When it comes to affordable, stylish, and versatile furniture, IKEA ticks all of those flat-pack boxes. The Swedish furniture giant has everything you could need to kit out your whole house. But can you paint IKEA furniture?
Made predominantly from MDF, IKEA furniture is incredibly practical. But while it thrives in the practicality department, the untreated wood or plain white furniture often lacks personality. And while some would see that as a negative, those who love an easy DIY project see this instead as a challenge.
In fact, you can’t scroll through social media these days without seeing these IKEA hacks in all of their glory. That’s why we decided to reach out to some of the best in the interior design business to see whether you can actually paint IKEA furniture (spoiler: you can!) and how to paint IKEA furniture to get the best finish that will last.
Can you paint IKEA furniture?
With more and more people looking to save money on their household furniture, IKEA hacks are becoming increasingly common. The brand’s flat-packs can serve as the perfect base for personalisation projects, whether you’re changing the hardware of the kitchen cabinets or completely reworking the structure of a Billy bookcase.
And you’ll be happy to know that you can, in fact, paint IKEA furniture. No matter whether you buy pieces made from bare particle board or you want to upcycle your old laminate pieces, painting is a great option to add your own personal touch to your furniture.
Kate Hewitt, the DIY mastermind behind @our_bears_home, has become somewhat of an IKEA hack master over the years. She loves the affordability of IKEA furniture and how painting it opens up the door for creating ‘high-end looking pieces without breaking the bank.’
‘IKEA hacks allow me to unleash my creativity and think outside the box,’ she says. ‘I can transform basic IKEA furniture into unique and personalised pieces that reflect my style and taste. It's a fun and satisfying way to express my creativity and make something truly one of a kind.’
However, it’s important to realise that the process of painting IKEA furniture exists within a world of its own. And while the best paint for furniture will normally do the job, getting professional results requires very specific step-by-step instructions.
How to paint IKEA Furniture
It's worth remembering when searching for that perfect storage solution, bedside bookcase, or living room lighting that most IKEA pieces can be painted (or spray painted), so don't be put off by their lack of colour. Many wooden pieces in their extensive ranges are intended to be painted and will have a simple, unfinished surface.
But even pieces that are made of metal and plastic can take advantage of a fresh lick of paint, so let your imagination run wild and let colour become a key feature in your home.
What you'll need
- Newspaper, dust sheets or plastic sheeting to protect floors
- Your piece of IKEA furniture, ideally unmade
- A medium coarse sandpaper
- A damp cloth
- Decorator tape (or masking tape)
- A good quality paintbrush and/or roller
- A primer paint
- Your chosen paint colour
1. Protect your surroundings
Whether you are painting your IKEA furniture inside the house or out in the garden, you'll still need to protect the floor and everything around you from wayward flicks of paint. So, pop down some newspaper or a couple of dust sheets and place the furniture on top of it. If you're inside, open a window or two to help with the dust (from sanding) and the smell (from your paint).
2. Prep your furniture
Next up, prep your chosen piece of furniture, ready to be painted. If you haven't yet put your IKEA furniture together, aim to paint your IKEA furniture before you assemble it. Simply lay out each piece on newspaper or a dust sheet, checking and then double checking that you have each piece of furniture the correct way up (as some pieces will have outwards facing surfaces and some will have inwards facing surfaces that won't be seen).
If your IKEA furniture is already assembled, though, try to disassemble it if you can. Removing the doors from your kitchen cabinets or the legs from your coffee table will make the whole painting process much easier. And doing so should be incredibly easy, as IKEA furniture is very simple to assemble in the first place (allegedly).
Of course, we know this isn't always the case, so don’t worry if you can’t disassemble it. Simply cover up any hinges, drawer pulls or other pieces of hardware (or bits you don't want to get paint on) with decorator tape, and if there are any panes of glass, cover and protect these too.
If the IKEA furniture you are painting is made of wood, give the surfaces a light sanding with sandpaper, then wipe away any dust with a damp cloth. Some plastics and metals can be sanded, too, but it's often best to use spray paint to transform these pieces as these generally won't need a sanded surface to adhere to.
3. Apply a primer undercoat
While this is not essential, it's definitely recommended to apply a primer undercoat to your IKEA furniture such as Rust-Oleums surface primer (available on Amazon), as it will give it a more professional finish with a richer colour. But you might be wondering why this step is so important.
