How to Paint Laminate Furniture | Without Sanding VS Sanding

I put 4 primers, some latex and chalk paint and sanding and not sanding up against a laminate desk top. Here’s how the how to paint laminate furniture experiment went!

We’re diving into the amazing world of Painting Furniture and showing you how to paint laminate furniture, and if it matters if you sand or not. We’ll reveal the secrets of turning that old side table or tired dresser into a stunning piece of home decor.

Whether you want to distress your piece for a vintage look, or want a sleek, modern finish – we’ve got you covered. Trust us, it’s easier than you think!

"paint laminate without sanding" with laminate desk top

I’ve always been curious to know what primer REALLY is the best for painting laminate furniture and if you can REALLY get away without sanding before priming.

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I’m typically the person who says you have to sand before painting laminate and have to have the best bonding primer to get the paint to stick to the laminate. I’m super curious if all of that is REALLY necessary or not.

“Do we really have to sand before using a good bonding primer? Will sanding make it possible to use a so so primer instead?”

So this week I put 4 different primers through a durability and bonding test against this laminate desk top.

shiny laminate desk top

I took it a step further by testing each primer on sanded primer and not sanded primer too. And then to top it off, I tested chalk paint VS latex paint on each sample.

I’m not going to lie, I was actually pretty surprised at the results and I can’t wait to share them with you! (Scroll down to get straight to the results – but you’ll miss the experiment!)

Supplies Used to Paint Laminate Furniture

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4 bonding primers to test on laminate furniture

How to Paint Laminate Furniture

First I cleaned the laminate with Krud Kutter to remove all of the dust and any grease or oil from the surface.

**No matter what, cleaning furniture with some sort of degreaser cleaner before painting will always make the paint stick better. Learn exactly how to prepare furniture for paint to get the best results here.

I personally love and use the original Krud Kutter for all of my furniture flips, but a bucket of hot soapy water with dawn dish soap cuts through grease and grime too!

Sanding VS Without Sanding

To really test sanding laminate vs without sanding laminate, I sanded half of the laminate top with my favorite 3M 220 grit sandpaper.

I chose to sand the half of the laminate that had old nail polish on it so I could sand that off.

nail polish on laminate desk top

And honestly, if nothing else, that’s one major benefit to sanding before painting furniture. If I left the nail polish on there and just painted over it, there’s a good chance you would be able to see the little nail polish spots after I painted everything.

The same goes for scratches or anything else that is on top of or in the surface of the furniture. If you have deep scratches or chips in the laminate, check out these tips to repair old furniture before painting.

I sanded just enough to dull down the shine in the laminate and to remove the nail polish. The point of sanding is to give the paint or primer something to hold onto.

(Just like how it’s hard for us to get a good grip on something slick, it’s hard for paint to get a good grip on slick laminate.) If you want to get the best sandpaper for your project, here is the best Sandpaper for Furniture Painting, with information about what grit to get as well.

I left the other half of the laminate untouched. So it was only cleaned with Krud Kutter, but not touched by sandpaper at all.

You can see the difference here. On the left it’s less shiny, and that’s where I sanded. On the right it’s nice and shiny, and that’s where I didn’t sand.

laminate top with half part scuff sanded and half part not sanded

Then I wiped off all the sanding dust and taped off the laminate into sections. I taped it down the middle, right on the line of sanding and not sanding. Then I taped those two sections into 5 of their own sections.

The first section is for no primer, the next section for BIN shellac based primer, the next for Clear Shellac, the next for Bulls Eye 123 primer tinted grey, and the last section for Country Chic Paint’s clear bonding primer.

Testing 4 Bonding Primers

Then I painted the primer into their taped off sections.

*Yes, I could have and maybe should have tried some other great bonding primers.

**But these 4 primers are what I already had on hand, and for the most part, they are really easy to get at your local hardware store or online.

