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How to Paint Laminate Furniture to Look Like Wood (2024 Guide)


Can You Stain Fake Wood? (Yes, You Can!)

Ever wondered how to stain laminate furniture? This tutorial and video will show you how to paint laminate furniture to look like wood!

Laminate is a tricky surface to paint but refinishing laminate is easy when you know the right method and the best products. Not only is there a right way to paint laminate, but did you know you can use paint to make it look like stained wood furniture?

In this post, I refinish a white laminate console table to look like natural wood but you can pick from several faux stain shades to match your own style.

No longer are you limited to solid wood furniture when you shop the used furniture store. With this method, I’ll show you how to paint laminate to look like solid wood.


Can You Stain Laminate Furniture?

Traditional staining requires a porous wood surface so the stain can absorb into the finish. Since laminate furniture has a gloss finish, you can’t technically stain it. But the good news is that you can paint over it with a faux stain that will be much more predictable and user-friendly than a traditional stain.

Can You Paint Laminate Furniture Without Primer?

Painting and staining laminate furniture is not difficult as long as you do one important step – priming before painting! Fortunately, priming furniture is so easy when you have the right tools and know the best primer for laminate furniture

When staining laminate furniture, the primer serves as a glue to help the base coat of paint to adhere to the entire surface.

What Happens If You Don’t Prime Laminate Furniture?

The most important thing about refinishing any laminate furniture piece is the prep work. Laminate or furniture with any kind of plastic or epoxy coating is very slick which means the paint cannot grab the surface. Because the paint can’t adhere well to the surface you will more than likely run into one of these problems:

Bubbles Appear As You Paint

You will notice that as you paint over the surface that bubbles appear with each stroke. As you try to brush over them again, they keep appearing because the paint can’t adhere. Even if you were able to get the paint to stick, you will have little popped bubble divots in your final surface.

The Surfaces Peels When Touched

If you paint over laminate without primer, your dried paint job can look great but you find that it peels with very little pressure on the surface.

This is the surface of my daughter’s secretary which I intentionally sanded but did not prime. As expected, the paint job looked great at first, but rubbing my finger across the dried surface caused the paint to peel off in large pieces.

how to paint laminate furniture
You can see how my daughter’s secretary turned out here: Guide to Painting Laminate Furniture

See how the paint did not adhere and just slid off the surface. Fortunately, it was only the top surface that I didn’t prime in order to show you what happens when you don’t prime furniture. If your paint peels, your only alternative is to re-sand and start the whole process over again.

The Surface Bubbles and Peels When IT Comes In Contact With Water

If you put a glass of cold water on the surface of an un-primed piece of laminate, the paint will absorb moisture and begin peeling in that area.

What is Laminate Wood Exactly?

Laminate furniture is made mostly of medium-density particle board (MDF), which is composed of small shavings of a lower-quality wood pressed and glued together.  Therefore, it’s strong but highly susceptible to water damage (this process will help to protect the surface though).

 A very thin printed sheet of wood or paper covers the MDF to mimic the look of solid wood. Sometimes the plastic or epoxy-coated surface surrounds a thin layer of real wood veneer to give it a smooth surface.

how to paint laminate furniture
This is the water-damaged corner but you can easily see how thin the top layer of laminate is and then the particleboard underneath. Sometimes the top is made of plywood.
Want to transform a piece of furniture but don’t know where to begin?  Download the FREE step-by-step printable checklist that shows you the exact process I’ve used on dozens of furniture pieces while saving you time and money! And it costs you nothing. #confetti toss  Click here to access your checklist now: FREE Must-Have Painting Checklist

How To Stain Laminate Furniture

You can’t technically stain laminate furniture because there’s no wood grain for a regular stain to absorb into BUT you can paint over it with a faux stain. In this post, you will follow the first few steps that are critical for any laminate piece and then I’ll direct you to another tutorial to finish the stain. Here are your options for a stained laminate furniture finish if you want to go ahead and check them out:

I’ll show you my easy tips on how to paint laminate furniture to look like stained wood and trust me when I say it looks like the real thing with these awesome techniques.

