What’s the best paint for a kitchen table? What you need to know

light dining room with blinds
Brandon Morgan/Unsplash

Refinishing a kitchen table or dining set is a creative way to change up the look of your home. It breathes life into old furniture and offers a chance to create something you can’t find in stores. One of the most popular refinishing techniques is painting because it’s easy to do, effectively hides blemishes, and offers endless possibilities for personalization. But if you want to have a fully functional table with an attractive, durable finish, it’s crucial to use the right paint.

Choosing the best paint for a kitchen table hinges on a couple of important variables. Before you begin painting, ask yourself the following questions: What is the table made of? Is it wood, laminate, plastic, metal, or something else? Is the surface currently finished or unfinished? If the surface has previously been painted, what is the condition of the existing paint? These factors will help narrow down your choices.

What kind of paint to use on a kitchen table

Whatever the project, you must match the paint type with the surface material and application. The best paint for a kitchen table must hold up to consistent use and cleaning, all while providing a clean, smooth finish.

If the table is made of wood or laminate, oil-based enamel paint is ideal. Although it can be messy, smelly, and difficult to clean up, oil-based paint offers the best combination of long-term durability and a smooth finish. This ensures that high-use surfaces, like dining tables, are both stylish and functional. Water-based latex paint is a good second option. Though it’s not as durable, it is conveniently fast drying, easy to clean up, and low in odor.

For smooth metal surfaces, refinish with oil-based paint. For some materials, such as plastics and textured metals, spray paint is the best option.

Oil-based paint – Best choice

About:

  • Excellent long term durability
  • Leaves few brush strokes
  • Oil-based polyurethane topcoat

How to:

  • Apply with a natural China bristle (hog hair) paintbrush
  • Clean up with mineral spirits

Water-based paint – Limited use

About:

  • Low to moderate durability
  • Leaves brush strokes

How to:

  • Apply with a 100 percent nylon, or nylon/polyester paintbrush
  • Clean up with soap and water

Spray paint – Limited use

About:

  • Moderate to strong durability
  • Especially helpful for textured or smooth surfaces

How to:

  • Apply carefully to prevent excess paint from running
  • Spray topcoat evenly at a 45-degree angle

closeup of a woman's hand painting a table leg

How to paint a kitchen table

  1. Sand all surfaces with 80-grit sandpaper. Remove any and all traces of sanding dust with a vacuum and a damp cloth.
  2. Apply the primer coat, then allow it to dry thoroughly.
  3. Smooth out the primer out with 100 or 120-grit sandpaper. Again, clean up the dust with a damp cloth and a vacuum if necessary.
  4. Apply two coats of paint, giving each coat at least 24 hours to dry. Then, allow the paint to cure for three to five days.
  5. Once cured, apply three or four coats of clear topcoat.

Choosing the right primer

Primer conditions the wood surface to encourage the paint to bond tightly to the material, making for a strong, durable finish. The primer coat seals the grain of unfinished wood, hides imperfections, and binds the wood fibers together for a smooth finish. After applying, smooth out the primer coat with 100 grit sandpaper, and clean up any dust before painting.

Oil-based primer is suitable for use with either oil- or water-based paint — it really just comes down to personal preference. In most instances, oil-based primer provides superior results, but it is smelly and takes much longer to dry. Water-based primer dries quickly but may raise the woodgrain and leave brush strokes. On the other hand, water-based primer works only with water-based paint.  

Choosing the right topcoat

The last step is applying the topcoat, the clear finish that protects the paint from scuffs, scratches, and general wear and tear. Use an oil-based topcoat with oil-based paint and, alternatively, use a water-based topcoat with water-based paint. Additionally, you can also customize the sheen of this topcoat, choosing from matte to ultra glossy finishes.

Avoid using topcoat products with amber tones, as this will give the table a yellowish appearance. Instead, opt for crystal clear finishes like polyacrylic or clear polyurethane. Though not necessary, many DIYers choose to apply clear finishing wax as well, especially for water-based chalk paint or milk paint projects.

And voila! With a little patience and the right tools, you can have a newly refinished dining room table that upgrades the entire space, no floor-to-ceiling remodel necessary.

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