Painting IKEA furniture (or any laminate furniture) is an easy DIY project if you know the secret. Lucky for you, we’re in a sharing mood! 🙂
I don’t know how they do it.
I really don’t.
My best guess is that they have a bunch of diaper-wearing babies crawling around their factory floors.
That might explain it.
It really might.
When one of the workers on the Quality Control Line is unsure if his coworkers on the assembly line have achieved the level of perfection required to bear the IKEA name, he reaches down below his knees, fishes up one of the wandering tots and tugs down on a corner of its powdered Pampers.
Rosy butt-cheek thus exposed, the Swedish inspector gives it a quick swipe with his Swedish finger.
Nodding to himself, he turns to whatever unpronounceable piece of Swedish furniture sits in front of him, and he swipes the same Swedish finger along one of its finished faces.
If the furniture finish is as smooth (or smoother!) than the baby’s butt, he slaps on an IKEA label and orders the piece to be loaded onto the fastest boat bound for American shores.
If the furniture fails the butt test, he proclaims it to be a bit av skit1 and sends it back up the line for further refinement.
He smiles at a job well done and daydreams of Swedish meatballs.
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Part 1 – Painting IKEA & Laminate Furniture
If you’ve ever tried to paint a piece of IKEA furniture – the laminate or the painted kind – then you know where I’m coming from.
Okay, laminate is laminate, so really IKEA isn’t exactly reinventing smooth there. But their painted furniture?
I don’t know what they put over that paint, but Teflon might be a good guess!
So, can you paint IKEA furniture?
Of course you can, but if you try to paint IKEA laminate furniture or their painted furniture without knowing the secret, you’re going to be taking a little stroll down Misery Lane.
The paint. Won’t. Stick.
I can hear some of you now, you know.
“Oooh, oooh, but can you paint IKEA furniture with chalk paint? I use Annie Sloan! Her paint sticks to anything!”
To which I reply, “Bosh and balooey, madam!”
Her paint fails like a bumpkin at a calculus contest when it comes to IKEA.
My first time using Annie Sloan was attempting to paint a finished IKEA chest of drawers. I didn’t use any sandpaper, nor did I give it a coat of primer, nor did I engage in any type of prep work at all! Instead, I just dove right in with The Sloan and assumed everything would be awesome.
It wasn’t. If disappointment and frustration have names, they are “Annie” and “Sloan.”
What I didn’t know back then was that even the best and most expensive paints need something to hang on to, otherwise they’ll just flake off and fall to the floor, leaving behind a peeling, ruined makeover and a frustrated and swearing painter.
Okay, so how do you paint IKEA laminate furniture?
And not just laminate, how do you paint that crazy smooth paint like I encountered in the picture above?
There is a way to get no flakes.
No disappointment and no frustration.
I know you’re just dying to get to the action, so I’ll tell you the story of how the following IKEA makeover was supposed to go at the end of the post.
Our original plan wasn’t to paint it.
Our original plan was to fix the scratches with products promised by Pinterest to fix and repair all scratches and imperfections.
Obviously, that didn’t happen.
How to paint IKEA furniture
Okay, so Barish has this weird sloping ceiling behind his bed that creates an unusable triangular void.
We first considered building a tiny wall to block off that area and bring some normalcy to that wackadoodle room, but that would have been a big, nasty job.
Fortunately, we discovered that an IKEA Kallax on either side of the bed would fit perfectly and block off the useless void!
The plan was to make some doors for half of the cubby holes and slap a hardboard backing on the back. Easy!
The best part was we already had the two black Kallax units!
One had served us for years in the dining room before we gave that room a big makeover last year.
The other served as a bookcase to Barish’s desk before we gave a makeover to his first room earlier this year. That’s the Kallax in the background with the trophies on it.
Lucky guy! I don’t think I won a single trophy growing up.
I do remember winning a bronze medal at a swim meet once, though.
The funny part?
I wasn’t on the swim team!
I just happened to be beached on the grassy slope next to the pool at Woodledge Pool Club in Glastonbury, Connecticut one day when the coach asked if I could fill in for an absent team member.
What the heck? Why not?
I rolled myself over to the light blue starting blocks and heaved myself up onto one of them. I must have looked like a walrus mounting an iceberg.
The starting gun fired, and I launched myself into the cool, chlorinated water. For the next minute, my whole world was splashing water and gasping for air.
When it was over, I discovered I had placed third – good enough for a bronze medal!
Though I can’t remember for sure, I think there may only have been 3 people competing in that event.
Anyway, back to painting IKEA furniture.
I’m going to tell you the secret now.
Are you ready?
The secret is primer.
I know, I know, you feel totally let down.
What kind of a stupid secret is that?
Not just any primer!
Now, you may be wondering what the BIN stands for.
Oddly, no one seems to know. It is therefore up to us to give it meaning, so let’s hear your suggestions in the comments.
It probably doesn’t stand for Baby, I’m Naked! But then again, what do I know?
(That’s right. I know nuthin‘!)
Okay, so it’s a shellac-based primer. Big whoop. Why does that matter?
