Why You Should Prime Before Chalk Painting

{original publish date February 13, 2018}

there are some great questions in the comments, so after reading this post, check them out. Feel free to add your comment also. I do my best to reply, sometimes the comments get sent to my spam and I don’t see them promptly. But I try to check often.

Update: All of the painting I did and have done since, using this technique has held up to daily use and abuse by a family of 6, with 4 small children.

I finally finished the laundry room cabinets. Before, they were the common orange oak. Wood cabinets are beautiful, and typically I like them. But with our floors and color schemes, I did not like the orange/honey oak cabinets. Because refinishing floors is too big of an undertaking right now, I decided to paint the cabinets!

I did use a primer on the cabinets before chalk painting; I did it *just* to see if the paint covered better, and to fill in some of the wood grain.


  • Join the CHALK AND MILK PAINT PROJECTS facebook group. They are full of information, not brand specific, and can tell you the *truths* about using chalk paint, that manufacturers/professionals may not. It isn’t as simple as we have been made to believe. haha
  • Decide what look you are going for: Do you mind the wood grain showing through? I didn’t mind it- I knew my cabinets would look like painted wooden cabinets in a farm house. That doesn’t bother meBUT If you want a perfectly smooth finish with painted-from-the-manufacturer look, then you will need to use a wood grain filler first, along with a few more steps.
  • YOU HAVE TO PRIME WOOD. Period.  NO one tells you this, not blogs, not Pinterest posts, not the chalk painting industry, no one! And typically, brand-loyal reps will say “such and such chalk paint brand doens’t do this …” BUT if you are going to polyurethane OR polycrylic (and even wax sometimes) to seal your chalk painted wood you risk the tannins from the wood bleeding through the paint and yellowing the poly! Trust me, 3 projects an joining the above FB group later, I learned my lesson. Read below for WHY.
  • It needs to be an OIL based primer– water attracts tannins, which is why the water based poly shows tannin bleed through! (Really, all this info credit goes to the ladies in the above FB group, I did not know these things!) The OIL based primer acts as a “solid” barrier if you will, where as the water based primer we all love to use, allows bleed through. Save yourself the trouble later and just prime first.
  • Know your chalk paint- I have used only 2 different brands. Dutch Boy from Menard’s and a chalk paint from a company online (purchased on Amazon). The chalk paint from the shop on Amazon is superior to the Dutch Boy, in my opinion. I *think* what makes chalk paint special is the actual pigments that color it; I am unsure if chalk-style paint like Dutch Boy uses pigments, or just tinting like regular paints. This could be the difference I am seeing in my 2 paints? I should call and ask Menard’s what they use to color the Dutch Boy paint.
  • Ladies in the FB group really like some of the DIY chalk paint recipes even BETTER than the BIG name brand chalk paint… I’m telling, that group is awesome!
  • Gather everything you need-

Chalk Painting My Laundry Hall Cabinets

  • Washed well with soapy water (using Dawn dish soap). Let dry
  • Clean well with Krud Kutter, wiped dry, allowed to dry 10-15 minutes
  • Prime using oil based primer and priming brush (synthetic bristles)
  • After drying thoroughly, paint using chalk paint and chalk paint brush. After a few projects I discovered that YES, a chalk paint brush is necessary for chalk paint. The application and final coverage is amazing and much better than with a regular paint brush.
  • I applied each coat of paint as soon as the first dried; chalk paint dries quickly, so this part goes quickly
  • after thoroughly dried, apply polycrylic or crystal clear polyurethane. The longer you let the chalk paint cure, the better your poly application will look. Lightly sand with a fine sanding sponge between coats of poly. The more coats of poly you add, the shinier it will become-even if you choose flat poly… so if you’re going for a flatter/chalk paint look, then only apply 2 coats of poly!

****It is important to stir, stir, stir, SLOWLY, your paints and polys. Stir often because you need to keep the particles in the medium suspended, slowly because- bubbles.

Also, if your paint is too thick or left open a while, you can water it down using distilled water, no harm no foul. **This often allows a better application anyway, prevents globbing, dripping, and it doesn’t take much water.

That’s pretty much it! I applied 3 coats of poly on my cabinet doors; it is a matte, but the 3rd coat made them more “satin” or shiny than matte. I don’t like the shine, I wanted a matte look, so I am going to sand and try to get rid of the shine some. Next time I will use 2 top coats instead of 3.