Wondering How to Paint Laminate Furniture?

You can paint laminate furniture easily if you start with the right prep. Here are a couple posts to show you how amazing laminate can look painted:

How to Paint IKEA Laminate Furniture

Painting Laminate Furniture (Before and After Makeovers You Won’t Believe!)

How to Paint Laminate Furniture to Look Like Wood: Supplies Needed


  • Sander – Click the link above for my favorite sander and you can see how I tested sanders here.
  • Sanding Pads
  • Caulk (Optional)
  •  Zinnser Cover Stain  – This is an oil-based primer that works best on shiny surfaces like laminate.
  • Cheap Brushes (See the link above)
  • Paint –  See the tutorial for the faux finish you choose to see what paint to buy at big box stores.
  • Painter’s Tape (Optional)  – This is to mask any areas you don’t want to be painted or to get the look of faux planks – See this post to get the look of faux planks
  • Lint Free Cloth
  • Paint Tray, Paint Sticks(Optional)
  • FREE Must-Have Painting Tips for Furniture – Don’t forget to download my free printable full of furniture painting tips & tricks to save you time and money.  You can download your FREE checklist of pro tips here.

How To Prep IKEA Laminate Furniture For Staining (Video Tutorial)

When it comes to prepping the furniture piece, you can reference my video on how to paint laminate furniture from IKEA. It’s the same exact prep work but just on the IKEA desk for my craft room. The video should come up as a pop-up but if you have trouble seeing it, you can find it on my YouTube channel here:

STEP 1: Remove Cabinet Doors, Drawers & All Hardware

Stop! Don’t forget to take a pic.  When you are done, post the pic on Instagram and tag me @renovatedfaith! ❤️

Unscrew all the hardware and put it aside in a plastic baggie for safekeeping. Also, take off any doors or shelves and set them aside.

If you are staining a brand new unassembled piece of laminate furniture, go ahead and assemble it before refinishing.

So many of my DIY projects remind me of God’s capacity to transform our brokenness and renew our hearts.  If you are a work-in-progress, just like I am, check out the Renovate Your Faith Devotional at the bottom of each DIY and home décor post.   Click here to get a weekly reminder of new posts by adding your email address.

STEP 2: Tricks for Making Laminate Furniture So It Looks Like Wood

Laminate furniture is easy to spot. The sharp corners and peg holes are a dead giveaway. If you are going to go the trouble of refinishing laminate furniture, we might as well make a couple of adjustments so our final makeover looks like a high-end piece of stained furniture.

Laminate furniture pieces often have several rows of peg holes so the shelves can be adjusted easily.  It is a nice option to readjust shelves but it makes the furniture look cheap. So, we are going to decide where we want our shelves to stay permanently, and fill all the peg holes except those.

Since the console table I’m working on has no peg holes, I’m showing you how to fill peg holes on my daughter’s laminate secretary desk:

how to paint laminate furniture

To fill them, I used my putty knife to glop on the wood filler.  You want to put it on thick because when it is time to sand, you will sand down to the level of the top of the hole.   Wait a day for the wood filler to dry before a light sanding in a circular motion.  Here is a pic before the sanding process and after sanding. Notice the pegs in the holes that I still want.

how to paint laminate furniture

If you have an uneven finish on the surface of the laminate piece or it’s not in good condition, refer to this post where I show the best products and methods to use for furniture repairs: The Ultimate Guide to Fix Furniture Damage

STEP 3: Sand Laminate Furniture Before Priming

Sanding laminate furniture is a good idea when painting slick surfaces. You are not sanding off the laminate, you are just sanding it enough so the surface no longer has a shiny finish.  

Sand enough so the surface is no longer slick and there are tiny scratches. I like to use 80 grit sandpaper on my electric sander which is slightly rougher but is needed for the laminate’s glossy finish.

