Stop painting over “stains” on your painted furniture. Learn how to stop stains from coming through paint, before or after you’ve painted your furniture (or your wooden walls). A yellow stain coming through white paint, or any color stain coming through any color of paint, is called bleed through. It’s annoying, but keep reading to learn how to fix paint bleed through, and how to prevent it from happening the next time.
Get more painting techniques for furniture here!
Bleed through. A word I never heard of until a few months into my painting career.
And then BAM, it was all over, and I had to completely start over on my freshly painted dresser. It was a disaster!
If you’re struggling with a stain that keeps bleeding through paint on the wall, or on any white or light paint, keep reading because we’re going to get it fixed.
Supplies Used to Stop Stains from Coming Through Paint
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- BIN Shellac
- General Finishes Stain Blocking Primer
- Kilz Restoration Primer
- Zinsser 123 Primer
What Does Bleed Through Look Like?
In simple terms, bleed through acts like a stain that shows up on your painted wood. It tends to look orange or red, and it will not go away, no matter how many coats of paint you put over it.
What Causes Paint to Bleed Through?
In more complicated terms, bleed through is caused by tannins in the wood.
If the tannins aren’t sealed in, they seep through paint, or worse, they don’t show up until you have topcoated your paint with some waterbased poly.
OR they can even take their time and show up weeks after you have painted the wood.
*insert ugly crying face here*
I got you though!
Whether you already painted your piece and you’re just finding out about bleed through on wood furniture, or you haven’t even started your painted furniture project, I have just the fix!
You have to block the bleed through with the right primer!
When Does Bleed Through Most Likely Show Up?
Bleed through is the biggest pain on lighter colors of paint. If you’re painting with a dark color like black, you might not see it because the dark pigments do a good job of hiding the bleed through.
That happened with one of these dark grey painted dressers. That doesn’t mean that it’s not there though.
Bleed through also shows up in wood knots and places where the old finish has been removed down to bare wood. Learn more about how to stop wood knots from bleeding through paint here.
How Can Bleed Through Be Avoided?
The best way to not get stung by bleed through is to prevent bleed through from happening in the first place with a coat or two of stain blocking primer.
Check out the best primers to stop tannin bleed here.
I’ll be honest, when I first learned about bleedthrough I thought that I would just treat it as it happened. But it kept happening so frequently that I wasted so much time going back and fixing it.
So, I promised myself that I would never move forward with a piece without preventing it first.
How to Prevent Bleed Through on Painted Wood Furniture
There are a couple of ways to prevent it, and I choose from the different options depending on the finish I’m going for, or the environment that I’m in.
This step of preventing the bleedthrough on painted wood is like the middle of a sandwich. It’s after I prep the furniture for paint, but before I actually paint any color on.
First, I prep by cleaning the furniture, lightly scuff sanding, and then cleaning the dust off. (Things like permanent markers can bleed through paint too!)
Once the prep work is done, I apply 2 coats of my choice of primer below. Check out the best primers for painting furniture here.
Two full coats are really the minimum I would ever recommend using to prevent bleed through. Then you can paint your furniture, and you shouldn’t have bleed through stains anymore.
Related: Don’t make these other five biggest furniture painting mistakes!
It also comes in a spray can, so the application is super easy and fast.
How to Use Clear Shellac to Prevent Bleed Through
When using shellac, I let it dry for at least an hour between coats, longer if you can wait. The longer it dries, the more effective it will be (to a point).
Clear shellac comes in a regular can too, and can be brushed or rolled on. But they will need to be cleaned with ammonia if you want to keep them for another project.
The biggest downside to shellac is that it really really stinks and it’s flammable. So I only use shellac when I can paint outside and I definitely wear a respirator or face mask to protect my lungs.
- Dries clear
- Dries quickly
- Cheapest option
- Comes in a spray can for easy application
- Shellac also helps with adhesion
- Has a very strong smell
- I recommend 3 coats of shellac
- Works really well with chalk paint and mineral paint… But not all paints
Furniture Makeovers Using Clear Shellac
- Coffee Table Makeover Idea
- Painted Cedar Chest Makeover
- Vintage Dresser Painted with Teal Furniture Paint
BIN Shellac-Based Primer
BIN shellac is a white primer that is shellac based. This one is really good for pieces that I’m painting white, or if I don’t plan on distressing the colored paint.
It covers really well and makes it so you don’t have to use as many coats of white paint, which is a huge plus because painting white can take 5 coats sometimes.
Learn about painting furniture white to get a perfect finish.
I also really love that it comes in a spray can as well, and it acts pretty similar to the clear shellac. It also is one of the best bonding primers for painting furniture!
How to Use BIN Shellac Based Primer to Prevent Bleed Through
When using BIN shellac based primer, I let it dry for at least an hour between coats, longer if you can wait. The longer it dries, the more effective it will be (to a point).
I also like to prime with 2 coats for the best stain blocking powers. Sometimes it needs more.
The downside again, just like the clear shellac is that it’s very stinky and flammable. So I only use it if I am able to paint outside, and I definitely wear a respirator or face mask.
I prefer to use the spray can, but that can get expensive quickly. The next best way is to roll it on because it’s so thin. Here are the best rollers for painting furniture.