One day I hope to tackle our  kitchen cabinets in a similar way!

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This entry was posted in DIY.


  1. Sherry Johnston says:

    What primer from Amazon did you use
    I have a cherry wood TV stand and I am going to chalk paint it. There are scratches on it. Bought it for 50 dollars. Could u let me know? I do not want any bleeding thru.

  2. Nicole Cobb says:

    Hello, I have intentions to paint my wall with chalkboard paint and use it for homeschooling this year. However, I really want to use chalkboard markers on my chalkboard painted wall. What do I need to do or how many coats of primer do I need to use to make my
    wall a non-porous surface? So I could use chalkboard markers for the homeschool year.

    • Meghan says:

      Hi Nicole. What a great idea! I have not used chalkboard markers before. i Have one small wall that is painted with chalkboard paint and it seems pretty non-porous… But I would do a coat or 2 of a really good primer to be sure! I hope you find the answers you’re looking for- and when you do come back and let us know what you found out! Thanks for your question

  3. Nefetari says:

    Thank you for these great tips. I have a question. What do you mean by bleed through with water based primers? Does this mean yellowing over time or the wood stain will show through? I only ask because of course I just primed my wood with yep a water based primer. I am okay if the wood kind of shows through because I like that look but yellowing not so much.

    • Meghan says:

      hi, thanks for your question- by “bleed through” I mean the tannins in the wood (usually an orangeish color/yellowing affect) happens fairly quickly over time. You can think of tannins like a natural color in the wood, that the water based primer sort of pulls up to the surface. Let me know if you have more questions. =)

      • Kelli Kautz says:

        So I had this yellowing happen and a friend thought it was because the polyurethane was oil based. So I had to start over. I have the piece of furniture primed with oil base primer. And plan to do the chalk paint again. So for the polyurethane should I go water based or doesn’t it matter? What I’m understanding is the yellowing was probably from not using an oil base primer first?

        • Meghan says:

          Yes- you need the oil based primer to seal off the tannins in the wood before applying chalk paint (which is water based). So I would:
          Prime with oil based primer (like youve done), chalk paint, and then use the Varathane or Minwax water based polyurethane that is listed in the blog, or found here: https://amzn.to/3dtvVCZ Or here: https://amzn.to/2WEtYNr

          Let me know if you need more help or info!

  4. Vicky says:

    The listing on Amazon may have been changed, but the oil-based primer linked under your “Gather Everything You Need” Section is now linking to a gray, water-based primer.

    Can you please clarify which oil-based primer you use, since the link is not corresponding to your recommendation?

    • Meghan says:

      I am sorry Im just now seeing this- Here is a link to the same brand, oil based primer and sealer that will work: https://amzn.to/3fuTNIm

      I will update the post! You should also be able to find that primer at a home improvement store or walmart, if it isn’t in stock on Amazon.

  5. phil says:

    Glad I read this. I Used only chalk paint on bathroom cabinets. Plan on painting kitchen cabinets and will prime with oil base. Thanks.

  6. Heather says:

    Hi, we just started to paint our Oak kitchen cabinets with chalk paint , but have found that the wood is bleeding thru after 3 coats on the doors….so is our best option to cover with oil based primer now ….we live in Canada so probably would not have the same products as you ?

    • Meghan says:

      Hi Heather- yes. I would Sand down the chalk painting you’ve done, oil base prime, and then rechalk paint. It is a lot of work, but necessary.

      Look for similar products that do the same thing- block stains and tannins. Most high quality oil based primers will have that on the can. You can ask the people at your home improvement store For recommendations, too. 🙂 hope that helps!

  7. Donna Leahy says:

    Hi Meghan, I only wish I found your site sooner! After cleaning & sanding a cherrywood stained cabinet I applied two coats of Rustoleum chalk paint waiting the appropriate time between coats. All good, until the next morning I brushed on the top coat by Rustoleum to the backside of one of the doors.. The streaking occurred instantaneous and as I redipped my brush brown came off in the can but my chalk paint was gray! Home Depot suggested the spray can top coat. Finally, success with one coat so far. Doesf spraying on the top coat make a difference or do you think it will streak when i try to do the rest of it? Here’s my dilemma, I have a matching piece to paint! I sanded and primed it today and will paint it tomorrow in the same color. Do you think the spay on application for top coat will match the brushed on top coat of the primed piece?