I love using my electric sander to save time but you can also use a sanding block or sand paper. You can see my low-cost electric sander with a dust compartment here: Black and Decker Electric Sander

Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Furniture Sanding (in 5 Minutes Flat!) | The Absolute Best Sanders for Furniture

Can you STain Laminate Furniture Without Sanding It?

We know from our experiment before that you cannot paint (or faux stain) laminate furniture without priming it. Sanding is a really good idea because it is one more step toward making ensure the base coat for the faux finish adheres.

Sometimes furniture transformations start to look worse before they get better, but you won’t believe the beautiful finish you’ll get on your laminate furniture piece when you’re done!

Sand Sharp Edges of Laminate Furniture Before Staining

While your sander is still out, the next step is to sand down the edges just slightly.  One difference between laminate furniture and solid wood is the edges of laminate furniture are much sharper and straighter, almost plastic-looking.  Solid wood edges are slightly rounded so you want to simulate this look by running your sander along the edges like so. See how I’m barely sanding that edge in the video.

STEP 4: To Get Laminate Furniture to Look Like Wood, Prime First

After sanding, wipe down your furniture piece with a damp cloth or tack cloth to remove any sanding dust. Because I’m using an oil-based primer, I would have to clean my roller with mineral spirits which I don’t always love doing. So oftentimes, I will just brush on the primer with a cheap brush and throw away the brush when I’m done.

You can use soup cans to elevate your furniture piece off the ground. For more tips on painting table legs click here: Best Tips for Painting Table Legs Quickly

What is the best bonding primer for laminate furniture?

I love to use Zinnser Cover Stain because it is an oil-based primer that adheres well and the fumes are not very strong.

Normally, I’d tell you to paint on your primer with your roller on flat surfaces or with a paint brush in places the roller won’t reach. But we’re trying to get the look of faux wood grain, we will use a brush only.

A roller could potentially leave roller marks that you would never see in stained real wood furniture. Instead, brush along parallel to the longest edge or in the direction of the wood grain. Any brush marks you leave will mimic the look of wood grain and make the paint finish look more authentic when we are finished.  

Brush on a thick layer of primer with your cheap brush.

Cover Stain has a pretty short dry time but I like to wait at least 4-6 hours before painting on the base coat.

Step 5: How To Make Laminate Furniture Look Like Wood

To paint a faux stain on your laminate furniture, you can now continue onto one of those tutorials, starting first with the step where you paint on a base coat. You can find all of those options for faux stains here:

Options for Staining Laminate Furniture With a Faux Stain

Continue with the “base coat step” of any of these posts even though they are mostly solid wood projects.

what Is the Best Paint for Laminate Furniture?

Wondering what kind of paint to use on laminate furniture? As we discussed, it’s critical to use a good primer on laminate furniture but it’s just as important to use the best type of paint. I’ve blind-tested over 24 different furniture paints including Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, Fusion Mineral Paint, Country Chic Paint and several others. A lot of people will tell you that you need an expensive furniture paint for your finish to last a long time but my results show that’s not the case.

My tests show that Benjamin Moore Advance was the best paint and you can see the full results here: The Best Paint for Furniture (24 Brands Blinds Tested and Reviewed)

You’ll notice on the faux finish posts, that I use a lot of furniture paint samples to help you cut costs. Otherwise, buying several quarts of the top paints would be cost-prohibitive. Rest assured, I’ve used the latex paints mentioned in those posts several times and they work really well for faux finishes.

Does Stained Laminate Furniture Need A Top Coat?

At the end of the faux stain process, you can add a clear coat finish. Normally, I only say to add a clear coat for pieces that would get heavy use like dining tables and coffee tables. But I like to use a clear coat on faux finishes to seal the paint finish after the dry brushing or glaze/paint coat. If you are looking for a high-quality clear coat, you can find the best one for your project here and how to apply it with a foam brush: The Best Clear Coats For Painted Furniture

Pro Tip: Always wipe down the entire piece with a dry cloth before clear coating to remove any dust or hair that might get stuck in the final finish.