Well, if you’ve ever worked with shellac and gotten some on your hands, you’ll know exactly why it works for painting laminate furniture or other super-smooth surfaces: it’s incredibly sticky!
Shellac has the ability to stick to surfaces that other paints and primers would just flake off of.
But even shellac-based primer has its limits, and it’s best not to test those limits, especially with the smoother-than-a-baby’s-butt IKEA finishes.
So just to be safe and give the primer a little something extra to grab onto, you’ll want to sand the piece of furniture first.
Now, relax! I don’t mean to sand down to bare wood (for painted IKEA pieces). I just mean a light sanding – a simple scuff-job with a random orbit sander.
You just need to rough up the surface a bit, but It makes a huge difference.
Ooooh, you’re in for a treat!
Once I finished sanding, I could have wiped off the dust and dove right in with the Zinsser B-I-N, but I wanted to take it one step further.
This step is optional, but since I had the product already on hand, I went for it.
Instead of wiping the dust off with water or mineral spirits, I cleaned my Kallax with Krud Kutter Gloss-Off.
Deglossers are a great sanding alternative for some previously-painted pieces of furniture. The chemicals in the deglosser scuff up the old paint at the microscopic level – that’s why the gloss goes away – and allow, say, an old piece of trim to be repainted without sanding off the old glossy paint first.
But as good as deglossers are, they are not perfect, and even they have limits.
Very-high-quality paints, industrial lacquers and (yup) IKEA furniture laugh at deglossers and shrug them off with ease.
So really, I didn’t need to use a deglosser to clean the Kallax before priming, but I figured, since I had it on hand, it couldn’t hurt! As a bonus, the Krud Kutter cleaned any dirt and grime that may have been lurking unseen on the Kallax.
My sanded and deglossed Kallaxes were rather handsome without their usual satin finish. Those are dried deglosser drips on the side. I wiped those away before applying the primer.
When the primer had dried, it was time to start painting the IKEA Kallax.
For the smoothest finish, sand after you prime, as primer can dry a little rough. Any fine grit sanding block will do, or hit it again with an electric sander with at most a 220 grit disc. A second coat of primer won’t be necessary for laminate or painted IKEA furniture, but it would be a very good idea if you’re trying to paint over raw pine or cedar.
We wanted to go a little higher-end with the paint than we normally do, so we chose Benjamin Moore Aura in Chantilly Lace color and a satin sheen. The type of paint you use is important – some are better-suited for high-impact, high-use pieces like cabinet doors and the like. If you want the ultimate protection, I recommend something like Sherwin-Williams Emerald Urethane Enamel. It’s going to have much more durability than the usual latex paint from the big box stores.
This is the same paint we used for Our DIY IKEA Tarva Hack.
I know “Chantilly Lace” isn’t the most manly-sounding color, but it’s one of the best whites out there, in my manly opinion.
Besides, I love strolling into the local hardware store and announcing that I need a gallon of Chantilly Lace.
Hey, it’s better than Bra-Strap Beige!
For the paint, I again used a foam roller cover, but I upgraded to Wooster Pro Foam, as I wanted the best finish I could get (without spraying).
It took three coats of paint to get perfect coverage. You can’t rush painting (unfortunately). The best results require multiple coats and a fair amount of time.
Wouldn’t it be better to use a paint sprayer?
Of course it would! Everything is better with a paint sprayer (just don’t you dare use spray paint from a can)! But at the time of this project, I still wasn’t adept with wielding one, so I went the roller router. If you have a paint sprayer, by all means, use it!
After the third coat of paint, I turned my attention to the doors.
Simple plywood fit the bill perfectly.
Whoa, there! What about a sealer on that paint?
Okay, look, at this point you could wax your furniture (a must if you painted with chalk paint), or you could venture into Poly town, if you’re feeling particularly saucy. But for most of us, if we use a good and durable paint, a topcoat won’t be necessary.
Part 2 – The IKEA Kallax Hack
I measured one of the cubby holes and then started measuring the plywood.
This was a mistake.
I assumed that IKEA – the company that rivals Germany for precision engineering – would make furniture that is plumb, level, square and consistent.
I assumed wrong (as usual).
Perhaps these Kallaxes were plumb, level, square and consistent at one point in their past. Perhaps the ravages of 6 years in The Navage Patch had sullied their once-perfect forms.
Whatever the case may have been, the cubby that I measured was just ever so slightly bigger than most of the others, and even more slightly bigger than one other.
When did I discover this?
Oh, at the very end, when they were in Barish’s room, and I was trying to attach the doors.
Learn from my misfortune. Measure in multiple places and assume nothing!
Anyway, I built 8 doors from 1/2 inch plywood. To make the hinge installation easier, I marked where the hinges would be.
I then pre-drilled the hinge holes and the hole for the door knob, and then I sanded all the edges and corners.
Keeping with the color scheme in Barish’s room, I stained the doors with Minwax Special Walnut and then sealed them with Greg’s Wonder Finish (equal parts polyurethane, mineral spirits and boiled linseed oil).