- Dries fast
- Comes in a spray can for easy application
- Cheaper option
- Is great for white painted furniture
- Great adhesion
- Works with ALL paints
- Isn’t clear for distressing purposes
- Has a very strong smell
Furniture Makeovers Using BIN Shellac Based Primer
General Finishes Stain Blocking Primer
I started to use General Finishes stain blocking primer when I had to paint inside for the winter. It still has a smell, but the smell is way less potent than shellac, so I feel way more safe using it indoors.
I still wear my respirator with it though, just to be safe. It works really well to block bleed-through in wood, but it only comes in white.
It also costs more than the shellac options, and it doesn’t come in an easy-to-use spray can.
How to Use Stain Blocker to Prevent Bleed Through
The dry time is also longer than with shellac. I believe the can says to let it dry for at least 2 hours, but it’s best practice to let the last coat dry at least overnight so it can really seal in the wood tannins.
One last thing, I have personally had a couple of problems with this primer drying up and clumping in the can before I can use it.
Once it does, it’s nearly impossible to get it all mixed back together. If you can buy it from someone who hasn’t had it sit on their shelf for a while, you’ll be better off.
- No strong smell
- Works very well
- Great for white painted furniture
- Isn’t clear for distressing purposes
- Takes longer to dry
- Not as cost-effective
- Doesn’t come in a spray can
Furniture Makeovers Using General Finishes Stain Blocking Primer
Other Stain Blocking Primers
There are other stain blocking primers, like Kilz Restoration primer, Zinsser 123 primer, and numerous other waterbased primers that claim that they will block bleed through stains.
Here’s my list of the best water based primers for more information.
Check out my Zinsser Cover Stain Primer Review here to learn more about the pros and cons of this product.
The very best bleed through stain blockers are shellac and oil based primers. (Oil based primers take a long time to dry enough that you can sand them without clogging up your sandpaper.)
Some water based primers can block bleed through, but they honestly aren’t as good as shellac or oil primers. They also need to dry longer to be effective enough.
If you are working with a lot of bleedthrough, then it’s best to just use shellac primer and/or oil primers to block it.
If there is a small chance you’ll have bleed through, the water based primers might block it without an issue.
Check out this video to see what bleed through looks like, and how shellac based primers compare to water based primers. There are so many good tips in this video!
My Favorite Product to Prevent Bleed Through
My first choice is shellac primer in a spray can. I love how easy and quick it is, and I love that it dries clear. BUT, if I can’t paint outside, then I would use the General Finishes Stain Blocker.
And if I’m not using a mineral or chalk based paint, (like painting with Benjamin Moore Advance) I would recommend not using clear shellac… just because it doesn’t always help every paint stick to all surfaces.
It has worked 99% of the time for me though!
How to Get Rid of Bleed Through After You’ve Already Painted
What if you’ve already painted your furniture, but you’re just now seeing bleed through?? Can you paint over bleed through?
I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is that it can be fixed. The bad news is that it’s going to be extra work.
Here’s our list of the best paint for furniture.
If you haven’t sealed the paint yet
If you caught the bleed through before topcoating your painted furniture, it’s super easy! Just pick your choice of stain blocking primer and paint it over the un-sealed paint.
Make sure to use at least 2 coats and let it dry at least the proper time before painting again.
Read this guide about the topcoats for painting furniture to protect your paint.
If you’ve already sealed the paint with polyurethane
If the bleed-through hid until you painted on the water-based poly, don’t fret! (If you used a wax, it needs to be removed before you can lightly sand and prime again. Sorry!)
Let the poly dry completely and then lightly scuff sand the whole piece by hand. (If you don’t want to sand by hand, here are the best sanders for furniture.)
You just want to scuff up the surface of the poly to make sure your stain-blocking primer is going to adhere well.
Once you’ve scuff-sanded and wiped all the dust off, grab your choice of stain-blocking product and paint at least 2 coats, allowing for proper dry time.
Check out this makeover to see how I fixed bleed through after I sprayed a coat of polyurethane on this homemade chalk painted dresser.
It’s definitely not the end of the world, but it may feel like it when you think you’re basically done with your project!
After basically repainting a few pieces after I didn’t prevent bleed through, I stopped taking chances and now I always prep for bleed through.
- Prep furniture for paint by cleaning, lightly scuff sanding and then cleaning the dust off.
- To prevent bleed through from happening, apply a coat or two of stain blocking primer onto furniture with a brush and/or roller.
- Paint furniture with your choice of paint.
- If you caught the bleed-through after painting and before topcoating your painted furniture, just get more of the stain blocking primer and paint it over the un-sealed paint. Make sure to use at least 2 coats and let it dry at least the proper time before painting again. Let the primer dry overnight.
- Now, seal your painted furniture.
Choose 1 primer from the list above. Make sure to let your primer dry overnight before painting over it with your choice of paint.
If you can see stains coming through the primer, let it dry overnight and then apply another coat of primer, until you can't see the stains coming through the primer anymore.
Shellac and oil based stains are the best!
More Painting Furniture resources
- What Paint to Use on a Dresser
- Best Painting Furniture Supplies
- How to Chalk Paint Furniture White
- How to Paint Stripes on a Wall Without Bleeding
- Best Way to Paint Furniture
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