Painting IKEA MALM Dresser and Drawers -Tips and Hacks

tips to paint IKEA malm dresser

Of the many items at IKEA, the MALM dresser is one of the most popular – the sleek design fits in with many home décor options and it comes in basic colors like black, white, gray, and natural wood.

But if there is a downside, it is best if the dresser is painted so that the color fits into your vision and overall home decor. Especially for those with a modern-style home that’s far from black and white traditional style, simply painting the dresser in an appropriate color (like blue, green, red, etc.) can make all the difference.

But unfortunately, the melamine laminate surface is not well suited for painting. So, what can you do to ensure that the paint you do applies sticks to it without getting off any day soon? Well, to achieve this goal, you will need to follow the proper steps in the right order.

I have worked with one of these dressers recently and based on my experiences, here are the steps you should generally follow…

Step 1- Take Apart Your IKEA MALM Dresser

It’s easy enough if the dresser comes in pieces that need to be assembled. You simply keep the pieces separate so they can be properly painted in a color of your choice.

However, if the dresser has come assembled, you will need to take it apart so that you can properly sand all surfaces, which is crucial to getting the paint to stick without missing certain areas.

Just be careful when taking the MALM dresser apart, as the material is vulnerable to having the screw holes stripped or the veneer chipped. The drawers can stay in one piece, but you will need to remove the handles or knobs.

Step 2- Scuff and Sand MALM Dresser

A random orbital sander that uses 120-grit sandpaper should do the trick to scuff and sand the laminate surface. Be sure to scuff-sand all the surfaces using long, arcing strokes. Otherwise, the paint will not stick correctly.

If required you can use a sanding block to sand the edges and corners of the laminate surface. And finish it off, using a damp cloth to wipe away dust and debris from the surface.

Also, it goes without saying that as with all sanding work, use a face mask to protect your lungs from the inhaled sanded dust and debris.

Sanding Ikea dresser

Step 3- Remove the Gloss

Once you have sanded away the laminate surface, it’s time to de-gloss it as well. By removing the gloss, you will assist the primer bond to the surface properly. The result is that the paint you apply on top will stick better and will stay for a long.

Be aware that this step is especially important if you purchased the IKEA MALM series dresser used instead of new. And you will need to do it carefully.

Wipe all the laminate surfaces of the dresser using a rag soaked in mineral spirits. When dry, apply the de-glosser as per the instructions on the label. Wipe the dresser again using mineral spirits and let it dry completely before proceeding to the next step. 

Step 4- Use Bonding Primer 

To prime the IKEA dresser you will need to use the right primer that is designed for laminate surfaces. One that works quite well is Zinsser B-I-N, as it offers a powerful bond between the surface and the paint. 

Apply the primer to the surface of all the pieces and do not forget to include the edges as well. Instead of a brush, use a mini roller to ensure no brushstrokes are seen. Once the primer has dried, lightly sand all the primed dresser surfaces using 220-grit sandpaper. 

Step 5- Use Latex or Chalk Paint 

Both types of water-based paints will work well with the recommended primer. But I think, you should pick and use latex paint for your MALM dresser if you want a trendy look. For a retro-style distressed or aged appearance you can use chalk paint.

As with the primer, it is best if you apply the paint using a mini roller or spray it on the surface lightly to eliminate any chances of brushstrokes being visible.

Keep in mind that it will take two or three coats of paint at least to achieve the desired result. And let each coat dry before you apply the next. Otherwise, the underlying paint will start to peel. 

Step 6- Let the Paint Cure

Once you have applied all the coats of paint as desired, set the pieces aside so they can fully cure.

The curing process will take some time, but it’s crucial because the paint on the laminate surface will tend to peel or chip if the items are placed on the surface before it has fully cured. 

To speed up the curing process, you can place the pieces in a warm area that has good airflow, preferably somewhere outside in your backyard in shade.

Step 7- Seal Using Wax or Clear Polyurethane 

Once the paint is dried and cured, you will need to protect the paint that you have applied.

This could be done using a clear, water-based sealer like Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish if you used latex paint.

If you have used chalk paint (for an aged, distressed, or antique appearance), you can seal it using a polyacrylic finish or a wax sealer designed for chalk paint.

It will take at least two coats, perhaps three depending on how much you are going to use the dresser. Be sure to let each coat fully dry, then sand lightly so the next coat will stick better. Also, remember to wipe away the dust created by the sanding before you apply the next coat. 

painting IKEA malm dresser

Should You Stain or Paint IKEA Furniture?

Depending on the type of IKEA furniture you have and the look you’re going for, you may choose to either stain or paint. Typically for a piece made of solid wood, staining can give it a beautiful natural look.

If you decide to stain make sure to use a good quality wood stain and follow all instructions carefully. Getting deep into the grain of wood brings out a unique look that can’t be achieved with painting.

On the other hand, painting can be great for creating a completely different look with your MALM dresser even when it is just a wood veneer and not a real solid wood. Different paint colors and stencils can be used to update an old piece or to give a makeover to something that looks out of place in your home.

When staining or painting, know that it’s not necessary to perform the task before assembling. But it’s always faster and more accurate if you paint or stain your IKEA furniture disassembled.

Also, because you will lay all the pieces flat during the finishing process you will also prevent the frequent drips and splashes of paint that usually happen when painting fully assembled furniture.

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