FOUR MORE primers that I WANT TO TEST out are STIX, Dixie Belle Slick Stick, KILZ, and Cover Stain. You can check out my Zinsser Cover Stain Primer Review here, but I didn’t test it out compared to these other primers.

Clear Shellac

First up was the Clear Shellac primer because I used the spray can. I covered the other sections so I wouldn’t get shellac on them, and then I sprayed the clear shellac in a sanded section and a not sanded section.

bottle of zinsser clear shellac

Why Clear Shellac?

I wanted to test the white tinted shellac VS the clear shellac because I love distressing furniture and showing some wood on the edges and details.

But if you use white tinted BIN shellac primer, you’ll see the white in between the paint and the wood and that kind of ruins the look for me.

So I’d love for the clear shellac to be a winner of this test!

Bulls Eye 123 Primer

Next up was the water-based Bulls Eye 123 primer.

This primer comes in white tinted or grey tinted, but grey tinted is just what I had on hand. And it came in handy for this experiment so I could tell which primer was which a little bit easier.

can of bullseye 123 primer

Why Bulls Eye 123 Primer?

I love the idea of using a water-based primer because I hate the fumes of the shellac or oil-based primers.

Check out my list of the best water based primers here.

The can of primer boasts that this primer sticks to all surfaces without sanding, and I’ve honestly never really believed it.

It also comes in a spray can version too for easy application! If you want to brush it on though, here are the best paint brushes for painting furniture.

But since the can says it sticks, I wanted to test it out against other options, just to see.

Country Chic Paint’s Clear Bonding Primer

Then I painted on Country Chic Paint’s clear bonding primer that is made for applications like this.

jar of country chic paint clear bonding primer

Why Country Chic Paint Clear Bonding Primer?

It’s water-based AND clear, so it has two of my favorite things going for it. No harsh fumes and I can distress the paint on top of it for a farmhouse-style finish.

The problem though is that it’s not as easy to grab at a local hardware store, and it doesn’t come in a spray can for easy spray application.

But I’m really curious as to how it fares against the competition. I’ve used it in the past on this laminate dresser makeover in this how to paint laminate furniture post and I thought it worked pretty well.

BIN Shellac Based Primer

Last but not least I brushed on the BIN shellac based primer. This one is usually a top recommendation when you’re painting laminate furniture.

can of BIN shellac based primer

Why BIN Shellac Based Primer?

It’s easy to get at your local hardware store, and it comes in a spray can or containers.

If you want to put it on by hand, rolling it is the easiest way because it’s thin. Here are the best rollers for painting furniture.

But it’s shellac based like the clear shellac I sprayed on and it definitely has fumes. And it’s tinted white, or you can tint it closer to your paint color like the grey 123 primer.

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Recommended Drying Time For Primers

After one coat, I let all of the primers dry for the recommended time. The BIN shellac primer can be painted in 45 minutes.

The clear shellac and 123 grey primer in 1 hour. The Country Chic Paint primer needs 12 hours to dry before painting over it.

Learn more about the best primers for painting furniture in this post!

Chalk Paint VS Latex Paint

So after an hour, I painted a coat of some latex paint that I had on hand and a coat of my favorite chalk paint, Country Chic Paint, on all of the sections except for the Country Chic Paint primer that needed to dry overnight.

The next day I ended up with a total of 2 coats of latex paint and chalk paint on all of the sections. Read this post to learn all about the best paints for furniture.

laminate top painted with different primers and latex and chalk paint

And then, since it was Saturday, and I don’t work on Sunday, the paint all dried until Monday afternoon, which gave it all time to dry for at least 24 hours, plus some.

Typically when you do a scratch test to make sure your paint is going to stick, it’s recommended to let your paint dry for 24 hours before seeing if it will stick or not.

Scratch Test

I was suuuuper excited when I was able to start the scratch test on Monday! First I just used my fingernail to try to scratch off the paint.

No Sanding and No Primer Scratch Test

I started with the not sanded with no primer section. Just like I suspected, the latex paint and the chalk paint came off pretty easily with just my fingernail.

