Do you have a piece of lacquered wood furniture that needs a facelift? Brighten it up with a fresh coat of paint!

Painting over lacquer is an easy and inexpensive way to give an old piece of furniture a whole new look. 

It is not difficult to paint over lacquer. You just need some sandpaper, oil-based primer, and paint. 5 steps will guarantee the paint will adhere to the lacquer and make your furniture piece look brand new!

Can You Paint Over Lacquer?

Lacquer is a finish that is commonly applied to wood furniture. It is composed of resin and shellac. Once dry, the lacquer hardens down to a strong, shiny surface. It is commonly used in wood refinishing because of the protection it provides to wood furniture. Lacquering wood furniture will prevent dings, scratches, and gauges.

If you have an outdated piece of lacquered furniture, you may be considering giving it a refresh by painting it. It is possible to paint over lacquer, but you need to prepare the surface properly first. 

Paint will not adhere to slick or shiny surfaces. Lacquer has both of those qualities. If you paint directly on to lacquer, the paint will peel off. 

What Type of Paint Should You Use?

The best paint to use when painting over lacquer is oil-based paint or latex paint. Both of them will react well with oil-based primers. Oil-based paint and latex paint are thin. This is perfect for the light even coats you are going to want to apply. Oil-based paints will be your least expensive option but will take the longest to dry. Latex paints are a little pricey but dry in under one hour.

Below is a chart that outlines the best paints to use when painting over lacquer.

BrandTypeSizeDry TimePriceColor Variety
Rustoleum “Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover”Latex1-quart30 minutes$16.4825+
Jolie Paint “Matte Finish”Latex1-quart30 minutes$44.9540+
Diamond Brite “Oil-Base Enamel”Oil-Based1-quart12-hours$15.7915+

How to Paint Over Lacquer the Right Way

Before you begin painting, you need to collect the following materials:

  • 150-grit sandpaper and 300-grit sandpaper
  • Protective gear including eye protection, gloves, a painter’s mask or respirator, and a hat or hair net
  • A rag, soap, and water
  • Oil-based primer
  • Paint (oil-based or latex)
  • Synthetic paint brush
  • Foam paint roller

Step 1: Prepare Your Workspace

Sanding down the lacquer is going to get messy. Make sure you are not near anything that could be ruined by dust. If you are not painting the entire piece of furniture, tape or block off the areas you want to remain as they are. 

Put on your protective gear. Lacquer is very toxic. You do not want to get the sand from the lacquer in your eyes. It is also not safe to breathe in. If it gets on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible. If you have long hair or are sanding a large piece of lacquered furniture, you may want to wear a hat or hair. This will prevent the lacquer dust from sticking to your hair and possibly falling into your eyes later. 

Step 2: Sand the Area

Determine if the lacquer is high-gloss, semi-gloss, eggshell, or flat. If it looks very shiny, it is high-gloss or semi-gloss. High-gloss lacquer also feels super smooth. Eggshell or flat lacquer is dull and slightly textured.

If the lacquer you are removing is high-gloss or semi-gloss, use coarse sandpaper. 150-grit will work the best. It will cut through the lacquer and also lightly scour the wood underneath. This will create the ideal surface for primer.

If the lacquer you are removing is eggshell or flat, use finer sandpaper. 300-grit is the best choice. It will sand off the lacquer, and scuff the wood. Using 150-grit sandpaper on eggshell or flat lacquer is not a good idea because it will cut into the wood too much. This will leave you with a very uneven surface.

When sending down lacquer, make sure you are applying medium, even pressure the entire time. Pressing down too hard will damage the wood. Not sanding hard enough will leave the lacquer intact. You know you are done sanding when the furniture looks very matte.

Step 3: Clean the Area

It is very important that you get all the dust off the furniture before moving on to any other step. Start with a shop vac to get most of it up. Then carefully wipe down the furniture with a damp rag. Do not make the rag too wet. The piece needs to be completely dry before you can apply primer. 

