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What Is So Great About Chalk Paint?

What’s so great about chalk paint? Learn the best projects to use chalk paint for, the supplies you need to get started, plus when you shouldn’t use chalk paint!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links which allow me to earn a small commission when a purchase is made at no additional cost to you. Read more here.

Six cans of chalk paint on table.

By now, many of us have probably heard the hype surrounding “chalk paint”. But in a world with hundreds of paint options (and even more opinions on how to use them), maybe you’ve been wondering “what is so great about chalk paint?”

My personal conviction is that like anything else, chalk paint has its strengths and weaknesses. So, when used in the right context it absolutely shines as a wonderful option to bring new life to furniture. It’s versatile, fun to use, and capable of totally transforming grungy old pieces.

Still curious? Let’s start with a quick review of what chalk paint is.

What is chalk paint?

Chalk Paint is the original creation of Annie Sloan. It’s a furniture paint designed to adhere to surfaces without sanding first. Chalk paint dries to a matte finish, requires a finish coat to protect against staining/damage, and is extremely versatile. When dry, the paint can be distressed, which is an asset (or not) depending on your desired look.

Since Annie created her Chalk Paint, a number of similar products have hit the market, but Chalk Paint itself remains a registered trademark of Annie Sloan. The paint is generally sold in quarts, and costs anywhere from about $17+ per can (Rust-Oleum Chalked) to $36+ per can (Annie Sloan).

What is so great about chalk paint?

  • It  adheres to most surfaces, no sanding required
  • It’s a “no-prep” paint (I personally think prep is still VERY important, more on that below)
  • It “flips” furniture beautifully and quickly
  • Annie Sloan’s original formula is very low VOC (note: not necessarily the case for copy-cat brands)
  • It gives a rustic “farmhouse” appearance
  • It distresses well for a time-worn finish
  • It’s just plain fun to use!

I’ve used it to flip lots of pieces in my home including this dresser (a mix of colors, mostly of Rust-Oleum in Linen White + Annie Sloan in Old White):

A white dresser painted with chalk paint.

My china hutch (Annie Sloan in Old White):

A chalk painted white hutch filled with antiques and home decor.

And even these Christmas ornaments using Rust-Oleum Chalked spray paint:

Chalk painted vintage cookie cutters and a can of spray paint.

I love chalk style paint for the ease of use, the finish, the ability to transform just about anything, and how it brings a lovely time-worn feel into my home. However, it isn’t necessarily the answer for every project.

What do I need to know before I buy chalk paint?

Prep is a step

“Don’t prep” they said. “You won’t even need to sand”, they said.

Those are the first things you’ll hear when you buy your chalk paint. I’ve even seen recommendations not to bother dusting off your piece first! Um, ew much? Here’s the thing. Prep matters.

I usually take up to five simple steps to prep my piece for chalk painting:

  • De-smell it if needed (learn how to clean stinky furniture here)
  • Wash the piece lightly with soap and water (no need to soak it!)
  • Fill holes/repair damage if needed with a wood filler
  • Lightly sand the piece all over (you do not need to sand away the finish, just break up that surface a little bit with fine sanding block like this – I usually use a 120-150 grit and will finish with 220 if I feel like it, but I generally don’t find it necessary when chalk paint is going on the piece)
  • Prime – priming has the benefit of sealing in any stains and bleed-through. Primer is also necessary if you are starting with raw/unfinished wood (chalk paint will soak in otherwise and it won’t look good).

Cleaning and lightly sanding your furniture helps it to be as well-prepared for paint as possible. As you sand, you might even notice repairs that should be made before you commence painting. Good to know before the project is well underway!

I don’t always sand every piece, but it does help with adherence (see my KILZ Chalk Style Paint review for an example of not sanding a glossy piece before painting).

I also prefer to start with a coat of primer before I start painting. You certainly don’t have to, but it can help avoid bleed-through and other nuisances. And again, as mentioned above, if you are starting with raw/unfinished wood you will want to prime so the paint doesn’t just soak into the piece.

Cans of various brands of chalk paint on a table.

Don’t spend your nest egg on paint brushes

You don’t necessarily need special brushes or fancy tools. I love using my favorite brush for painting furniture. It only costs about $5 or $6 (find it here). No need to break the bank over a fancy new brush. Now, if you plan to wax your piece, you will most likely want a special brush designed for waxing…but please keep reading for my tip about that.

You don’t need to wax your finished furniture pieces

WHAT.

Now hold on to your hat, because I have more to add. Yes, that freshly chalk painted furniture flip still needs a top coat! But, you certainly don’t need to develop a case of carpal tunnel trying to spread thick wax on your piece.

