Three Must-Do's when Painting Fabric Furniture

by Krista Howard September 25, 2017 6 min read

Three Must-Do's when Painting Fabric Furniture

Today, I share a topic that I didn’t think I ever would — how to paint fabric furniture. To be frank, the thought of painting fabric furniture just seemed strange to me. Additionally, an experience several years ago (before Vintage And Restore By K Furniture Paint existed) left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. While I can’t recall all the details of why painting fabric just ‘wasn’t my thing’ when I tried it back then, I can recall that it left the fabric feeling rough and…well…painted (which makes sense, since it was ;o))

A little more back story to this do-it-yourself fabric painting project…

I purchased a beautiful vintage couch off Craigslist a few months ago with the intention to reupholster it (the current fabric was in good condition but I just wasn’t too keen on the light blue color). But, coming off a HUGE reupholstering project, like this couch not even six months ago had me hesitant. I knew the energy this bad boy would take and was simply not ready to make that kind of commitment.

I was talking with my husband about where we could store the couch until I was ready to reupholster it. After a brief discussion, we concluded that we didn’t have anywhere to store it EXCEPT outside — on our (covered) patio of all places. "Hmmmmm," I thought, "Inside furniture outdoors? Well, I’m sure we’ve done crazier things before so why not!?" Furniture flipping friends, who can relate?!

However, I still did not like the color of the fabric and tried to brew up a brainstorming session with my husband on what I could do to make it ‘pretty’ without reupholstering. To my surprise, he said, “Why don’t you paint the fabric?” After, I picked my jaw up off the floor for two reasons:

  1. My husband is supporting me painting another piece of furniture — woohooo!
  2. I thought he disliked the painted fabric concept more than me! Guess I was wrong!

And so, the story of painting fabric furniture with chalky finish paint begins….

Here’s the deal, I won’t keep you on edge any longer. I’m going to give the three tips right now. Then, if you want more detail, keep reading and I will elaborate on each tip.  Deal? Deal!

Top Three Must Do's when Painting Fabric Furniture:

Must-Do #1:  Lightly spray the fabric with water before applying the Furniture Paint
Must-Do #2:  Let each coat of Furniture Paint dry COMPLETELY before applying the next coat
Must-Do #3:  Sand in-between each coat of Furniture Paint


And now for the details of each tip…

Must-Do #1:  Lightly spray the fabric with water before applying the Furniture Paint

First, always make sure your fabric is clean.  You don’t want dirt particles contaminating your Furniture Paint and the finish. Now, grab a spray bottle and fill it with water and get your paint — I chose Charcoal Furniture Paint for this project.  


When painting fabric, work in small areas. Lightly spray the fabric with water (again working in small areas – you want the area to still be damp when you apply the paint) then apply the first coat of Furniture Paint. Regarding how much to spray, start with only two or three pulls of the spray trigger — ideally on the mist setting. You only want it to be damp. If you spray too much water, the fabric will eat up the Furniture Paint like no other and you will waste paint.

I recommend using a round brush to apply the Furniture Paint. Since I was working with a large surface, I used our large round wax brush (check it out here). I found that ‘dabbing’ the paint on (versus ‘brushing’ it on like you would a piece of wood furniture) worked better. 

You will more than likely need at least two coats of Furniture Paint. This couch took two coats, but the tones were also similar in color (from light blue to dark gray). If you are working with fabric that has a bright design (for example) and you want to paint it white, you will more than likely need more than two coats. It all will depend on what your fabric looks like.  

It’s important to have patience (something I lack!!) when applying the Furniture Paint. Don’t try to ‘force’ full coverage on the first coat  — you could end up just wasting product!

Keep working in small areas, spraying the water and applying the Furniture Paint until you’ve covered the entire fabric surface.


Must-Do #2:  Let each coat of Furniture Paint dry COMPLETELY before applying the next coat

You may have caught that I just stated that I (sometimes :o) lack the skill of patience. Well, there was NO WAY around that with this project. The first coat of Furniture Paint must be dry before moving on the second coat. For this couch, that meant I had to walk away and leave it alone overnight (not fun for a gal who likes things done, like, yesterday).

You will know the Furniture Paint is dry because the fabric will be somewhat stiff and it will feel like dried paint (makes sense, right?!). Have no fear, we will get to this in the last tip.


Must-Do #3:  Sand in-between each coat of Furniture Paint

At first, I had horrible flashbacks of why I wasn’t a fan of painted fabric — the stiffness!  But, I took a deep breath and told myself it would all be ok once I sanded it down — and guess what? It WAS all ok once I sanded it. 

A few pointers with the sanding  — I used an electric sander because I had a large area to cover and doing it manually by hand would have taken forever. I stayed around an 80-grit sandpaper and it worked well. As you start to sand, you can feel all the stiffness disappear, like magic!

Once the surface was sanded, I wiped off the dust and applied the second coat of paint the same way as the first coat. Then I had to be patient (again!). I waited overnight and repeated the sanding process on the second coat the next morning.

When all was said and done, the fabric did feel a bit different from the original ‘fabric’ feel, but it was not rough. It almost feels like something in-between leather and suede.

For the frame, I gave it a quick sand to even out the surface, then applied a combination of our black and brown all-natural Furniture Wax. I have no idea how it happened, but it turned the light brown (almost oak like) stain into this beautiful almost red-wood looking finish. I don’t think I could duplicate this finish if I tried!  But, I wish I could because the color is absolutely stunning.

And here's the after pic. The darker shade is exactly what I was looking for, and now, I absolutely love this beautiful indoor couch on our outdoor patio! 


And a quick before and after comparison...


I am happy to report that this experience has changed my opinion of painted fabric furniture! So if you’re thinking of giving it a shot, I say do it!

I still plan on reupholstering this day. But, for now, I'm loving it like it is :)

Lastly, a common question that comes up is, ‘How much paint will I need?" This question can be tough enough to answer on wood pieces, let alone fabric!  But here goes my best advice and some scenarios to consider…

  • This couch took a little less than a quart (32 oz). But keep in mind that the colors were somewhat similar 
  • I painted a chair that is about half as much fabric (not pictured) but went from blue to painted white. It still took a little less than ¾ of a quart because I went from a darker color to white.  So half the surface almost took the same amount of paint due to the color going from dark to white.

My best advice would be to assume it will take about 1.5 – 2.5 times more paint when painting fabric furniture than painting a wood piece of furniture. I would compare this couch the same amount of surface as a six-drawer dresser. A pint (16 oz) of Furniture Paint is enough for a six-drawer dresser (with some typically left over). In this case, the couch needed almost a quart (32 oz) — or almost twice as much paint. 

Well, that’s all for now, friends!  As always, feel free to leave any comments, questions, or additional tips in the comments section.

Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Like our Facebook page for more do-it-yourself tips.

Happy Fabric Painting!



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Krista Howard
Krista Howard

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