So I moved onto the sanded section with no primer. It came off pretty easily too, but not quite as easily as the section where I hadn’t sanded.

scratch test of laminate top not primed and not sanded
No Primer without Sanding
scratch test of laminate top sanded but with no primer
No Primer with Sanding

The chalk paint was a little harder to scratch off than the latex paint was to scratch off too. So there definitely is some extra bonding going on with the chalk paint vs latex paint.

Learn the secret to painting furniture with latex paint to get it to stick as well as chalk paint!

BIN Shellac Based Primer Scratch Test

Then I tried scratching off the BIN shellac based primer. I first tried just scratching off the primer where I hadn’t painted over it. Both sections, the sanded and not sanded, didn’t budge where just the one coat of BIN primer was.

And in both the sanded and not sanded sections of the BIN shellac, the latex paint stuck for a scratch or two, but then it scratched away from the primer.

scratch test of laminate top with bin shellac primer without sanding
BIN Shellac Primer without Sanding
scratch test of laminate top with bin shellac primer with sanding
BIN Shellac Primer with Sanding

The chalk paint held up great on both and I couldn’t get it to scratch off of the BIN shellac primer.

Clear Shellac Based Primer Scratch Test

The clear shellac based primer sections were pretty similar, with the latex paint scratching off of the primer just a little tiny bit, no matter if it was sanded or not before priming.

But the chalk paint hung onto the clear shellac for dear life when I tried to scratch it.

scratch test of laminate top with clear shellac without sanding
Clear Shellac without Sanding
scratch test of laminate top with clear shellac with sanding
Clear Shellac with Sanding

Bulls Eye 123 Primer Scratch Test

When I moved to the Bulls Eye 123 grey primer, I first tried scratching at just the primer to see how well it stuck. Right off the bat, it scratched off of the NOT sanded section.

So of course the latex paint scratched off easily too. Somehow the chalk paint held on better though!

On the sanded side of the grey tinted primer, the primer stuck pretty well. The latex paint didn’t stick to the primer very well, but the chalk paint held on!

scratch test on bullseye 123 primer without sanding
Bullseye 123 Primer without Sanding
scratch test on bullseye 123 primer with sanding
Bullseye 123 Primer with Sanding

Country Chic Paint Clear Bonding Primer Scratch Test

Finally, I got to the Country Chic Paint clear primer. The sanded and not sanded side gave pretty similar results, with the sanded side coming out on top just by a little bit.

The latex paint scratched off a little bit, and even the chalk paint scratched off the tiniest bit.

scratch test on country chic paint primer without sanding
Country Chic Paint Clear Bonding Primer without Sanding
scratch test on country chic paint primer with sanding
Country Chic Paint Clear Bonding Primer with Sanding

Scrape Test

Just for fun, and good measure, I busted out my metal paint scraper to give each paint and primer combination one last chance.

Obviously, you aren’t going to take a metal scraper to your furniture when you’re using it.

But there definitely is no guarantee that a kid might do something similar! The results were pretty much the same with the scraper as they were with my fingernail.

**The metal left some silver on the paint as I scraped it.

It scratched through the latex paint a lot more than it scratched through the chalk paint.

The Results

Honestly, I am pretty surprised by the results! I’m all about sanding before priming and painting to make sure your paint sticks, and I still think that is the best advice.

the results of the scratch test on the laminate desk

BUT I’ve gotta say, in this case, the shellac-based primers had excellent adhesion whether the laminate was sanded before or not!

I’ll still be sanding before priming with them, especially because I sell my furniture, but if you’re looking to get the job done a little quicker, painting laminate without sanding is totally possible with a shellac-based primer beforehand, like in this painting with General Finishes Milk Paint post.

I’m also honestly shocked that the 123 grey tinted primer held up so well on the sanded side. And that the latex paint overall wasn’t as good as the chalk paint.

I mean, I know that chalk paint has better adhesion, but I thought that over primer it would have pretty similar adhesion.

