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!
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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!
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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.
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
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
- any item you want to have a rustic/distressed appearance
- Christmas ornaments
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).
Share with me your thoughts!
I would love to hear what you think about chalk paint. Let’s chat in the comments below!