I think nearly every time I’ve shared a post where I’ve hacked some piece of Ikea furniture, I’ve had questions over email and social media about the best way to paint it. Most Ikea pieces are really inexpensive because they lend themselves so well to personalisation and you’ll never feel quite as hesitant to try your hand at DIY on something that didn’t cost you hundreds. On the other hand, it also means that a lot of these pieces are laminate – great for keeping costs down, not so great for painting. Laminate can not be sanded down first to create a ‘score’ – that rough surface that allows paint to adhere to, making your furniture a little more durable for everyday use. Even if you use a primer, you’ll still find once it’s painted, it will easily scratch because the primer itself doesn’t stick well to laminate either. Luckily, I’ve learned how to paint Ikea furniture – and any laminate really – quite easily and it’s made a huge difference in terms of how well my pieces wear.
So what to do?
Well, as you may know, my other half works in the car industry and has done for over 20 years – he paints cars for a living. Some of the cars he works on are utterly ridiculous – Ferraris and Aston Martins mostly -but these are cars that are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and so his experience with painting really comes in handy when it comes to DIY. I know that sounds insane but you’d be surprised the things we’ve tried and ended up learning in the process of doing up our home.
One of those little tips we’ve learned was that laminate is essentially like a plastic. It’s nice and smooth but doesn’t act like real wood does. When he paints the plastic parts on cars, he uses a spray-on adhesive promoter* which acts as a bond between the shiny smooth plastic and the primer.
And this, my friends, is the secret to painting Ikea furniture or any laminate for that matter – that thin layer that sits BETWEEN the primer and your laminate. Think of it as a primer for your primer.
Where do you get it? Well, any auto shop will carry it (if you are in the UK, try Halfords) but you can even get it on Amazon – here in the UK *, here in the US. Yes, this is meant for cars but we’ve used it now twice – on the Billy Bookshelves in my dressing room and again for the desk in my office (which was laminate).
The Billy Bookcases were done over two years ago now and there is not one scratch or mark on the surface even as I remove shoes, bags and various things from the shelves every single day. The desk was done well over a year ago and despite daily use, again, the finish has held up beautifully.
The other thing I would recommend especially for a piece that will get lots of wear (so things like table tops or shelving) is an oil-based paint. Oil-based paints are more hard-wearing than their water-based counterparts and can stand up to a lot of abuse before they start to scratch. You’ll know if the paint is oil-based if on the back it says to wash your brushes in white spirit or paint thinner rather than water.
So here are your steps:
- Spray on the adhesives promotor
- Wait 20 minutes or so for it to become tacky
- Paint with primer
- Wait however long it tells you in the manufacturer’s instructions
- Paint with your final oil-based paint
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended amount of time before applying your second coat
- Leave for a few days to fully dry (I normally wait about 5 days before using)
If you take your time and follow these steps, you’ll be left with a perfect finish on any Ikea piece or laminate furniture that simply won’t budge.
Will you be painting any IKEA furniture soon? I’d love to know if my tip helps!
*Please note, this method is only recommended for IKEA furniture with a laminate finish. If your piece is made of wood and not laminate, then sanding, priming and painting will give you a better result. Always read the label of anything you use and follow manufacturer’s instructions. Always use any spray products in a well-ventilated area. Basically, just use common sense.