We all love MDF for our various projects. After all, their cost-effectiveness compared to other wood types makes them great for furniture and cabinets.
The only problem, though?
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 primed properly, painting it is pretty straightforward.
In this article, we’ll discuss some tips to follow when painting MDF 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 a surface that is naturally absorbent.
The best option for MDF boards is oil-based paints. However, many people find oil paints too complex since you need to apply paint thinners and you have to deal with potent chemical odors.
Some alternatives to oil paints that you can use on MDF are non-water based acrylic and latex paints.
These are simpler to use than oil paints and are safer for your MDF than water-based paints.
No matter what your home furniture project maybe, 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.
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Pros and Cons of MDF
• Easy to paint
• Can be easily shaped
• Contain no natural impurities
| • Very vulnerable to water|
• Does not hold screws well
• Can change shape in extreme humidity
• May warp or expand if not sealed correctly
Before you start painting your MDF, there are a few things you should know about the material to help you in your 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.
This is 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 should always seal your surfaces with PVA glue or primer before painting.
Because MDF is made in a factory, it is free of many natural impurities such as knots and uneven surfaces.
This makes MDF pretty easy to paint the way you like. You can even paint it to get a beautiful mirror finish if you like.
Also, because there is no grain direction, you can use pieces freely on projects without worrying about the patterns matching.
Another benefit of MDF is that you can have 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 this reason, MDF wood and boards are also used for making wooden toys for kids, letters for educational purposes and other crafts.
One bad thing that I hate when using MDF is it releases chemicals much like formaldehyde, especially when cutting and sanding.
How to Paint MDF Edges?
If you paint the edges with MDF before sealing (like of MDF trim), you’ll find that the edge will completely absorb the paint and begin to bulge.
This is why it is so important to seal your MDF with PVA glue or primer first.
Sealing is pretty simple. Just apply a thin and even layer of either PVA glue or oil-based filling primer, let it dry, then sand it down.
Even after you prime the edges, the MDF will still look more porous than the rest of the board.
To combat this, you can smooth it out by using a drywall compound, then sanding it down and applying a primer on top.
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 properly.
But there is always the 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 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 make sure your MDF is properly sealed.
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 treated properly, it will take a long time for the paint to dry. This is a good sign.
Quickly drying paint is a sign that the MDF is starting to absorb 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 later coat.
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 will protect your furniture, cabinets, and shelves from scratches, 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?
One thing you need to remember when painting MDF wardrobes, cabinets and the edges is to choose the right kind of paint roller and brushes for the job.
Using a right kind of roller for MDF wood simply means that you can complete your paint task much faster and with right finish.
If you are priming or painting an unfinished board surface (before its framed as cabinets), you can use any standard paint roller.
However, since your standard paint roller can be too large and will not going to do the job well for cabinets, you will need to get the one that can easily get into the narrow cabinet spaces, wardrobe framework and shelves.
For this, getting a mini roller will be the best choice for cabinets, shelves and edges.
Unlike ordinary rollers (that are about 9 inches long), mini rollers are only 4 inches long and it comes with round edges that are easier to fit into the tight spaces and corners.
While choosing a roller also make sure that it comes with a good quality high-density foam roller cover with a small-diameter. This will allow easy application.
Is painted MDF wood safe?
Yes, it is provided you finish it right. MDF board does require lots of care while cutting, prepping, priming and painting. However, when painted and finished into a piece of furniture it is completely safe to use.
Can you stain MDF to look like wood?
Yes, MDF doors, cabinets, baseboards, or even 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 better gloss and finish.
Can you spray paint MDF with car paint?
Yes, you can use car paint for spraying over MDF. It will look just like normal paint. However, if you wish to get a beautiful finish using a brush or a roller is advisable for painting MDF. No matter what you use (sprayer, roller or a brush), make sure that you pick the right sealant, primer and paint to get the right long-lasting finish.
The Bottom Line
Painting, staining, and varnishing your MDF plywood surface is one of the best ways to ensure that your project withstands the threats of moisture and humidity with great preciseness.
Make sure that you follow the process and choose the right kind of paint that is designed for MDF.
If possible, take the help of a professional, especially when you are not skilled at dealing with DIY projects.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls. He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.