If you don’t want to break the bank buying new furniture but want a new look for your home, maybe it’s time to consider painting your upholstery. Chalk paint can make an old dresser look brand new, but it can also upcycle an old armchair, couch, or throw pillow! Painting fabric with chalk paint gives you a whole rainbow of colorful ways to revitalize your home.
Painting fabric with chalk paint requires chalk paint, a fabric medium, and some type of sealant. Techniques like stenciling and spray painting can quickly refresh an old piece of upholstery. Popular types of chalk paint for fabric include Annie Sloane, Rustoleum, and homemade paint.
In this article, you will find out what makes chalk paint ideal for fabric. You will learn five basic techniques to try, including how to paint a fabric chair. Finally, you will discover tips for keeping the fabric soft and sealed.
What is Chalk Paint?
Chalk paint is a thick, water-based paint with a matte finish that creates a chalky, vintage look on wood. Originally invented by the Annie Sloan brand, today, you can find all kinds of chalk paint varieties or even make your own! This water-based paint allows for easy clean-up.
Whether you make your own chalk paint or buy it, it will contain just a few simple ingredients. All types of chalk paint contain water, acrylic coloring agents, and a fine powder such as plaster of Paris or calcium carbonate.
Popular brands include Annie Sloan and Rustoleum, though you can find all kinds of generic versions as well. Rustoleum has a line of spray paints that you may find helpful for large pieces of upholstery.
You can apply this kind of paint over many other substances, even over old paint, and it is so thick that it will still lie smooth and look nice! Its unique chalky, thick nature makes it ideal for painting fabric.
Chalk paint is not the same thing as chalkboard paint–you can also buy chalkboard paint in multiple colors these days, but that kind of paint does not work well on fabric, as it is intended for turning a hard surface into a chalkboard that you can write on with chalk.
Chalk paint has a chalky, matte finish instead of the hard, bright surface of a chalkboard. You can think of it as looking and feeling more like chalk than like a chalkboard!
Can Chalk Paint Be Used on Fabric?
You can use chalk paint on fabric in several ways, including applying it in a thick coat, using stenciling to create patterns, or using a color wash to dye the fabric. Painting fabric items such as upholstered furniture or throw pillows give you a cheap, easy way to add some vibrant color to your home, and this upcycle technique has seen a surge in popularity in the last ten years or so.
The benefits of using chalk paint on fabric include low cost, easy application, and simple sealing for permanency. Plus, it does not have bad smelling fumes and is much less dangerous than many other kinds of paint.
Of course, as with all things in life, there is a tradeoff for this fun, colorful painting style. The main complaint you may have after painting fabric with chalk paint is that it will look lovely, but it will not feel as soft as the original fabric.
Another thing to remember is that chalk paint cleans up pretty easily from most surfaces because it is water-based. But once you seal or set it on fabric, you will not find it easy to remove or change unless you want to paint over it again with a different color.
Finally, you may want to compare and contrast the finished look of chalk-painted fabric versus fabric painted with fabric paint or acrylic paint. Each type of paint can look fabulous on a fabric surface, but they each have a unique finish and different levels of vibrancy.
Painting Fabric With Chalk Paint
You can paint fabric with chalk paint in multiple ways depending on the type of finished look you want to create. The simplest method is to paint the fabric of a chair or couch with a paintbrush, just like you would paint on wood! You can also use spray paint, a color wash, or stencils to create more fun styles.
Before choosing a chalk paint method, consider the type of surface you’re working on and what kind of style you want to create. For instance, do you want to update a throw pillow? In this case, you could use a color wash to dye the pillowcase, or you could easily stencil shapes or stripes onto it. You probably do not want to use a paintbrush, as the soft surface will not work well with a brush.
On the other hand, upholstery does well with brushwork or with spray paint if you want to take the time to tape off any non-paint surfaces.
What does the fabric look like now? If the old fabric has a vivid pattern, you may want to use darker paint to cover up the old design.
Also, what kind of fabric is it? Typically, you can paint on most upholstery materials such as velour, tapestry weaves, denim, linen, or even leather. Material with a deep nap may not work as well.
Finally, you also need to determine whether or not you need a fabric medium for your project.
Chalk Paint and Fabric Medium
You will find mixed opinions on whether or not you need a fabric medium when applying chalk paint to fabric. Fabric medium thins paint and makes it lie smoothly on fabric rather than creating a hard, crackly surface. Many types of paint require a medium or they will crack and peel when they dry on the cloth.
For some projects, you may find that you need a commercial fabric medium to create a soft and smooth finish on your fabric. That said, you can often just use water instead of buying a real fabric medium.
Because chalk paint is water-based, you can easily thin it by mixing it with water. This lets you apply a smooth, solid coat of the color of fabric without any cracking or rough edges. For many projects, you will find that a 1:1 ratio of water and chalk paint works well for applying with a brush.
