How to use Chalk Paint – Written by a Decorator

Updated May 16, 2024 | Posted Dec 30, 2023 | Professional insight, Product Advice | 1 comment

Chalk paint has grown enormously in popularity in recent years, with both professional decorators and DIYers using it, particularly for furniture upcycling projects. Brands such as Frenchic and Annie Sloan have led the charge, but Rust-Oleum and Johnstone’s (retail range) also now offer chalk paints, among others.

So why has it become so popular, and what is the best way to get great results with chalk paint?


Why has Chalk Paint Become so Popular?


The simple answer to this question is “the media”! DIYers are inundated with videos on TV and YouTube of pieces of furniture being transformed in a couple of hours “with hardly any prep required” (we’ll come back to that point a little later!).

In a time when everyone’s budgets are under pressure, the idea of being able to get hold of a piece of furniture cheaply second-hand and transforming it with minimal effort is bound to be appealing. 

Obviously, furniture can be upcycled with other paints, it’s not the exclusive domain of chalk paint – I’ve done quite a few pieces myself using Farrow & Ball Modern Eggshell for example, and it’s worked really well.

But unsurprisingly, people love the “minimal prep, minimal effort” story which the chalk paint manufacturers use in all their marketing.

Distressed furniture created by using two different colours of chalk paint

What Prep is Needed When Using Chalk Paints?


If I was painting a piece of furniture with “regular” paint (not chalk paint), the steps I would take would be as follows:

  1. Remove any hardware (handles, knobs, locks, hinges etc) – this eliminates the risk of getting any paint on them, and allows you to clean them separately, or replace if you wish
  2. De-grease to remove any wax or furniture polish, which will stop the paint from adhering properly
  3. Fill any holes or dents in the surface with good quality wood filler (personally I like Toupret) and sand smooth once it has cured
  4. Sand the surface to provide a “key” for the paint to adhere to – you only need to dull the surface, not sand back to bare wood.
  5. I would then give the surface a wipe down with a rag dampened with white spirit to help remove any dust from sanding, and any remaining wax or polish residues. I would then wipe down with a damp cloth and leave to dry.
  6. Once the furniture is dry, I would paint with a suitable primer – “suitable” depends on what finish is already on the furniture, but BeDec All Prime is always a good option.
  7. Finally, I would apply the paint.

The beauty of Chalk Paint is that you hardly need to do any of that prep! All the manufacturers recommend that you clean and degrease the surface thoroughly, but most say that that is all you need to do!

A great product for degreasing is Zinsser Universal Degreaser & Cleanser – it’s simple to use and works really well (click here to see online prices).

Personally, if I was painting bare wood with chalk paint, I would still treat the knots with a shellac-based primer, and then give the whole piece a coat of water-based primer.  Any previously painted or stained/varnished surfaces I would abrade to provide a key – I know it says it’s not necessary, but if I’m working for a customer and being paid for it, it’s my reputation on the line so I’d rather take one extra step to make sure that the paint is going to stick.


How to Apply Chalk Paint


However much prep you decide to do, your next step is the painting.  Chalk paint can be sprayed or applied by brush and/or roller.  I find you need to work quite quickly with it, as the drying times are short (typically recoat in just one hour). This means you can get the job done quickly, but you have to be on your toes to keep a wet edge and avoid brush marks.

Having said that, if you’re after the “shabby chic” look that chalk paints are often used for, brush marks are less of an issue. If, on the other hand, you want a nice smooth finish, my preference (as I don’t do much spraying) is to use a brush for the mouldings and awkward corners, and then roll the large flat surfaces with a 4” roller (my choice would be Two Fussy Blokes or Pioneer Velvet Poly Flock mini-rollers) to get the paint on quickly and evenly. Then I lay the chalk paint off with a brush straight away in the direction of the grain.   Once your first coat is on, allow it to dry, and then apply a second coat.

A lot of people go for the “distressed look” when using chalk paint, and it’s relatively easy to achieve. You will need to buy two separate colours. Start by applying one colour, allow to dry, then apply two coats of the second colour over the top. Allow to dry again, then lightly rub the top colour down until the first colour shows through. Do this on corners, edges, and small patches on flats until you get your desired result. Anyone can do this, so don’t be afraid to have a go and be creative.

But that’s not the end of the story….


How to Seal and Protect Chalk Paint


If you stop at that point, your chalk paint will look great…for a few days! But it’s very prone to marking, scuffing, scratching and so on, and before long you’ll feel you’ve got to give it another coat.

Chalk paint is also very porous – it absorbs stains, natural oils form hand contact etc, so in no time it will start looking less than its best.

To solve this problem, allow it to dry for at least 2-3 hours, longer if possible – some people say as long as 24 hours – and then apply a sealing coat.

The traditional choice is a clear wax, but you can use a clear varnish such as Polyvine Decorator’s Varnish which is a lot easier and more durable than wax. This is especially true on surfaces such as tabletops which are more likely to suffer more wear and tear.

making paint more durable with polyvine decorators varnish

Polyvine is available in gloss, satin or matt and dries in a couple of hours.  If you’re using a wax, you can apply it with a brush or a lint-free cloth, but have a separate (clean) cloth handy to remove any excess wax, and give your furniture a final “buff” (remember Karate Kid – “wax on, wax off”!).

The more you buff the surface, the higher the level of sheen you will achieve, so if you want a more matt finish, only buff it enough to remove excess wax.

Finally, refit (or replace) the hardware on your furniture.  Leave it to fully cure – the wax can take up to a month, so check on both the paint and wax tins for brand-specific information; in any event, it’s best to minimise contact with the furniture during this time as it is still soft and prone to scratching etc.


The one exception to the “you must wax or varnish to protect chalk paint” rule is Frenchic “Lazy Range”. 

Their regular “Original Artisan” chalk paint needs sealing to protect it, but the “Lazy Range” claims no prep, no primer, no wax sealer needed – all in one!  It sounds too good to be true, and to be honest I haven’t tried it yet myself, but I’d be interested to hear comments from anyone who has.

tin of Frenchic chalk paint

So there you go – a quick introduction to how to paint with chalk paint. There’s a lot more I could have got into in terms of special effects and decorative finishes that you can achieve with these products, and also different primers I would feel might be necessary in certain situations (even if the chalk paint tin says, “no primer necessary”!), but hopefully that’s enough to get you started!

Updated May 16, 2024 | Posted Dec 30, 2023 | 1 comment

About the Author

About the Author

With years of decorating experience, Robin set up his own business – Wokingham Decorating Services – in 2007, carrying out mainly domestic work. He enjoys trying out new products and learning as much as he can about the decorating industry

1 Comment

  1. MJ Clifford

    Frenchic Lazy Range chalk paint is very good. If going over wax then meths and wire wool, wash down and allow to dry.


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