Primer is essentially used to ensure that your chosen paint colour will stick to the surface of your furniture. So, while it adds a couple of steps to your upcycled furniture project, it’s worth the extra effort. And some primers can be applied without the need to sand first, so we’d always suggest checking the brand guidelines before you start.
All you need to do is apply it like you would a lick of paint and wait for it to dry. Then, you can give it a light sand and wipe it with a cloth again.
4. Apply your chosen paint
Next, it’s time to apply your paint. If you're painting something like a bookcase, cabinet or wardrobe that has lots of large, flat surfaces, a small roller will be your friend and will give a professional finish. For smaller, more fiddly areas, a good quality paintbrush will allow you to get into every nook and cranny.
If your paint is water-based, opt for a synthetic bristled brush, as natural bristles can sometimes soak up too much of the paint and leave a streaky look.
Apply the paint in long, smooth strokes, catching any drips as you go and, where possible, in the same direction as any wood grains.
Apply at least two coats of your chosen colour, sanding and wiping in between each coat, then once dry, remove any tape to reveal your finished piece.
Can IKEA furniture be painted?
Yes, IKEA furniture can be painted. The Swedish flat-pack furniture brand lends itself extremely well to painting, as many pieces are untreated when they are sold. And while you could paint straight onto IKEA furniture, the proper process is a little more detailed.
To do this, you’ll need to sand down the surfaces - especially if the IKEA furniture is laminated or already painted. When you’ve done this, you can then focus on applying a coat or two of primer before painting in your desired colour.
However, if you’re looking for a way to update your IKEA furniture without painting it, interior and product designer Siobhan Murphy has offered another option.
‘The best way to add a bespoke and stylish look to IKEA furniture is through clever use of moulding. Using something fresh like a bobbin or bamboo-shaped moulding can instantly transform relatively generic pieces into something really expensive looking. I recommend using dec wood moulding for the best finish.’
What type of paint is good for IKEA furniture?
This will depend entirely on the surface that you are painting. Chalk paint is great for painting onto lots of surfaces and could even allow you to skip the sanding and priming (although we'd still recommend you do this!), Frenchic paint is one of our favourite affordable chalk paints for DIY projects.
When using chalk paint, it is worth noting that you might need to finish your IKEA furniture with a wax or varnish to protect it from knocks and scratches.
A normal wood and metal paint is great to use, too, and this is preferable over using an emulsion intended for walls and ceilings. That said, if you're looking to upcycle your piece by using up leftover emulsion from a previous project or want to colour-match your furniture perfectly to your walls, the emulsion will do the job nicely.
Can you paint IKEA furniture without sanding?
If you want to do the job right and you want to admire a professional finish at the end of your DIY project, you should always sand your IKEA furniture before painting it. While it will obviously add more steps to the process, it will make a big difference.
After all, if you try to paint a surface that has no 'key' (a rough surface), the paint has nothing to cling to and will either not apply to the surface, or it will dry and immediately peel off. To create a key, use fine sandpaper and wipe down the piece of furniture as if it were a cloth.
Alternatively, use a sanding sponge or even an electric sander to make the whole process even easier.
Get the Ideal Home Newsletter
Sign up to our newsletter for style and decor inspiration, house makeovers, project advice and more.
Holly Walsh has been Content Editor at Ideal Home since 2021, but joined the brand back in 2015. With a background of studies in Interior Design, her career in interior journalism was a no-brainer and her passion for decorating homes is still as strong as it ever was. While Holly has written for most of the home titles at Future, including Livingetc, Country Homes & Interiors, Homes and Gardens and Style at Home, Ideal Home has always been her ideal home, and she can be found sharing her expertise and advice across both the printed magazine and the website too.
- Lauren BradburyContributor
Hot water dispensers vs boiling water taps - which will home your home the best?
We test the waters when it comes to hot water dispensers vs boiling water taps
By Ellen Manning
When to plant hanging baskets - experts reveal the perfect time to add some colour to your outdoor space
Seamlessly connect your home to your garden
By Lauren Bradbury
How to use pattern in interior design to create spaces that are full of character
From wallpaper to fabric, decorating experts share their pattern know-how
By Charlotte Boyd