Alternatively, you can also use a spray bottle or mister to thoroughly dampen the fabric and apply straight paint. This may work better for stenciling or striping the fabric.
Then again, some artists mix chalk paint with an actual fabric medium. You can find fabric mediums for sale at pretty much all craft stores like Michaels or Hobby Lobby. You can also order a medium online from brands like DecoArt or Tulip.
Painting Fabric with Rustoleum Chalk Paint
Rustoleum offers one of the most popular brands of chalk paints on the market. You can find a huge range of colors available from this brand, making them a popular choice for home decor projects!
As another bonus, you can also buy spray paint chalk paint from Rustoleum if you prefer that application method.
You will find some pros and cons to using a spray paint version of chalk paint. The benefit is that this type of paint applies in smooth, even coats quite easily. The downside is that it does not always give you that thick, chalky depth you get when applying paint with a brush.
You may have to apply several coats if you use spray paint.
That said, this method also gives you professionally smooth layering, so you might want to give it a try!
- Vacuum the fabric surface to remove any lint or fuzz, and use a clean rag to scrub off any crud or dirt.
- You will need to spend some time taping off any non-painted surfaces, such as the wooden arms and legs on a chair or couch. Spray paint can get everywhere, so make sure you thoroughly cover these surfaces using painter’s tape and/or plastic wrap!
- Likewise, make sure you have a safe and protected workspace by putting down a drop cloth, wearing a mask, and making sure you have adequate ventilation if you can’t work outside.
- Prep the paint can according to the instructions on the can. Usually, you have to shake chalk paint cans quite vigorously to get them ready.
- Use smooth, slow back-and-forth motions to apply the spray paint in an even coat. Don’t worry if you can still see splotches of the fabric through the paint! You may need a second coat later, but you do not want to overapply on the first coat and end up with drips.
- Once you finish the first coat, let it dry overnight.
- Check the paint job in the morning. If you see gritty bits, take out some very fine sandpaper and lightly sand the paint over the fabric. Then use a damp paper towel to wipe away sanded paint dust.
- If the paint seems too thin or splotchy, apply a second coat at this point.
- Repeat the sanding and wiping as necessary.
- Finally, apply a sealant such as Rustoleum furniture wax or a spray wax sealant.
How to Paint Upholstery With Chalk Paint
One of the best ways to paint upholstery with chalk paint is to use a simple brushing technique followed by sanding and sealing. This is the most popular method for painting fabric furniture of all kinds with chalk paint. Also, you can use this technique to apply a solid coat of color, or you can use the brushing method over a stencil to apply patterned shapes or stripes with chalk paint.
- First, mix your paint with water to thin it down. Usually, a 1:1 ratio works well, but you will want to test this on a hidden part of the furniture to see if the paint remains too thick. In that case, add a bit more water and stir well.
- Next, clean the fabric surface of the upholstery thoroughly by vacuuming and wiping down all the parts you plan to paint. At this point, you should tape off anything you don’t want paint on, such as chair legs.
- Use a clean spray bottle full of water to dampen a small upholstery section. Dampen just a small bit at a time and then apply more water as you go so that the fabric does not dry out before you can paint it.
- Apply the thinned chalk paint lightly with a fine bristled paintbrush. You do not want a thick layer of paint, as this will crack and peel when it dries.
- Use a small brush to get into tight spots like creases or folds in the fabric.
- Let the upholstery dry for 24-48 hours, preferably in bright sunlight.
- Use very fine sandpaper to super lightly sand the paint, smoothing it out. Wipe away any paint dust with a damp paper towel.
- Apply another coat of paint if necessary at this point, following all the steps above. You may need two or three coats to reach color saturation.
- Finally, apply some sealant to protect the paint and keep it nice for longer. Typically, applying a coat of sealing wax provides the best finish, though you can also use heat such as direct sunlight or hot iron.
How To Seal Chalk Paint On Fabric
You can seal or set chalk paint on fabric by using heat or by applying a layer of clear wax. For a durable finish, you probably need to use wax. Sealing wax for furniture comes as a liquid that you apply with a paintbrush or spray can you can use just as you would spray paint to cover the fabric in a clear coat. You can find wax sold by many brands, including Annie Sloan and Rustoleum.
You will want to apply the wax following the instructions on the paint can. Make sure you allow the wax to cure for however long the instructions indicate.
To heat set the paint, you can opt to simply leave the fabric sitting in direct sunlight for a day. This method does not give you as much protection as applying wax, but the heat set paint should hold up well for gentle use and some occasional scuffing.
You can also iron the paint through a pressing cloth to apply stronger heat. Test this on a hidden section of the fabric first to make sure the paint does not come away on the pressing cloth.
How Long Does it Take Chalk Paint to Dry On Fabric?
Chalk paint dries on fabric in as little as fifteen minutes, but it takes 12 to 48 hours to completely dry for sanding or adding an additional paint coat. In terms of permanency, chalk paint will remain vibrant on fabric much longer if you apply a sealing layer of wax.