RENOVATE YOUR FAITH: The Blessings of Trusting God’s Direction

As I write this post, there’s a teal sticky note on the side of my monitor that says “Pray First.”  That’s because I’m a DIYer in every facet of my life, even in my relationship with God.  But that’s not necessarily a good thing…

In Jan Johnson’s book “When The Soul Listens”, she says that so often we look at the Christian life as a car ride where we are in the driver’s seat and the Lord is in the passenger seat giving us directions.  Except, we want a full-blown map and detailed instructions before the car starts.  We want to know exactly where our lives are headed and when we will get there. 

But instead, Jan says that Jesus takes the map and tears it up saying, “Don’t worry.  I will show you exactly where to go one turn at a time.”

I don’t know about you but I like to have all of my travel details in hand so I know where I’m headed, but God has a better plan.  He wants us to rely on Him each step of the way as He gives us one step at a time right when we need it.’

The same thing happened in Genesis 12 where God told Abraham, “to go to the place where He shows Him.”  God doesn’t give Him the final destination but promises that He will lead Abraham along the way.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

As hard as it is, we have to trust that God is MORE than capable of directing our path and giving us the right direction at the perfect time.  He has total control and we need to let Him lead instead of wasting our time and energy on lesser pursuits.  He loves us too much to give us less than His best.

Imagine the Creator of the universe who is simultaneously omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient kneeling down to you to say “(Your name here), I’m never too busy for you and even your most fleeting thoughts are precious to me.  Trust that I know the plans I have for you, not plans to harm you but to give you hope and a future.”

Doesn’t that sound amazing?!?

I so often want to call the shots and do things on my own but I would be silly to trade the direction of an all-knowing, all-powerful God in exchange for my short-sighted efforts in the wrong direction.

God is more than capable of giving us the help and direction we need in every facet of our lives.  We just have to trust Him knowing we are created to abide in Him.  Inventing our own plans will only delay the amazing blessings He has in store for us.

For more spiritual encouragement, click here for the rest of my Renovate Your Faith devotionals.

You can also check out my post How to Paint IKEA furniture for more tips and tricks!

FREE Must-Have Painting Tips For Furniture

Here’s where you can get my best tips for painting furniture that will save you time, money and ensure a beautiful finish every time.   Get the password for the library with all of my free printables including wall art, checklists, and templates by filling out this form:

FAQ’s on How TO Make Laminate Look Like Wood

Can You Stain Fake Wood? Can you Stain Laminate Wood?

Laminate wood can’t be stained in the traditional sense but it can be faux painted. Regular wood stain is designed to penetrate the surface of the wood to change its color. This blog post shows you how to get the exact same look as a traditional stain but with paint color. One of my favorite things about using a faux stain is that it is so much more predictable than a layer of stain like Minwax Polyshades because you always know you’ll get the best results.

How to Stain Laminate Furniture Without Sanding

I don’t recommend painting or staining laminate furniture without sanding. Even with the best primer, by not priming you risk your paint peeling. Sanding is the first thing you want to do when prepping laminate furniture to paint and it’s important when painting a non porous surface to help the paint stick.

How to Paint Ikea Furniture to Look Like Wood

IKEA furniture is laminate furniture and you can use this step-by step-tutorial to know how to the right prep work. All of the same information applies.

How to Make White Laminate Look Like Wood

There are two different ways to make white laminate look like wood. You can use any of the faux stains mentioned above or you can lightly sand the surface and apply a gel stain. See the post for how to apply gel stain to white laminate: How to Gel Stain Furniture

Can You Use Gel Stain on Laminate? Can You Gel Stain Fake Wood?

You can absolutely use gel stain on laminate. Just make sure to sand the laminate first real well and use this tutorial: How To Apply Gel Stain to Furniture

What is the best primer for laminate furniture?