Instead, go with a brush-on polycrylic. Polycrylics are a water-based top coat and your paint store sells variations from matte to glossy. I often use Rust-Oleum’s Matte Clear or you could try Minwax Matte Polycrylic. I recommend experimenting to find what you like, whether that is a wax or poly–in fact, here’s a post about chalk paint top coats.

Tip: Avoid oil-based polyurethane which will turn white paint yellow.

When should I use chalk paint?

Use it on:

  • old, tired furniture
  • new, tired furniture
  • garage sale finds
  • old picture frames, lamps, or outdated home décor
  • inexpensive metal or wood décor from the craft store
  • mason jars
  • milk bottles
  • fabric
  • any item you want to have a rustic/distressed appearance
  • Christmas ornaments
Cans of chalk paint stacked up with the words, "When to Use Chalk Paint."

When should I avoid using chalk paint?

Avoid using chalk paint when painting:

  • kitchen cabinets (see more below)
  • bathroom cabinets (see more below)
  • unfinished furniture (just prime it first and you are good to go!)
  • furniture that is breaking down or ultra-low quality (head to the thrift store and find something better!)
  • furniture made from wood prone to the dreaded “bleed-through” (like knotty pine or mahogany–you can make it work with a stain blocking primer, but even these heavy-duty products don’t always solve the problem sadly)
  • any pieces prone to heavy use and staining (kitchen tables for instance don’t tend to hold up well)
  • furniture you want to have a satin smooth look (with no distressing–there are other ways to paint furniture that will work better for this style)

The fact is, chalk paint simply isn’t right for every project.

For instance, I still see recommendations online suggesting that chalk paint is great for bathrooms and kitchens (cabinets specifically). However, high-traffic and high moisture areas are usually better served with a combination of sanding, priming, and high-quality cabinet paint (like Benjamin Moore Advance).

Any time you’re dealing with a painted surface, there is a potential for chipping, staining, and wear and tear. A chalk paint finish will exacerbate this natural wear and tear and you’ll be constantly fighting it. Instead, use chalk paint where it will shine.

It’s lovely for refreshing old furniture and lending a rustic cottage feel to any space. Use it for pieces that you plan to distress or that you desire a time-worn finish on. Plan to avoid furniture/cabinets that may receive more wear and tear than chalk paint can handle!

If you still really want to use it in a kitchen or bathroom (and I do understand!), I would avoid wax (this post on chalk painted kitchen cabinets explains why) and opt for a good poly sealer.

Here’s another example of how chalk painted cabinets have held up over a few years (these did well with a poly sealer).

And finally, here’s a before/after of chalk painted bathroom vanities with wax and then later re-done with a polycrylic. Another thing to consider is if there would potentially be bleed-through (which would mean you’d need a good stain-blocking primer as well).

A can of chalk paint on a chair with a vintage watering can behind it.

Share with me your thoughts!

I would love to hear what you think about chalk paint. Let’s chat in the comments below!

Pin it for later here:

A stack of chalk style paint cans with the words, "What is so great about chalk paint?" on the image.

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30 Comments

  1. Thank you for such a well written article. You told me everything I needed to know about chalk paint. I even approve of the links to products, it makes it easier. I often go to the store and have no idea what to get.

    1. Aw, thanks Vicki! I’m so glad it was helpful. Good luck with your chalk painting!

  2. You have explained so well .
    Thanks for the detailed Article. You have definetely helped and motivated me to start a chalk paint project 😬
    Love
    Shweta

  3. Would you recommend chalk paint on a window mirror project I am working on? The sash is 75 years old and quite distress. (4’x4′ old church sash with hardware.) Painted wood and bare weathered wood in no specific pattern. I wrestle with attempting to take it down to bare wood vs leave “as is” vs trying chalk paint. My gut says clean it up some and install the mirrors. I have 2 sashes so I could reluctantly experiment on one. Any and all advice is welcome. Ty.

    1. Hi Rich! Thanks for stopping by. My first thought would be to use caution in working with these windows as the paint likely contains lead. You can grab test kits from the hardware store and test it at home. If it turns out there is lead in the paint, the best option might be to pick up a product designed to seal in the paint (and the toxins). I believe there are some good products out there, but I have not tried any myself, so you could definitely ask an expert at your local paint/hardware store. The overall look in these case would remain basically the same, the paint would just be sealed.
      If the paint does not contain lead you could definitely sand it gently to get rid of chipping bits and then apply chalk paint directly over that. I personally love the look of an old original distressed piece, so I would probably go with option 1 and seal that original paint. I think it sounds like a really fun project, would enjoy hearing what you decide! Thanks for your comment!

