We all love MDF for our various projects, including furniture and cabinets. After all, it’s cost-effective compared to other wood types.
The only problem, though, is –
MDF does not look nearly as good as “real” wood—and that’s why we paint it.
As long as your MDF is sealed and appropriately primed, painting it is pretty straightforward.
In this article, I’ll discuss a few specific tips for choosing the type of paint and the steps to follow when painting MDF. So if you are ready, let’s start on a journey to make your next project go great…
Best Paint for MDF
When painting MDF boards, cabinets, shelves, or other furniture, you always want to avoid water-based paints.
Even after the MDF has been sealed, do not take the risk of applying water to this naturally absorbent surface.
The best option for MDF boards is oil-based paints. However, many people find oil paints too complex since you must apply paint thinners and deal with potent chemical odors.
Alternatives to oil paints that can be used on Medium-density fibreboard are non-water-based acrylic and latex paints.
These are simpler to use than oil paints and are much safer for your MDF than water-based paints. Plus, most of these MDF paints are available in attractive colors like beige, blue, gold, grey, black, and white to select as per your decor.
You can even find these paint colors in clear and metallic shades – for those who want to try something different than usual.
No matter what your home furniture project may be, you don’t have to settle for industrial and plain-looking MDF.
Painting the material is easy and safe as long as you know how to do it without damaging the wood and using as little moisture as possible.
So, if you are still excited to learn, check and use my below tips on your next project to get your home furniture looking beautiful…
Pros and Cons of MDF
Before you start painting your MDF, there are a few essential things you should know about the material to help you in the process.
MDF (or Medium Density Fiberboard) is made up of small wood pieces pressed together with wax and resin.
For this reason, it is super absorbent and exceptionally vulnerable to water damage – and that’s the most important thing to keep in mind when painting MDF.
You never want to use water-based paints (stick with oil-based materials), and you should always seal your surfaces with PVA glue or primer before painting.
Another this is – because MDF is made in a factory, it’s free of many natural impurities, such as knots and uneven surfaces.
This makes compressed MDF boards pretty easy to paint the way you like. You can even paint it to get a beautiful high gloss mirror finish if you desire.
Also, because there is no grain direction, you can use pieces freely on projects without worrying about pattern matching.
Another benefit of MDF is having each board cut into the sizes you need. This means you do not need to fasten pieces together quite as often, and your furniture as a whole requires fewer parts.
And for the above reasons, MDF wood and boards are also used for making wooden toys for kids, letters for educational purposes, and other crafts in addition to home decor and furniture.
One bad thing I hate when using MDF is it releases chemicals much like formaldehyde, especially when you cut and sand the board. So, it should be handled with care if you are allergic.
• Easy to paint
• Can be easily shaped
• Contain no natural impurities
• Good to use for furniture, crown molding, baseboards, and trims
| • Vulnerable to water|
• Does not hold screws well
• Can change shape in extreme humidity
• May warp or expand if not sealed correctly
• Can release a strong odor
How to Paint MDF Edges?
If you paint the edges of MDF before sealing, you’ll find that the edge will completely absorb the paint and begin to bulge.
Seal and Prime
Sealing your MDF with PVA glue or primer is pretty simple. Just apply a thin, even layer of either PVA glue or oil-based filling primer, let it dry, then sand it down.
Even after you prime the edges, MDF will look more porous than the rest of the board. To combat this, smooth it out using a drywall compound, then sand and apply a coat of primer again on top.
For priming the pressed MDF edges and the surface, you can use water-based primers, proprietary acrylic primer, or simply an emulsion paint.
Paint the MDF Edges
Once you have the edges prepped, you can use oil-based paints on your MDF without having to worry about damaging your project.
In theory, you should be able to use water-based paints after priming the MDF edges properly.
But there’s always a chance of water from those paints seeping through, especially if it has small holes (due to nails or for any other reason) present on the surface.
So, it is best to avoid water paints altogether on MDF, if possible.
How to Paint MDF Cabinets and Shelves?
When painting MDF furniture, cabinets, kitchen cupboard doors, and shelving, there are a few things to keep in mind.
You should always start with as thin a coating as possible. This layer is a good test to ensure your MDF is sealed correctly.
If it is not, you will see it start to absorb the paint, but there is no need to worry; that is why you applied as thin a coat as possible—to minimize the damage.
If your MDF is adequately treated, it will take a long time for the paint to dry. This is a good sign.
Conversely, if the paint dries quickly, it shows that the MDF is absorbing the paint. If this starts to happen, you will need to sand back down to the raw wood and start the sealing process over again.
Overall, you want to do two or three coats of paint on your MDF. And be sure to sand things down between paint layers as well.
Use a higher grit after the first coat, then get progressively lighter with each coat later. This will ensure proper adhesion and a good-looking piece of furniture.
Once you are done painting, you will want to do one more round of sealant to finish off the job. This time with a sealer such as lacquer.
This will protect your furniture, cabinets, and shelves from scratches and damage and provide a final extra layer between your wood and moisture.
Same as with the paint, start with thin layers of sealant and apply two to three coats.
Take extra care along the edges to get a thorough and even coat since this is the most absorbent part of the wood.
What Kind of Roller to Use for Painting MDF?
Using the right kind of roller and brushes for MDF wardrobes, cabinets, and edges simply means that you can complete your paint task much faster and with the right finish.
If you are priming or painting an unfinished board surface (before it’s framed as cabinets), you can use any standard paint roller.
However, a standard paint roller can be too large and will not be going to do the job well for cabinets.
So, you will need to get one that can quickly get into the narrow cabinet spaces, wardrobe framework, and shelves.
Getting a mini roller will be the best choice for cabinets, shelves, and ledges made of particle board or MDF.
Unlike ordinary rollers (which are about 9 inches long), mini rollers are only 4 inches long and come with round edges that are easier to fit into tight spaces and corners.
When choosing a roller, ensure that it comes with a good quality high-density foam cover with a small diameter. This will allow easy application.
Can you stain MDF to look like wood?
Yes, MDF doors, cabinets, baseboards, or stairs can be stained to look like wood. However, the finish you get will not be as beautiful as natural wood due to the lack of wood grains.
Also, you would need to consider the fact that stain is not absorbed by MDF, as well as natural wood. And for this reason, polyurethane is often advised to coat over the stain for a better gloss and finish.
Can you spray MDF cabinets with car paint?
Yes, you can spray car paint over MDF cabinets and shelves. It will look just like regular oil-based paint when you apply the proper sealant and primer before spraying.
Once sprayed, make sure you brush or roll on small parts and crevices to get a beautiful finish.
The Bottom Line
MDF board does require lots of care while cutting, prepping, priming, and painting. However, when painted, it’s entirely safe for use.
In fact, painting, staining, and varnishing your MDF plywood or particleboard surface is one of the best ways to ensure that your project withstands the threats of moisture and humidity with great preciseness.
Follow the DIY process correctly and choose the right primer paint designed for MDF.
But if you are not skilled at dealing with DIY projects or fear playing with paints, taking the help of a professional is a route to go.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.