During this time, I also built the backing for my Kallax makeover. I measured the height and width of the Kallax and then cut two pieces of 1/8 inch hardboard an inch shorter than the height and width I’d measured. Then I primed and painted the smooth side. I forgot to take pics of the backing board, but I’m sure you get the drift.
Before attaching the backing board or doors, Handan and I carried the Kallaxes from the basement up to Barish’s room on the second floor. I especially delayed final assembly until the pieces were in Barish’s room so they’d be easier to handle while climbing the stairs.
We put them in their places and then I crawled into the triangular void to attach the backing boards.
Handan just loves shooting of photos while I flop around like a catfish on hot asphalt.
And of course, she also enjoys odd angles and weird closeups of my head.
Without the rest of the scene in frame, this pic looks a little out of context. Like, what am I looking at? What am I thinking about?? And what’s up with my hair? It looks like a brown Pac-Man is trying to eat my head in one ginormous bite!
As I labored away in the tight spaces behind Barish’s bed, Handan chortled and snapped her jolly pictures until I finished nailing in the two backing boards. It’s hard to keep a straight face when she’s up to her antics!
After extricating myself from the triangular void, I turned my attention to the doors and door knobs.
I discovered my aforementioned error at this time.
None of the doors fit their spaces without a whole lot of wood-on-laminate rubbing.
Nobody wants that.
It was getting late, and I was tired and hungry, so I weighed my options.
- Hulk smash the Kallax and check myself into Shady Acres Rest Home.
- Blame it on the dogs and go fix myself a martini.
- Call The Boy over, hand him the screwdriver and congratulate him on his new inheritance.
- Take all the doors back to the basement and modify them until they fit.
Though options 1 and 2 had definite appeal, option 4 won out in the end.
Fortunately, the doors only needed their heights to be trimmed, not their widths.
I ran the bottoms along my belt sander and took off about 1/8 inch.
That did the trick, and I was able to install the doors with ease. The hinges are simple zinc-plated utility hinges that I spray painted with Rustoleum Antique Nickel.
To keep the doors from flapping around like bird wings, I installed simple magnetic catches in each cubby and a metal catch plate on each door.
With the doors installed, our IKEA Kallax makeover was finished. We learned a lot about painting IKEA furniture with this project, and it’s knowledge we’ll carry forward and use for painting laminate furniture in the future. We no longer need to fear those smooth and sleek surfaces.
When it comes to painting, if it feels like a baby’s butt, you just gotta sand it and prime it!
Now let’s a take a look at some of the beauty shots.
Here’s the wide-angle shot.
We love this pic of Barish and his best friend Jordan in India.
That’s my Boy back there. He’s the best! And Jordan was a true friend to him.
Okay, now for the story of what we had originally intended.
Handan had seen Pinterest pins and posts about some products that were supposed to magically heal scratches and dings in IKEA and other laminate furniture. Our Kallaxes were in pretty bad shape, so this was of great interest to us.
Here are just some of the scratches.
We started with the Miller pen on this scratch.
At first, it seemed like it was doing a pretty good job.
But what the photo doesn’t show is that at certain angles, it looks like you’ve drawn on your furniture with a black marker, which is exactly what we did.
We discovered that wiping the marker off immediately after application helps somewhat.
Overall, the Miller pen wasn’t terrible for scratches that had penetrated through the laminate but didn’t go too deep. Those types of scratches really stood out before, because they exposed the yellow wood (or wood composite) beneath. The marker merely colored the wood, making it less visible than before but not altogether invisible.
It did nothing for the light scratches on the left in the picture above.
The Ram-Pro came with markers and crayons. We tried the markers in the same manner that we did with the Miller.
It was a disaster. No matter what color we chose, the marker stuck out like the Pope at a biker convention.
And unlike the Miller pen, the Ram-Pro wouldn’t wipe off.
I had to break out the paint thinner to remove the marks it left.
Next, I decided to try the crayons on one of the deeper holes.
I started with the Miller pen just to color the wood a bit.
Then I scribbled it with the crayon, basically filling the deep scratch with wax.
Until it looked like this.
Well, obviously that wouldn’t do, so I rubbed it with a rag, and then rubbed it a bit with a rag soaked in paint thinner.
Not too bad, but certainly not magically fixed or erased. Just better than it was before.
Handan and I spent a long time trying to repair all the dents, divots and scratches in the two Kallaxes, but in the end, we gave up.
While the crayon did an okay job of filling some dents and the Miller pen did reasonably well on certain scratches, overall, they didn’t make the pieces of furniture look good again.
At best, they looked marginally better, and that wasn’t nearly good enough for Barish’s room after all the effort we’d already put forth.
I’m sorry for not having more pictures of how bad the fixes were, but I wasn’t actually planning on including this section after we decided to paint them.
But I figured I may as well share my thoughts on those products. Other people seem to love them, so everyone has their own standard for what constitutes an acceptable piece of furniture I guess! And maybe they’re great products if you’re just trying to conceal a single scratch. Unfortunately, ours were just too scratched-up to be saved.
Have you tried any of these furniture repair products? Did they work?
Have you tried painting IKEA furniture? Have you tried painting laminate furniture? How did it go?
Please let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear from you!
1 Swedish for “piece of crap”
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