I wasn’t surprised that no primer at all, and the 123 grey primer without sanding didn’t hold up at all.

And even though the Country Chic Paint clear primer chipped just a little tiny bit, I’m still really impressed with it especially since it’s a water based product that probably just needs more time to cure before it can be more durable.

So in the end I think you just have to weigh your options.

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Can you Paint Laminate Furniture Without Sanding It?

The best overall winners for the scratch test were the BIN shellac based primer and the clear shellac primer, both with and without sanding.

Check out how we painted IKEA furniture without sanding with these primers here.

So yes! You can paint laminate furniture without sanding! Check out the best paints for furniture without sanding here.

Keep in mind though, if you have any scratches or spots of nail polish (like I did), you’ll want to sand those areas so you have a nice smooth surface for your paint.

What Kind of Primer Should I Use on Laminate?

All of the primers that we tested ended up sticking to the laminate. But some needed sanding before priming!

Both the Bulls Eye 123 primer and the Country Chic Paint Bonding Primer need the laminate to be sanded before priming to really stick. But the shellac-based primers can be used with and without sanding the laminate beforehand.

*On one hand, you have your quick, shellac-based primers that have a good amount of fumes, but you don’t HAVE to sand before using them.

**On the other hand, you have the water-based primers that take a little bit longer to cure into highly durable primers, and you really need to sand before using them. But they have very little to no fumes to worry about!

What Kind of Paint Do You Use on Laminate Furniture?

It was overwhelmingly apparent in this test that chalk paint is a way better paint to use, even over primer!

The latex paint scratched off even over the best bonding primer, while the chalk paint held on in most of the tests!

Will Chalk Paint Stick to Laminate Furniture?

Straight up, chalk paint with no sanding and no primer? NO!

Check out this makeover on how to chalk paint furniture… I didn’t sand before painting the wood dresser… and the chalk paint still didn’t adhere as well as it should.

It definitely sticks better than latex paint does, but please don’t use chalk paint on slick laminate without doing something to make it stick better.

If you don’t at least prime under the chalk paint, you’ll be left with a bad paint job, where the paint will easily scratch off of the laminate.

If you really don’t believe me, do a scratch test of your own. Paint a little bit of chalk paint on the flat surface of your laminate (so it’s super easy to remove if it doesn’t stick).

Let it dry for 24 hours and then try to scratch it off with your fingernail. If it sticks really well, then you’re good to paint the rest of your laminate furniture with chalk paint.

If it scratches off easily, you’ll need to remove that little bit of chalk paint and at the very least paint a coat of shellac based primer on the laminate before painting with chalk paint.

How to Paint Laminate Furniture To Look Distressed

You have two options! Either use the clear shellac or the Country Chic Paint clear bonding primer.

Both are clear, so you’ll be able to distress your paint without seeing a white primer in between the paint and laminate.

The clear shellac has some fumes for sure, so if you want to work indoors, I’d use the Country Chic Paint clear bonding primer. Just be sure to scuff sand before using the Country Chic Paint primer to get the best results.

Learn more about distressing furniture here.

How to Paint Laminate Furniture Without Sanding

How to Paint Laminate Furniture Without Sanding

Are you looking to paint your laminate furniture? Here’s how to paint laminate furniture without sanding!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Active Time 6 hours
Additional Time 6 hours
Total Time 12 hours 10 minutes
Difficulty Easy


  1. Clean the laminate furniture with Krud Kutter to remove all of the dust and any grease or oil from the surface. Repair any scratches or chips in the laminate.
  2. Prime with a shellac based primer. Let primer dry before painting.
  3. For best results, paint with chalk paint instead of latex paint.
  4. Topcoat with a water based poly to seal the chalk paint and add extra durability.


If you want to distress the chalk paint, use this clear shellac instead of the white tinted BIN Shellac Based Primer.

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  1. Would you put any sort of sealant on top of the piece after using the primer and chalk paint? I am using your method to repaint my own furniture!

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