Priming your laminate furniture is the most important step in the process so you want to use the right primer. If we were painting laminate furniture, I’d say you could use BIN Shellac Based Primer, Zinnser Cover Stain or Kilz primer. But for faux staining laminate furniture, the proper primer is Zinnswer Cover Stain White Primer. You can find it at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s.

Can you Use This Tutorial for Painting Laminate Cabinets?

You can use this tutorial to prep laminate cabinets for painting but an even better tutorial is this one: How to Refinish Cabinets Yourself Follow the tutorial for that post but make sure you sand more than this tutorial specifies so your primer adheres well. I also recommend applying two coats of primer if you are applying it with a foam roller. I don’t recommend painting laminate floors because it’s too easy to scratch the paint

Related Posts to How To Paint Laminate Furniture to Look Like Wood

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Refinishing Furniture (The ONLY Tutorial You’ll Ever Need!)

Why I Don’t Use Chalk Paint On Furniture Projects (The Best Chalk Finish Paint)

How to Paint and Stain Laminate Furniture

The Easy Way to Paint IKEA Furniture

The Best White Paint Shades for Furniture and Cabinets

DIY Media Center IKEA Hack

The Best Way to Paint Furniture (A Beginner’s Guide)

The Easiest Way to Paint Furniture White

How to Use Acrylic Paint on Fabric

How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like A Pro

The Best Greige for Your Living Room

How To Spray Paint Home Decor and Smaller Pieces of Wood Furniture

My Favorite Blue for Laminate Dressers and Furniture

How to Paint Laminate Furniture, YouTube Video

Final Thoughts on How to Stain Laminate Furniture

Whether this is your first time painting or you are an old pro, I show you exactly how to stain laminate furniture so it looks like a solid wood piece. Each stain option will mimic the look of a true wood grain so you can’t tell it’s not the real thing. Now you have plenty of options when painting laminate furniture. Not only will your thrift store find be stunning, but it will have a completely different look and you can be confident it will last for years to come! Good luck and let me know if you have any questions by commenting below.

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Best Tips for Staining Laminate Furniture

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  1. I painted a dresser following your tutorials using Behr Marquee paint. Part of the dresser is wood, but the top and sides are like a laminate (this was a children’s furniture line). Should I still put a poly topcoat on the dresser top if it isn’t wood?

    1. Hey Denise, Yes, you can absolutely put the topcoat on the laminate parts since they have been painted. I really like Varathane’s Waterbased Poly. Thanks and have a great day! – Karin

  2. Gabrielle says:

    I can’t wait to try this method with some laminate furniture I have. I bought a 3 piece set from a friend. The only problem was/is that it’s like a dull brick red 😑 These tips will totally help me in painting it black. Thank you!

  3. That desk turned out beautiful! I am very impressed. Have you had any difficulty with laminate furniture like bookshelves bowing under the weight of books, etc? I know a lot of the laminate furniture I have had in the past tends to sag under added weight. That is the only thing that makes me hesitant to use laminate!!

    1. Great question! It just depends on the thickness of the shelf. On one wider bookshelf, I put a 1×2 piece of wood in the center of the bottom of the shelf running along the length. I think I just glued it and that added some extra support and you can’t see it. Hope that helps! You can also add a 1×2 along the face of the shelf perpendicular and level to the shelf. That would make it nicer looking and also sturdier.

      1. Good ideas! That way you don’t waste the old shelf!

  4. Karin, this turned out so adorable! I really appreciate a good tutorial and this is perfect. The steps are clear and make me want to rethink some other pieces I might have turned away from

    1. Thank you so much! I’ve used this process multiple times and have a lot of success with it. Thank you for your kind words!

  5. Wow, Karin. I’m impressed! That turned out so pretty. You got me wanting to go out and find something to re-do!
    I loved your step-by-step instructions. They give me confidence to begin, whereas without them I’d be fumbling around making many more mistakes or afraid to start at all. Thank you. 🙂

    1. Oh good! I was hoping it made sense! Glad you feel you have added confidence Geniece.