  4. Hello, I picked up an old piano bench that looks like someone applied black chalk paint to. As I want to change that to white distress, (I think the black peeking through would be lovely); however, will the black bleed through the white paint? If so, should I use a sealer of some kind on it? Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I really enjoyed your article about chalk paint. It makes total sense to me. This will be my first time using it.”Thank you.

    1. Hi Irene! Thanks so much for your kind words. I think you are right that white paint + some distressing would add a lot to a piece like that! I actually haven’t ever painted over black chalk paint, so there may be things I am unaware of, but judging by chalk paint results in general, you really shouldn’t experience bleed through. Chalk paint usually applies really well on top of itself, if that makes sense. You might consider starting with a coat of primer (I like Zinsser Smart Prime or something along those lines), but oftentimes two coats of chalk paint will cover things readily. I would give it a test in an inconspicuous area (like underneath the bench seat) and see how the chalk paint looks. The other consideration I thought of is that perhaps the original painter chose black because the original finish of the bench itself was bleeding through? You should still be able to see this through the paint (though more subtle than if the paint was a light color) though if that was the case. Sometimes you just don’t know until you try! If I were you, I’d give it a test with two coats of white chalk paint, lightly distress, and then finish everything off with a polycrylic like Rustoleum Matte Clear. No guarantees of course, but I think that should work well. Would love to hear how it turns out!

  5. I have been planning on chalk painting or steel front door. It is under a porch and has the factory primer on it. Do you think Rust-Oleum chalked spray paint would be a good application or is Chalk paint not a good idea?

    1. Hi Kaye! If I’m understanding correctly, the porch door is outdoors? I live in MN, so I’m generally opposed to using chalk paint for any outdoor applications as our seasons can be pretty harsh. Rust-Oleum actually makes a spray paint called “Stops Rust” that is designed for outdoor use on metal surfaces. I haven’t used it myself, but I have been really happy with every Rust-Oleum product I have tried. It might be worth a look! 🙂

  6. I’d like to change my brown rattan chair to a lighter, more natural color. Will chalk paint work for this project?

    1. Hi Marilyn! Great question. I personally haven’t used chalk paint on rattan, but I’m sure it’s possible. I would suggest doing a google or Pinterest search to see if you find a project someone has already accomplished with a similar piece.
      This article from Honey and Roses might give you a starting point:
      https://honeyandroses.com/2015/07/01/how-to-paint-a-wicker-chair-with-chalk-paint/

      I’d love to see what you decide to do!
      Thanks for stopping by!
      Ellen

  7. I loved your article! I’m seeing people using chalk paint on crafts they are doing. The small bottles that are found in art sections of Walmart or Hobby Lobby and Micheal’s are these the same type of paints? I have no idea about this type of paint I’m trying to learn as I’m new to crafting, not furniture recycling. But I see something called wax and another called varnish in these paints and I have no idea if I need any of them? To complete a craft? Please help!

    1. Thanks so much Marquita! That is a great question. Without seeing the exact paints you are considering, I would suggest first to check the bottle to determine the following:
      1. What the paint is marketed to be used on (raw wood, painted wood, metal, etc.). Make sure the surface you want to paint is listed.
      2. What the paint suggests as far as needing a primer, multiple coats, or a sealer. A chalk paint like Annie Sloan needs to be finished with a wax or polycrylic otherwise it has sort of a “chalky” feel the touch and won’t hold up well without a protective clear coat.
      3. Do you want to distress the paint? Choose a paint that is marketed as good for distressing/sanding.

      In general, I would say to choose a high-quality paint (if you are looking for a chalk paint: Rust-Oleum, or Annie Sloan) to paint furniture. If you just doing some small crafts that won’t see much wear-and-tear, feel free to experiment the craft store paints! I believe that Annie Sloan also might carry smaller sample pots you can order if you just need small quantities for any projects.

      Happy crafting!
      ~Ellen

  8. Thank you for this article. I have been wondering about chalk paint and why people don’t simply use a matte or satin latex instead. I have also seen vloggers using polycrylic as a chalk paint sealer. I would do this because that chalky finish to me is almost like a “fingernails scraping slate” feeling. Ew!! Anyway, good advice in this article and thank you.