If you dye your fabric using a chalk paint color wash, the dye will not remain colorfast and you should only wash it gently in cold water.
In general, if you use a brush or a spray bottle to apply chalk paint to the fabric, it will soak into the fibers of the fabric and stay there for years to come so long as you do not spill boiling water onto it or leave it outside in the rain unprotected!
How To Soften Chalk Painted Fabric
You can use several methods to soften chalk paint, including sanding after each paint coat and applying the paint in thin, light layers. That said, you will always feel the paint on the surface of the fabric. If you apply chalk paint to velour, the velour will feel like slightly chalky, matte paint.
One of the best ways to soften chalk paint is to use 100 grit or 220 grit sandpaper after each coat of paint dries. When you use a paintbrush, you often get raised lines of thicker paint from the bristles. When you use spray paint, you get little lumps and blobs in there no matter how carefully you sweep the can back and forth.
Sanding removes these imperfections and evens out the paint on the fabric, making a softer surface with less paint between you and the material fibers.
The other key to a soft chalk paint coat on fabric is using watered-down paint or mixing in a fabric medium. Once you have nice thin chalk paint, apply in multiple light coats.
By using these methods together, you can paint a chair or a couch and keep it soft!
Best Chalk Paint for Fabric and Upholstery
No two upcycling artists will agree on what brand of chalk paint is the best for fabric and upholstery, but some of the most popular brands include Annie Sloan, Rustoleum, Folk Art, and Krylon.
Some brands offer a wider range of color selection than others, so you may want to make a choice based on who sells the particular shade you want. Annie Sloan has a wide range of colors available, as do several other brands such as KILZ.
Alternatively, you might want to buy your paint based on price. In this case, Rustoleum or Krylon will probably give you the biggest bang for your buck, with a quarter gallon going for less than $10 in most cases. High-end brands like Annie Sloan often charge $37 for a liter can!
How to Make Chalk Paint for Fabric (DIY)
The cheapest and most personalized way to create chalk fabric art is to make your own chalk paint for fabric. The easiest way to do this is to modify basic acrylic paint. Plus, this method lets you select from hundreds of thousands of paint colors–all you have to do is go to a Home Depot or Lowes, choose a paint card, and ask an associate to mix the acrylic paint for you!
Once you have acrylic paint in your desired shade, you will also need calcium carbonate and water. You can buy calcium carbonate online or at some health stores.
- Pour your acrylic paint into a disposable plastic measuring cup like the kind you can get at the dollar store. You will want a measurement to easily add the right ratio of water!
- While you can adjust the ratio of the ingredients to get a smoother or more durable finish, generally, you will want one cup of paint, one-third a cup of water, and one-third a cup of calcium carbonate, or a 3:1:1 ratio.
- For small projects using just a craft bottle of acrylic paint, use the 2 oz bottle of paint, one tablespoon of water, and two teaspoons of calcium carbonate.
- Mix well!
Please note that you will probably still need to thin it after making your paint by adding water or a fabric medium before applying it to the fabric!
Can You Paint Outdoor Cushions With Chalk Paint?
You can paint outdoor cushions with chalk paint, but you will want to use outdoor chalk paint and a multi-purpose waterproof sealant if you do this. In the outdoors, the fabric can easily mildew, fade in the sun, or get waterlogged when it rains.
Most of the major paint brands sell outdoor chalk paint. Sometimes they term this garden chalk paint or exterior chalk paint instead. You can buy this kind of paint on Amazon, craft stores, and home repair stores.
To avoid all these issues, consider using special outdoor chalk paint that contains additives to prevent mildewing. To avoid mildew, mold, or rotting, apply a multi-purpose waterproof and UV resistant sealant coat instead of the typical finishing wax you would use for an indoor piece.
How Do You Make Chalk Paint For Upholstery?
You can make chalk paint for upholstery by mixing acrylic paint with water and plaster of Paris or calcium carbonite. This creates a chalky paint with a matte finish, perfect for applying to upholstery fabric! You can find the recipe for this paint in the section of this article titled “How to Make Chalk Paint for Fabric.”
If you want to prep store-bought chalk paint for upholstery, you will need to mix in a lot of water. Most of the time, you will want to use 50% paint and 50% water to create a thin, smooth chalk paint for upholstery. You can also use a commercial fabric medium for this process, but water is cheaper and often works just as well.
Painting fabric with chalk paint layers fun, vibrant colors on almost any cloth surface. You can use chalk paint on upholstery, cushions, or even wall hangings! The key to a soft, smooth chalk paint finish on fabric is to sand between every layer of paint and use thinned-down paint for light coats.
Some of the most popular chalk paint brands include Annie Sloan, Rustoleum, and Folk Art. You can also easily make your own chalk paint by blending calcium carbonite and water with acrylic paint in a color of your choice.