Chalk Paint Prep Best Practices for Furniture

There is mixed information out there on how to prep a piece of furniture before using chalk paint.

Annie Sloan, and other chalk paint brands swear that you don’t need to sand and apply primer before using chalk paint.

On the other hand, it is well-known among furniture upcycling enthusiasts that sanding and priming are key to making your finish as durable as possible. 

This discrepancy leaves many wondering if they should sand and prime before using chalk paint.

This post covers the basics of chalk paint prep for furniture. You will discover when it’s necessary to sand and prime and when it isn’t.


Because chalk paint has strong sticking power, it’s not necessary to sand and prime first in some cases. However, you should always sand your furniture under the following circumstances: 

  • The furniture has a high-gloss finish or wax
  • The furniture is filthy
  • The furniture’s current paint job is flaking
  • You have applied wood filler to the furniture

If the furniture’s wood is high in tannins, you should always apply stain-blocking primer to prevent tannin bleed-through.

Related: 5 of the Biggest Chalk Paint Problems

Do you have to sand before using chalk paint?

You don’t need to sand furniture before using chalk paint under some circumstances. Sometimes you can simply give your piece of furniture a quick clean with soap and water or Simple Green, and then jump right into painting once the furniture has dried.

However, there are certainly some circumstances where you should sand your furniture down before painting.

By all means, you should sand your furniture before using chalk paint if it meets any of the following conditions:

The furniture has a high-gloss finish or wax: Whether you are using chalk paint or plain latex, it will have a tough time “sticking” to your wood furniture if there is a layer of shiny oil-based finish on top. Rather than adhering to the wood, you may find yourself just sliding the paint around the shiny wood surface. Even if you successfully cover the furniture in paint, it will rub off very easily due to poor adhesion.

The same goes for wax finishes. If you find that your furniture has a wax finish, the paint probably won’t stick to the furniture as well as it could if the finish was removed.

It is important to sand off finishes such as these so that the paint has a coarse, untreated, and clean surface to stick to.

The furniture is filthy: No matter what, you should always give your furniture a good cleaning before painting to establish an untainted surface for the paint to stick to. However, if your furniture is filthy, and there are layers of dirt, grease, and grime to cut through, you may want to consider sanding the furniture after the initial cleaning.

Sanding helps to ensure all the remnants of grit have been completely removed from the furniture. Additionally, if there is grease and grime that has sunk deep into the grain of the wood, sanding might be the only way to remove this filth.

The furniture’s current paint job is flaking: If the furniture has been previously painted, and the paint is flaking off left and right, you should probably remove the old paint from the furniture altogether before painting. The same goes if there is an old stain that is losing its hold on the furniture.

If paint or stain is flaking off the furniture, the chalk paint will not adhere well at all.

You have applied wood filler to the furniture: If there are dents, gashes, or scratches in your wood furniture that you have treated with wood filler, you should sand down those areas before painting.

This might be an obvious point to many, but it should be stated nevertheless. If you don’t sand down areas where wood filler was applied, you will see a series of rough, raised areas after painting. Unless you sand down areas where wood filler has been applied, you will never achieve the smooth finish that you want.

Does chalk paint need primer?

More often than not, it’s more important to sand your furniture than to apply primer.

In many cases, chalk paint doesn’t need primer. After all, chalk paint is incredibly thick, and it sticks to practically anything. Nevertheless, under some circumstances, it’s important to prime your wood furniture before using primer.

If you are working with wood that is high in tannins, it’s important to treat it with a layer of stain-blocking primer.

If the wood is high in tannins, the tannins can bleed through the chalk paint after it has been applied. Primer serves to block tannins from bleeding through the paint.

Tannins are essentially acids from tree sap that can be visible in raw wood. When tannins bleed through paint usually a yellowish-brown stain forms. Simply put, tannins can ruin a paint project.

The following types of wood are high in tannins:

  • Oak
  • Cherry
  • Walnut
  • Mahogany

If the furniture is any of these types of wood, you most certainly should apply a shellac-based primer to the bare wood before painting.

With other woods that are low in tannins like maple, you can likely use chalk paint without primer.

Final words

Again, chalk paint companies claim that no prep is needed before using their product. Much of the time, they are correct. However, there are certain circumstances where sanding and applying a layer of primer are a must. 

Even if sanding and priming aren’t necessary for a particular piece of furniture, the proper prep will always make a positive difference. Your final paint job will always be more durable by sanding and priming it first.

If you find that sanding and priming is too arduous by hand, you can make the process more efficient by investing in a palm sander and paint spraying.

A palm sander oscillates a piece of sandpaper to make the process substantially more effortless. A paint sprayer can be used to apply your primer in considerably less time than by hand. 

Best of luck!

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