    1. Hi Virginia! Yes, a matte or satin latex can definitely be a great choice too. I think people are often enticed by the “no prep” aspect, but since I believe prepping (cleaning, lightly sanding, even priming) is helpful regardless, that’s not usually a factor I consider much when I choose what paint to use for a piece. Chalk paint can also be a bit pricey, so latex can be more cost-effective too. I totally agree with the “nails on a chalkboard” feeling! Ugh–I definitely always seal my paint. 😉 I love how much faster using a polycrylic is compared to wax!
      Thanks for stopping by!
      ~Ellen

  9. Any suggestions for prepping fairly open grained medium brown stained solid oak bookshelves? Also if I use the poly sealer, can I chalk paint over it if I want to change the color in the future? I appreciate your tips, as this is my first chalk painting project in several years.

    1. Hi Connie, thanks for stopping by!
      For prep, my favorite method is to lightly sand (I love just using a medium sanding block followed by a fine block, super easy), wipe off dust and then prime. For a stained piece, it’s always hard to know if there will be bleed-through. Using a primer like Zinsser Bull’s Eye 1-2-3 should help with any of that. I do a coat of that (I actually usually do two for extra security, but up to you!) followed by two coats chalk paint and one coat polycrylic. As you paint, you’ll want to really get into that wood grain with your brush so you get an even finish. You will still see the texture of grain through the paint.

      Alternatively, if you just want to dive in, simply clean your piece well and start chalk painting. The downside to this method is if there is any bleed-through you will just have to start back at the beginning with the first method I outlined. It’s always a bit of a risk re-painting furniture, but the rewards of course are great!

      If you use a water-based polycrylic (which I love!) to seal, you should be able to paint over your piece with a fresh color whenever you want so long as you continue to stick to water-based paints. The problems usually happen when mixing oil-based on top of water-based or vice versa.

      Hope that helps!
      ~Ellen

  10. Hello! I’m new to your website and am thoroughly enjoying it! Chalk-type paint is intriguing and I’m wondering if I can use it to re-do a vintage “Japanese” painted cabinet – black (glossy but not enamel), with flowers/birds hand painted “in relief” in various faded pastel colors. ….. I want the cabinet to be a low-key white. I don’t mind if some of the pastel colors show through but I definitely want the “in relief” aspect of the flowers/birds to show through. ….. (1) Based on your experience, do you think “chalk-type paint” would work? .. (2) Can you remove/wash off “chalk-type paint” without destroying the underlying paint? .. Thank you for any input/suggestions!

    1. Hi Catey Ann, so sorry for the delay in response!
      I’ll answer your second question first. Once you paint with chalk paint, you would still need to sand to remove it…ruining the original finish. So, like any paint, you’ll want to be sure before starting!
      As for how it would look, I’ve never painted a piece like this, so I’m really not sure! I wonder if you could find a small piece of something similar (like a tray or artwork or something) for cheap or free (maybe on Facebook Marketplace?) and give it a try on a tester piece first?
      My main concern would be, are you ok with the “rustic brushstrokes” look on a piece like this? As for the relief to show through, I’m just not sure. But, I can tell you that chalk paint is very opaque and while the actual texture of a piece may still be present (though perhaps not as obvious), it generally will cover original colors quite well.
      I’d love to hear what you end up deciding to do!
      Thanks for stopping by!
      Ellen

  11. What do you suggest for primer? I bought Behr chalk paint and Wax. I did the drawer front, let it dry and applied wax.. Not especially impressed. Guess I’ll sand it down and start over. I don’t plan on distressing the cabinet just want nice finish. Thanks for your input.
    A.

    1. Hi there Alice, thanks for stopping by!
      For primer, I have had good success with Zinsser Bull’s Eye 1-2-3 or even just asking at Sherwin Williams (they are so helpful and will be able to point you in the right direction if you are having any specific issues with bleed through etc.). I have also used Zinsser B-I-N when I have had issues with bleed-through. That stuff is strong!
      Also, how many coats did you paint? I find with chalk paint that I need at least two coats to get things looking good.
      Would love to hear how things go!
      Thanks again,
      Ellen 🙂

      1. Thank you for this information. In answer to your question, I sanded the piece down to bare wood and applied one coat. So, I’ll be doing a second coat on the drawer but a primer on the cabinet. I’ll let you know but its going to be awhile as we are having quite a bit of rain and its no fun doing this in a humid garage.!
        Alice

        1. Ok! Yes, priming sounds great then. If you are starting with bare wood you’ll want to prime since the chalk paint just soaks into the wood otherwise (I need to clarify the steps I usually use in the post above). I usually just sand lightly to give the surface a bit of grip and take care of anything that could use a little smoothing out (sometimes I have to fill holes etc. and then it’s just a quick pass with a sanding block afterwards). If you use the chalk paint on top of an already finished piece then it sits on top of the original coat and you don’t have the problem of soaking in. But then of course there can be bleed-through depending on the original finish–that’s why I always just start with primer. Haha, refinishing furniture can be a finicky business!

