    Is undercoat same as primer?? Kindest Regards Liz very busy mummy lol

  19. Nakita

    Hello,

    Great post, thank you for sharing. Question; I purchased two side tables from Ikea. The Nornas collection- the key features says the product is untreated solid pine that can be painted. My question should I follow these exact steps? Please advise..

    Thank you so much!

    1. Homeli Author
      Homeli

      If its unfinished pine then the instructions here will work, but you can just paint it like you would any wood furniture, so the Zinsser Bin primer isn’t strictly necessary and just about any undercoat primer for wood will work.

  20. Shruti Bhatia

    What a fantastic tutorial!!
    I recently bought a Besta tv unit in oak finish, it doesn’t go well with my rustic oak coffee table and other living room furniture. The Besta is of light oak color and the rustic oak gives a honey tinge. Will you please help me understand if I can oil/lacquer the Besta tv unit and get the similar color that of rustic oak.

    Thank you.

    1. Homeli Author
      Homeli

      Hi Shruti, unfortunately I don’t think this will be possible. Painting IKEA furniture is very different to staining, and if the oak finish on Besta is only a laminate image of oak wood (and not a real oak veneer) then a stain just won’t be penetrating the wood. You’re only o