We Tried Painting A Fabric Chair With Chalk Paint

updated Oct 25, 2022
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(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

As we’ve talked about before, chalk paint covers a multitude of sins. You can use chalk paint pretty much anywhere, with no primer or advanced prep required. So when I heard that it was also good to use on fabric, I had to give it a test.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

How to Use Chalk Paint on Fabric

For this project, we used a fairly basic chair with off-white upholstery fabric, which also had a bit of texture.

What You Need

Materials

Tools

  • Paint Brush
  • Paint Pan

Instructions

Before you get started, vacuum the upholstery or take a lint roller and run it all along the surface. You don’t want to apply paint to a dusty or dirty surface. Then, cover or tape off any areas you don’t want to be painted. If paint finds its way to the wood surface, wipe it off quickly with a damp towel.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Testing & Painting

Each type of fabric will absorb paint differently. It’s always a good idea to test an inconspicuous spot of fabric before committing to the entire piece. Play with the ratio of water to paint until you reach a good consistency and coverage.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Most chalk paint manufacturers suggest that you use the chalk paint on upholstery sparingly in thin coats because the paint has a tendency to crack if applied too thick and may flake away over time. So, when I first started, I mixed three parts of water to one part paint.

While it went on easily, the paint was also very splotchy, and it wasn’t easy to keep the color consistent across the fabric. I quickly upgraded to a ratio of one part water to one part paint, which had the thickness of chocolate milk. You can see where I switched over in the photo above. On the left-hand side is the lighter, more watery version. On the right side of the chair is the 1:1 ratio, which covered the surface much better.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

After my test, I applied the paint in steady strokes with a wide paint brush and worked quickly to avoid dry lines. Since the textured pattern on my fabric had straight lines, I painted in the same direction. If your fabric has a textured design, you will have to work all around it, pushing the paint into the fabric from different directions.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Paint Coverage

I let the chair dry completely overnight, then went back the next day to touch up any areas that needed more coverage. I also did another coat on the seat bottom, thinking it would get the most use, then let it completely dry again overnight. There’s a slight color variation across the fabric, but nothing really noticeable or troublesome, and there’s no white showing through the new blue paint.

If you have a chair with darker upholstery fabric or a bright obnoxious print, you will most likely need to either choose a darker paint color or apply more coats to get the coverage you need.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Softness and Feel

Once the paint had completely dried, my once soft, comfortable cotton felt scratchy, almost like outdoor fabric. Since this is more of a decorative chair, only used occasionally, it’s not awful or unbearable. But I’d be unhappy if it was an armchair, used regularly for lounging and watching television. It definitely wouldn’t be as cozy and comfortable.

Protecting the Finish

Once it’s painted, you can seal the fabric several different ways: 1) Place your furniture in the sun for a few hours; 2) Heat seal by ironing; 3) Heat seal by tumbling the (not yet upholstered) fabric in the dryer on low; and lastly 4) Apply a coat of soft wax (Annie Sloan and others sell it on Amazon, as do other companies).

I read several tutorials that recommended finishing painted leather upholstery with a protective wax coating, but because I was working with cotton, I opted for the simple “heat seal” option, which meant putting it in the sun for a few hours. However, some people still use a clear wax to seal their painted upholstery, no matter what the material.

Durability

Just how well does the paint hold up? The chair has been painted for about a week and gets little to no use, but I’ve been letting my toddler use it as a climbing gym to see if any paint wears off. So far, it looks just as good as when it was first painted.

(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Conclusion

This is a good “quick fix” for a chair you kind of like, or think has potential but don’t want to spend a lot of money on having it reupholstered. The paint goes on fast, so it’s a quick project that’s easy to pull off. It’s also a great way to get creative by adding stripes or patterns onto plain fabric without a huge investment.

Proceed with caution if you are thinking about painting a beloved chair. Testing and experimentation are essential, with no guarantees of perfect coverage —especially with bright or dark fabric.

And no matter what, in the end, know that it doesn’t feel anything like upholstery fabric. So, if you wake up one day and decide your yellow living room sofa would look pretty turquoise instead, chalk paint isn’t necessarily your answer because you probably don’t want to sit on it daily.