          Best of luck!
          Ellen

  12. I just used Annie Sloan chalk paint and used the Rustoleum Matte Clear as the topcoat for an armoire but the top coat has completely ruined the color of the chalk paint! It looks all streaky and even took off some of the underlying paint. (I did three coats of the Annie Sloan paint). Have you ever run into this issue? I’m wondering if I need to start over with a new coat of Annie Sloan and use a wax for the top coat instead or just switch to the Rustoleum chalked paint and try the matte clear topcoat again. Any suggestions would be helpful!

    1. Hi Nicole! I’m so sorry! That is really disappointing. I love using Matte Clear and while I usually use it over Rust-Oleum Chalked paint, I have also used it over Annie Sloan with success. I am thinking about it, and I have used over primarily very light colors (white, cream, duck egg blue). Does your piece happen to be a dark color? I wonder if that would make a difference?
      A couple more thoughts:
      1. Paint should be very dry before applying a top coat. I noticed on the Rust-Oleum Matte Clear label it does suggest 8 hrs of dry time before coating paint with Matte Clear. The fact that the Matte Clear actually removed some paint makes me wonder if the paint was completely dry/cured?
      2. I did some research before I responded and I found a few cases of others encountering some streakiness with the brush-on poly and it was suggested to use a spray top coat instead. Having just finished a project with a spray poly I can say it was a very clean finish, though I haven’t experimented enough to recommend the product I used specifically in this case.
      3. I also found another manufacturer of a different poly topcoat that suggested the Annie Sloan paint is so porous that the top coat may just “sink in” and they suggested doing a couple more coats to even it out. I have not tried that myself, but it seemed logical. If you go this route, I would try it in an inconspicuous spot if you can!
      4. Sometimes the original finish of the piece can affect the final look too. Chalk painting can be a bit of a guessing game, that is for sure!

      If you have used wax previously and like the finish, I think that your thought of applying more chalk paint and then finishing with wax could work. It’s worth noting though that “wax is last” and once that goes on, you won’t be able to try anything else on top (it won’t stick).
      However, my inclination (taking into account that the top coat actually peeled up some of the paint) is to wonder if the coats were completely dry…It might be best to even let the piece dry out a full day or two and then see how it looks and go from there. Maybe try doing the test of a 2nd coat of Matte Clear inside of one of the doors or a similar area that won’t be seen.
      Feel free to send me an email (ellenATbellewoodcottageDOTcom) too if you want to send any pics over and any additional questions. Hopefully we can get this piece looking the way you want!
      ~Ellen 🙂

  13. Hello!

    My daughter likes the nice farm style in her house. She has dark wood cabinets in her kitchen. We are considering the chalk paint, however, you do not recommend it for kitchens. Would it not work with a good sealer? Please advice!
    Thanks.

    Lina

    1. Hi there Lina!

      Yes, I tend to be on the side of avoiding chalk paint in kitchens/bathrooms. However, a lot of people still use it and some have been really pleased with the results! I do think using the correct sealer makes a very big difference. Seeing the difference in how wax holds up (not good) versus a poly sealer (good) is actually encouraging I think on the side of potentially using chalk paint.
      I would suggest gathering as much research as possible and then deciding based off of that. Since I haven’t tried chalk paint in my own kitchen, I’ll point you to some resources to start with (and I’ll update the post too for anyone else who has this question).

      Here’s a great explanation of chalk painted cabinets with wax (and then later completely redone with a better sealer) – https://sincerelysarad.com/repainted-chalk-painted-cabinets/
      Here’s a post on bathroom vanities which shows the severe damage that can occur when wax is the top coat (I’ve followed Sarah on Instagram for ages and this post details how she re-did the vanities and sealed them with a polycrylic and they held up better…but she did eventually replace with completely new vanities) –
      https://sarahjoyblog.com/new-improved-farmhouse-bathroom-vanities/
      Here’s a post (chalk paint with a poly sealer) that shows chalk painted cabinets a few years after finishing: https://www.artsychicksrule.com/my-chalk-painted-cabinets-4-years-later/

      I hope these are helpful! You can find more by doing a Google search for “chalk paint kitchen cabinets” to see more examples.
      Thanks for stopping by!
      ~Ellen

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