Can You Paint MDF?

Can You Paint MDF? (Step by Step Guide)

MDF, or medium-density fiberboard is commonly used when making furniture or completing other woodworking or DIY projects. It’s affordable, convenient, and can be stronger than other wood alternatives.

But can you paint MDF? Let’s find out!


Yes, you can paint MDF but you must follow the proper steps and use the right materials. While it might require a little more work than other types of wood, it’s certainly possible.

How to Paint MDF

MDF is an excellent material for use in furniture, home construction, and countless other projects. But in these cases, you may need to paint the MDF.

If you want to paint on MDF, you can! You just need to understand the best process for adding some color to your project just like painting particle board.

What You’ll Need

It takes more than a can of paint to get the job done when opting to paint MDF. You will need several tools and materials to finish the process, many of which you probably already have in your toolset. Here’s a quick tool and material list I recommend:

  • Brush/foam rollers
  • Brush
  • Sanding block
  • Putty knife
  • Tack cloth
  • Paint
  • Sanding sealer
  • Polymer-based filling
  • #220 and 320 sandpaper
  • Paint tray and liners

1. Prepare the Surface

The first step in painting MDF is prepping the surface. It’s pretty simple, but necessary.

Grab your #220 sandpaper and place it on a sanding block. Then, rub the sandpaper gently on the surface getting rid of any wax coating, high spots, or anything else that might cause the paint to become loose.

Depending on the size of your project, you can also use a power sander, but you must be careful.

You need to ensure you sand gently. If you work too hard with uncoated MDF, it can cause damage that gets in the way of painting and may cause issues with the paint sticking.

Make sure the surface is free from damage and pores before moving forward. You should cover every spot on the MDF boards to ensure an even coat.

2. Add Sanding Sealer

Next up, you’ll need to apply sanding sealer. This is a thin, liquid finish that’s used to coat bare wood for additional protection.

Grab a paint tray from your supplies and place a liner inside before pouring the sanding sealer and mixing.

Next, I recommend you use a foam roller to coat the MDF boards with an even layer of sanding sealer. Keep the layer neat and clean to keep the thickness consistent. While you can use a brush, I found it’s more difficult to get an even coat – so using a roller is easier.

Before moving on to the next step, make sure the sanding sealer has had time to dry – which takes around an hour.

3. Sand the MDF Again

Once the sealer has dried, it’s time for another round of sanding.

Grab the #220 sanding paper and attach it to your sanding block or power sander. Gently rub the block over the MDF to get rid of any excess bumps.

As you sand, be careful! You don’t want to push through the sanding sealer, or you will need to repeat the steps all over again.

4. Use Primer

Before you start painting MDF, you should always prime the surface for proper adhesion.

It’s critical to use an oil-based primer because a water-based version will soak into the MDF and cause it to expand and ruin your project. I recommend this Zinsser Cover Stain.

Priming Furniture

You can use any applicator you desire, but again, I recommend using a roller for larger projects. Smaller projects may work best with a brush but in general I’ve found rollers are the way to go.

When applying primer, be sure to coat the MDF edges as well as the flat surfaces for a proper finish. Also, aim to keep the thickness consistent throughout your project.

After applying, give the primer time to dry completely before moving on.

5. Paint Your MDF

Finally, it’s time to paint! Find the best paint for your project – which can vary depending on your what you’re working with. You can even use spray paint on wood for this project!

Just like with priming, I’m a fan of using a roller or spraying the paint to get an even coat that looks great.

If you see any patches where the color of the wood peeks through, you’ll need to add a second coat. It’s better to add more paint than not enough before sealing your project.

6. Layer a Clear Coat (Optional)

Polyurethane Coating

If you want added protection for your project – you can now apply a clear coat of polyurethane, lacquer, or other finishes.

A clear coat is a simple way to provide an additional layer of defense to the paint layer.

In addition to the protection, a clear coat can also add a sheen depending on what you use. For example, using a gloss polyurethane will give it a shiny appearance that you might be after.

7. Clean Up

Last, it’s time to clean up the wood.

Put away your materials and ensure no excess wood or paint globs are sticking off the wood. If there are, you can gently sand them and apply touch up paint.

Best Paint for MDF

When choosing a paint for MDF, you have plenty of choices. I’m a big fan of Sherwin Williams paints over Valspar – but both offer great quality paints.

Another great choice is Rust-Oleums’ Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover. It offers great coverage and comes in many different colors and sheens.

How Long Does Paint Last on MDF?

Although MDF is dense, it isn’t a particularly durable material compared to other manufactured woods.

It can withstand a decent amount, but it also takes on damage and scratches with ease. Paint is not very safe on MDF alone, which is why I recommend a layer of sealant.

For durability, it’s best to keep your painted MDF away from places where it could get damaged. After all, it’s more work to repair MDF than it is worth. 

How to Prep MDF for Painting

The most critical part of preparing MDF for painting is to sand it down and clean the surface before adding the paint. Although you can technically place the paint right on the surface, sanding it creates a surface that better adheres to the paint.

If you don’t sand MDF before painting, it may not last as long. The paint will fall off the surface and it won’t be able to withstand very much in terms of scratches or chips. If you don’t have time for all the steps, ensure you at least sand it down to allow the paint to adhere to some part of the wood.

heck out this post to learn if you can use wood glue on MDF!

Can I Paint Directly Onto MDF?

If you don’t use water-based paint, it’s possible to paint directly onto MDF. However, if you want to color to last, it’s critical to take the time to prepare the wood beforehand. Be sure to sand and add primer before painting for the best results.

What Primer Should I Use On MDF?

Primer is necessary if you want the paint to last as long as possible on MDF. Solvent based primers work best on MDF.

Can I Paint White MDF?

If you go to buy MDF, you might notice some of it is already white. This product is already primed so if you want to paint on white MDF, you can. It’s already prepped and ready to go.

Final Thoughts

Painting MDF is certainly possible, and it can be easier than you think. Whether you want to paint MDF furniture, MDF cabinets, or you need to add color to MDF boards, the painting process is the same.

Be sure to prep the surface before painting by sanding it down, adding a layer of sanding sealer, and applying a coat of primer for the best results. After all, you don’t want to have to paint it again in a few months!