    • Meghan says:

      Hi Donna, is your spray top coat water based? If it is, it may not streak or yellow *yet* but it will eventually… :/ this is because there isn’t anything to stop the tannins in the cherry wood from coming through.

      If I were you, (and I know it stinks), I would 1. sand it down, you don’t have to go all the way to the wood, just get some of the layers off. 2. Prime with oil based primer, 3. Repaint and top coat. That is the only way to guarantee there won’t be yellowing or streaking later. It could take a few days, or a few months, but without blocking out those tannins in the wood, the chalk pain will change color, and the top coat will yellow.

      I hope that helps some.

  8. Donna says:

    Thank you Meghan, I was afraid you were going to suggest this, since I was thinking the same thing. I don’t understand why Rustoleum wouldn’t suggest it on the can of paint. It would have literally saved me hours of time and costs of paint. Thank you for your honesty, so far this project has been discouraging just hope the chalk paint look is worth it.

    • Meghan says:

      I do understand your frustrations. I think they don’t put it on the cans of paint, for the same reason all other chalk painting brands say minimal prep needed … it is a marketing ploy, and often people don’t find the problem until weeks later when their light colored paint/clear top coat has yellowed, or their dark paint has changed shades with yellowing top coat.

  9. Amanda says:

    Hi, so I will be doing an old cherry armoire with Rust-o-leum’s chiffon creme. I am so glad I found your blog, bc like you said almost every place else says “No priming needed.” So I will prime first, then paint. But my question has to do with the wax. I was going to use the kind you put on with a t-shirt. 1 brand I was looking at is Jolie Finishing Wax. It just seems easier to apply. Does this kind of wax work? Or do you have any other recommendations? Thanks so much, Amanda

    • Meghan says:

      Im sorry I missed your question, Amanda. What did you end up doing?
      I am not familiar with all the different brands of wax; but in general the finishing waxes made for chalk painting eventually nee to be reapplied in the most uses places. For instance, a coffee table that is used repeatedly in the same spots for coasters and things would need reapplying. How often varries, but I’ve read a few times a year, to every few months. Furniture that is rarely used wouldn’t need touch ups with wax, as often.

      Let us know what you decided to do!

  10. Dawn Collette says:

    I am doing some small tables, and I used kilz primer and acryclic black paint and then was going to use white chalk paint, and then a wax. Can I paint using an acryclic and then a chalk paint. Have you ever done this and what is your experience doing it.

    • Meghan says:

      Im so late to this comment, it slipped by me. I apologize!
      I have no experience with acrylics … I am not sure what to do there. Im sorry. If you figured it out, let us know!

  11. Tracey says:

    You have so much wonderful information here! I only wish I had found it sooner. My husband and I just finished all the prep, two coats of chalk of paint, and started applying the polycrylic on a hutch when the tell tale signs of bleed through quickly showed. There really are no words to how disappointed we are. To say we are in a bit of a time crunch is an understatement. I don’t see the time and labor happening that would be needed to sand it and start from scratch. Is there any quick fix? Instead of using a water based polyurethane, can an oil based polyurethane be used or would it cause the same bleed through as the water based? Or can an oil based primer be used over the chalk paint and then repainted with chalk paint or even oil based paint? Be gentle. I’m desperate and grasping for straws.

  12. Rachel Kilgo says:

    Thank you for your wonderful advice! I have a china cabinet that I did not use kilz on before painting with my chalk paint. I also used the DB brand of Gator hide on top. I now have bleed through spots coming through. Could I just go back on top of this all with kilz and repaint and reclear coat? Thank you for your help.

    • Meghan says:

      That’s what I would do- Degrease/degloss with Krud Kutter, then kilz, repaint and clear coat. I am not familiar with gator hide … but I think those steps should cover just about anything!

      Good luck!

  13. Amanda says:

    So glad I found this post as I just finished sanding about was about to apply black chalk paint to a dark wood table (I am guessing it’s maple or pine). Do you still recommend using a primer even when using a dark chalk paint? I plan to seal it with polycrylic. Using Behr products for both the chalk paint and seal. Thanks for your insights and happy new year!

  14. Mystica Fleury says:

    Can I put chalk paint on top of rustoleum metallic spray paint? Im trying to get a 2 toned distressed look.

    • Meghan says:

      I apologize for the delayed reply. I ave never used a metallic spray paint. However, they say you can put chalk paint over anything, but you will need to seal it no matter what you do.

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