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How to paint furniture: a beginner’s tutorial

*Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by General Finishes and I did not receive anything in exchange for this post. I just love the product and wanted to share about it! This post does contain affiliate links which means I may receive a referral commission, but your price stays the same. Thank you in advance for your support! 


We are four and a half weeks away from closing on our new home and I’m in big time nesting mode. We’re picking paint colors and shopping for rugs and furniture which is a lot of fun, but I’ve been feeling a sense of urgency to DO something for the new house that I can actually see right now.

After months of preparation and procrastination, I started and finished my first DIY project for our new house this weekend and I am completely in love with how it turned out!


When we decided to move, the one thing I knew I needed in our new house was white cabinets. I read about painting kitchen cabinets without sanding or priming with General Finishes Milk Paint and thought it was perfect for what I needed.

General Finishes Milk Paint is not a true “casein based milk paint” but a modern version of old world paint with a strong mineral base. It comes pre-mixed (unlike true milk paints that come in powder form that you mix with water) in 26 colors and is rated for indoor and outdoor use.

We’ve attempted a few projects with chalk paint before and have been extremely underwhelmed. The projects took a lot of paint, which is pretty expensive, and the waxing was a tedious task. This milk paint was appealing because of the low lustre sheen similar to chalk paint, there’s minimal prep work needed, the leveling properties that give a smooth finish with minimal visible brush strokes and that a topcoat isn’t needed. I also love that it’s environmentally friendly, low VOC and dries fast in just 2-4 hours.

I bought some paint and all of the supplies and thought I would practice on some old furniture we had that could use a face lift. The thought of painting furniture was so intimidating that it took me five months to work up the courage, but now that I’ve done it, I feel silly for waiting so long!


I picked this side table up from a local garage sale site for $30 and knew it had potential because it’s solid wood and well made. I knew I wanted to paint it a teal or turquoise color, but none of the General Finishes Milk Paint colors was just right so I mixed up my own custom color using two parts Halcyon Blue and one part Lime Green and the color turned out perfect. This project took about one full pint of paint to complete.



1. Denatured alcohol

2. Scotch brite pad

3. 120 grit sanding sponge

4. 220 grit sanding pad

5. General Finishes Milk Paint

6. Paint brush

7. Non-sticky tack cloth


  • Clean furniture with a 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and water. I put the mixture in an old squeeze bottle, squirted some on the furniture and rubbed it in with the Scotch Brite pad. I scrubbed it like I was washing a dish, nothing too crazy. The denatured alcohol has a pretty strong scent so I opened the door for some fresh air while I did this.
  • Sand the furniture with a 120-grit sanding sponge. I used a little muscle while sanding, but I didn’t put in any extreme effort during this step. I just made sure to quickly sand all of the surfaces, especially any uneven places with knicks or grooves.
  • Wipe down the furniture with a non-sticky tack cloth. This little cloth was like magic and picked up all of the sanding dust.
  • Stir paint thoroughly before using. Working in sections, use a good paint brush to apply paint liberally to the furniture. General Finishes recommends using a bristle brush to apply the paint and a foam brush or pad applicator to feather it out. I found the foam brush to be more challenging so I used a 1-inch Purdy nylon/polyester bristle brush for the entire project.
  • The paint has the consistency of sour cream and will go on pretty thick. Try not to go over an area more than needed after you have put down the first layer of paint because it will start to get sticky; you can always go back for a second coat or a touch up.
  • Let paint dry for 2-4 hours. Ideal conditions are 70 degrees and 70 percent humidity. It was about 72 degrees with low humidity in my apartment and the paint was dry to the touch within two hours.
  • Use a 220-grit sanding pad to sand any areas that need a second coat. I did this quickly and with a light touch, just enough to make sure the next coat of paint adheres nicely.
  • Apply a second coat of paint where needed. I painted a dark brown piece of furniture with a medium blue color and most areas only needed one coat of paint, but I touched up areas where coverage seemed thin. General Finishes recommends 2-3 coats of paint.
  • Milk paint is durable enough to stand up to medium wear without any additional sealer or topcoat, but if you want more protection, I’d recommend General Finishes High Performance Topcoat.

A few notes:

  • Don’t try this process with any other paint! General Finishes Milk Paint is special and the application and finish is quite different than other types of paint out there.
  • I was able to complete this project in two days inside a small apartment with two small children. I prepped and painted my first coat as soon as the kids were in bed to allow plenty of time to dry without grabby hands interfering. I woke up early the next morning to add a touch up coat and it was dry to the touch by the time the kids woke up.


Once my piece was painted, I wanted to add some finishing touches to give it a little flair so I picked up these gold arrow drawer pulls from Hobby Lobby on sale for $5 each.


I also found the perfect coordinating fabric at Hobby Lobby and used it to line the bottom of the drawers for a cute surprise every time I open them. I followed this tutorial and with some Mod Podge and an X-Acto knife my drawers look amazing!


Now that I’ve conquered my first DIY furniture painting project, I can’t wait to do it again. Have you tried General Finishes Milk Paint? Is there something else out there I should try? I’d love to hear from you on our Facebook page!
  • I’m so glad you posted this! I got home last night and asked Adam how he felt about painting the dresser in our room. 🙂 Your looks great, and best of all–no paint smell!

    • admin

      Awesome, can’t wait to see how yours turns out!