3 Common Crackle Paint Mistakes (and how to fix them)

The weathered, vintage look for furniture has become quite popular over the years. And many DIYers have used painting techniques like distressing, staining, glazing, and crackling to achieve this look.

Paint crackling, in particular, is a technique that results in a very textured painted surface that makes furniture look authentically aged. It requires minimal equipment—paint, crackle medium, and brushes, and is fairly easy to do. Yet, a lot of crafters and DIYers have problems achieving the perfect crackled paint look. 

In this post, we’ll talk about the three common crackle paint mistakes you may face and how to fix them.


Common issues with the crackle effect include: paint not crackling, too big or too small cracks, and crackle medium not adhering to the surface. Sometimes, you can easily fix these by reapplying the crackle medium and topcoat. Otherwise, you’ll need to strip the paint and start again.

Issue 1: The paint does not crackle

The most common issue with doing a crackle paint method is the paint not cracking at all.

Several crackle paint mistakes can cause this issue. These include:

  • Not waiting for the base color to fully dry 
  • Applying the crackle medium too thin
  • Using the wrong materials
  • Letting the crackle medium fully dry
  • Overbrushing the paint over the crackle medium

Below we’ll discuss how to fix these issues when you’re in the middle of the paint job. 

Related: 7 Best Materials to Line Dresser Drawers

How to fix

If there are no visible fractures, add another layer of crackle medium. Depending on the manufacturer’s instructions, wait an hour (or less), then apply the topcoat. Fractures should appear immediately.

If no cracks appear after this step, you may need to repeat the entire painting process. If the furniture wasn’t prepped and painted properly, you might not be able to achieve the perfect crackle paint effect.

  1. Sand or strip the paint until you’re left with a clean, paint-free surface. Always wear a dust mask and protective goggles when doing this, since breathing in sand dust is harmful for your health.
  2. Clean the surface with a damp rag to remove all the sand dust or paint stripper residue.
  3. Apply a thin layer of primer and let it fully dry
  4. Next, apply your base paint. Allow it to dry completely.
  5. Apply the crackle medium. One thin layer is enough. You can add more with caution, as too much can cause big, unrealistic cracks. Let the crackle medium dry sufficiently (until it is like a sticky residue rather than wet glue).
  6. Add the top coat of paint, applying the paint in one direction. Make sure to apply the paint lightly and carefully. Overworking this layer can cause the crackle medium to mix with the top coat of paint, affecting the crackling effect and drying time. Crackling should appear almost immediately
  7. Let the surface dry. Curing time may take a day to a week, depending on the thickness of the crackle medium and the paint used.

Note that different paint and crackle medium brands have specific drying times.

If the crackle medium didn’t create cracks in the paint this time around, try using a different crackle medium altogether. 

Issue 2: The fractures are too big or too small

You can make the cracks big or small, depending on your style and preference.

Typically, small to medium-sized fractures look more realistic, as this is how paint typically cracks naturally over time. So, having very large or very small fractures can look unnatural, sloppy, and unprofessional. 

As a reference, the size of the crackled pieces is highly dependent on the amount of crackle medium applied. 

How to fix

Whether you want to create bigger or smaller cracks, you must first remove the topcoat of paint and crackle medium by sanding. Here’s how:

  1. Take a medium grit sandpaper (100—150), and lightly sand the surface or apply paint stripper such as Citristrip to remove the top coat of paint and crackle medium. Always wear a respirator mask and protective goggles when doing this, since breathing in sand dust or paint stripper fumes is harmful to your health. 
  2. Use a damp cloth to remove the dust or paint stripper residue. For removing dried Citristrip residue, a more corrosive cleaning solution may be necessary.
  3. Apply a thin layer of primer and let it fully dry
  4. Reapply the paint and allow it to dry. 
  5. Reapply the crackle medium in a small section to experiment with how much you’ll need for your desired fracture size. For larger fractures, apply a very thin layer of crackle medium. For numerous small fractures, apply a relatively thicker layer of crackle medium. 
  6. Apply the topcoat of paint as soon as the crackle medium dries enough so that it’s just sticky or tacky to the touch. Use long strokes for longer fractures and dab the brush for shorter ones. The fractures should appear almost immediately.
  7. Once you are happy with how the cracks look in your test area, apply the crackle medium and top coat of paint to the rest of the furniture. 

For future projects, experiment with the thickness of the crackle medium on scrap wood first. This way you can gauge how you should apply it on your furniture. This is extremely helpful for fine-tuning your crackle paint methodology. 

Issue 3: The paint is peeling off the surface

You might be able to easily achieve the crackle paint texture that you are looking for. However, you might find that the paint scratches off your furniture relatively easily. 

To check, lightly scratch the paint with your finger or a brush. If it easily scrapes off then there are adhesion issues.

This issue may be caused by these crackle paint mistakes:

  • The underlying surface is smooth or glossy (this isn’t conducive to good paint adhesion)
  • The surface wasn’t prepped with sanding and primer
  • The base coat and/or top coat of paint hasn’t fully cured 
  • The crackle medium was too wet when the topcoat was applied.

How to fix 

First things first, let the paint fully cure before doing anything else. It can take as long as 30 days for latex paint to fully cure and reach maximum hardness. 

However, once your paint has fully cured, if it still scrapes off relatively easily, try using a sealant. Follow these steps: 

  1.  Pick your sealant. We recommend a water-based spray-on polyurethane top coat. It’s best to spray sealant instead of brushing to prevent further paint flaking.
  2. Spray over the surface, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Let this dry overnight. The paint should stay intact after the sealant has dried.

Note that if you didn’t sufficiently sand and prime before painting, even if the paint has cured and a sealer has been applied, the paint still might easily flake off. Under these circumstances, it may be best to remove all layers of paint with liquid deglosser or sanding and starting from scratch with proper prep. 

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