Step 4: Apply Oil-Based Primer

An oil-based primer is the best type of primer to use for wood furniture. Wood is very porous. You want to use a primer that will absorb into the wood. The primer is going to act as a foundation for the paint. Using a quality primer will help your paint adhere better and lessen the chance of cracking, peeling, or chipping.  

Use a synthetic paint brush to apply the primer. Choose one with thin bristles. The primer needs to cover every nook and cranny of your furniture piece. A brush is better than a roller at getting into corners, joints, and small areas. Apply the primer in even strokes going against the grain of the wood. By going against the grain, the wood will absorb the primer better. You will get a smoother and more even application. 

Make sure the primer has completely dried down before beginning the painting process. 

Step 5: Apply the Paint

You can clean the synthetic brush you used for the primer or grab a foam roller to apply the paint. Make sure to paint in the same direction that you applied the primer. Paint in thin, even layers. You will probably have to apply multiple coats. Make sure the paint is completely dry before starting the second coat.

If you want to get the best coverage, sand the furniture again in between paint coats. This is time-consuming and adds extra cleanup to your project, but it guarantees smooth paint with no brushstrokes. Make sure to remove all the dust after each time you sand. Remember, each layer of paint needs to be 100% dry before you sand or do a second coat.

Can You Paint Over Lacquer Without Sanding?

If you don’t want to go through the mess and hassle of sanding, there are several products that will help you skip that step. 

Using Deglosser

Deglosser or liquid sandpaper is an excellent alternative to sandpaper. Liquid sandpaper is toxic so make sure you have your protective equipment on. It will take the finish off ANYTHING. Double and triple-check that you aren’t exposing anything that could be damaged to splatter or spray.

Dip a rag in deglosser and rub it over the lacquer. As the lacquer is removed, continue to dip the rag in the deglosser using a clean piece of rag each time. The steps to painting over lacquer by using a deglosser are similar to the process when using sandpaper.

  1. Prepare your work area. Make sure to apply protective equipment!
  2. Apply deglosser to the lacquer.
  3. Wipe down the furniture, taking care to remove any access lacquer or dust that has accumulated.
  4. Apply an oil-based primer against the grain of the wood.
  5. Paint the furniture, keeping your paint strokes in the same direction as when you applied the primer. Apply multiple coats of paint if necessary.

Milk Paint + Bonding Agent

If you do not want to remove the lacquer at all, try mixing even parts of milk paint and bonding agent in a bowl. The bonding agent will eat through plastic over time so don’t use a container you like!

Milk paint is made of milk protein, lime, pigment, and sodium bicarbonate. Milk paint is non-toxic, has virtually no odor, and is environmentally friendly. It adheres to almost any surface but works particularly well on wood. Milk paint has a dull finish and is usually described as “distressed” when dry. It is popular in farmhouse decor and covers any imperfections on furniture very well. 

A bonding agent is a water-based acrylic emulsion that increases the adherence of milk paint. By combining these two, you can paint right over lacquer without treating it first. Follow these steps if you want to paint milk paint over the lacquer.

  1. Prepare your work area. Mix your milk paint and bonding agent in even parts. You only need enough for one coat.
  2. Wipe down your furniture to make sure it is free from dust and dirt.
  3. Apply the milk paint + bonding agent mixture in an even coat. Let this dry completely.
  4. Apply a second coat of JUST milk paint. You do not need the bonding agent in the second coat. 

Once the milk paint is dry, your furniture is ready to be used! While this process certainly has the least amount of steps, you should only do this if you are okay with a distressed paint look. Milk paint is fairly expensive and not as easy to find as oil-based or latex paints. Plan ahead and order it online in case your local home improvement store doesn’t carry it.

Painting over lacquer is an easy and inexpensive way to bring new life into a piece of furniture. You just need sandpaper, primer, and paint! The most important thing is to take your time. Sand the lacquer down evenly and make sure the furniture is free of dust or dirt before you prime. 

Resources and Related Articles

All About Milk Paint – This Old House

How to Paint Over Lacquered Woodwork | ehow

Can You Paint Over Lacquer? – Popular Painter

How to Paint Over Lacquer: Complete Guide

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