Can You Paint Over Lacquer on Wood?

Last Updated on August 29, 2023 by Ernest Godia

Lacquered woodwork can be stunning because of the gloss that this finish leaves on the wood surface. However, while lacquer is highly durable and damage-resistant, it can begin to discolor and sustain scratches over time. Can you paint over lacquer on wood to refresh the look when the finish is worn? 

A coat of paint is typically an excellent way to conceal surface imperfections. But painting over lacquer is one of the few tricks you may be unaware of.

In this article, we’ll walk you through painting over lacquer step by step. The article also helps you understand lacquer and explains how to choose the right product for painting over lacquered wood surfaces.

Table of Contents

Can you paint over lacquer on wood surfaces?

Yes, you can paint over lacquer on wood. Like any paint project, begin with a thorough surface prep that involves cleaning and sanding the surface to knock the glossy finish slightly and improve the paint adhesion. Next, prime the wood with good-quality primer before you layer on two coats of furniture paint. 

What is lacquer?

Lacquer is a type of finish commonly used on wood to enhance its durability and appearance. It creates a hard, glossy surface that protects the wood from moisture, scratches, and other forms of damage. 

Traditionally, lacquer was made from the lacquer tree sap native to East Asia. The sap, known as raw lacquer or urushiol, is harvested and processed to remove impurities. The refined lacquer is then mixed with pigments and other additives to create the desired properties and color.

Modern lacquers can be solvent-based or water-based and may contain synthetic resins instead of natural lacquer. They are often used in furniture manufacturing, automotive finishes, musical instruments, and various decorative applications.

Types of Lacquer to paint over

Before going any further, here are some of the lacquers you’ll mostly find on wood. 

1) Acrylic Lacquer

This is the most common type of lacquer. It is water-based and relatively easy to work with. Widely used on modern furniture, this type often bonds better with acrylic-based primers and all water-based paints.

2) Nitrocellulose Lacquer

Nitrocellulose lacquer is a fast-drying lacquer that creates a durable and glossy finish. It is commonly used in the automotive industry, musical instruments, and mostly vintage furniture. It bonds exceptionally well with oil-based primers and paints.

3) Urushiol-Based Lacquers

These lacquers are highly durable and often used in traditional Japanese lacquerware. It’s generally limited to exotic or antique furniture, often needing specialized treatment.

4) Water-Based Lacquers

These lacquers are environmentally friendly and provide a clear, durable finish. They are easier to paint since they bond well with various primers and paints.

Can you paint over lacquered cabinets? 

Absolutely! Cabinets are one of the most common lacquered wood items people want to update. This is often because cabinets are generally high-traffic surfaces and are bound to fade over time.

Whether your kitchen cabinets or bathroom vanity look worn or outdated, painting over the lacquer can bring new life into the entire space. Just follow the right steps (below) to achieve a professional-looking finish.

Pros and cons of painting over lacquer 

Before you start painting, consider the advantages and potential drawbacks of refinishing lacquered wood: 

Pros of painting over lacquer

  • Gives a fresh new look to old or outdated furniture.
  • Allows for creative expression and customization.
  • Provides an opportunity to match your furniture with your décor.
  • Painting is a cost-effective alternative to replacing furniture.

Cons of painting over lacquer

  • It can be time-consuming, especially for larger furniture pieces.
  • It can be difficult to get a good finish if the prep work is not done properly.

What types of paint can go over lacquered wood?

Choosing the right paint type is crucial for the success of a project. Here are a few paint options that work well over lacquer:

Chalk paint

This water-based paint is designed to adhere to a variety of surfaces, including lacquered wood. It is easy to apply, requires minimal-to-no surface prep, and offers a shabby-chic, matte finish.

Enamel Paint 

Enamel paint is a high-gloss paint that provides a durable finish and is suitable for high-traffic areas like furniture and cabinets. It provides a polished look on lacquered surfaces.

Mineral paint

Mineral paint is a natural paint made from ground minerals and binders. With excellent adhesion and durability, mineral paint offers a rich, smooth finish on lacquered wood. 

Latex paint

This paint type dries quickly and is easy to apply, but it may not stick well to lacquered surfaces without proper preparation and priming.

Oil-based paint

Oil-based paint is highly durable and adheres well to lacquered wood when properly prepped, but it takes longer to dry and has a strong odor.

How To Paint Over Lacquer

Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s dive into the step-by-step process of painting over lacquered wood furniture. 

The supplies you’ll need

  • 150-grit sandpaper
  • 300-grit sandpaper
  • Drop cloth
  • Paint
  • Paintbrush or spray gun
  • Primer
  • Safety gear (gloves, goggles, mask)
  • Tack cloth

How to paint over lacquered furniture step by step

Here’s the detailed process for painting over lacquered wood surfaces.

Step 1: Prepare your workstation

Set up a clean, well-ventilated space for your painting project. Lay a drop cloth or old sheets on the floor to safeguard against paint spills or sanding debris.

Consider wearing a dust mask and safety goggles to protect yourself from dust and fumes, especially if sanding or using a spray gun.

Step 2: Identify the lacquer type on the wood

As mentioned earlier, knowing the type of lacquer is crucial for selecting the right paint and prep method. The easiest way is to check the product label or consult the manufacturer. But if that’s not a viable option, try the following:

  • Examine its appearance: Acrylic lacquer appears clear and plastic-like, while nitrocellulose has an amber hue commonly found on vintage furniture.
  • A solvent test with acetone can also indicate the type; acrylic and nitrocellulose become tacky, whereas oil-based lacquers are generally unresponsive. 
  • A scratch test further distinguishes between hard-to-scratch oil-based and flaky water-based lacquers.

Step 3: Sand the lacquer finish

Use 150-grit sandpaper to lightly sand the entire surface of the lacquered furniture. This step helps remove the glossy finish and creates a rough surface to which the primer and paint can adhere. 

For intricate designs or carvings, use a sanding sponge rather than sandpaper for better control and reach.

Step 4: Dust the surface with a tack cloth

After sanding, wipe away the dust or debris using a tack cloth. This step ensures you have a clean surface for priming and painting.

Step 5: Apply a coat of primer

Brush on a layer of primer to the sanded surface. Primer enhances paint adhesion and helps prevent wood tannins from bleeding through. 

Choose a primer that’s formulated to work with your paint type. For example, an oil-based primer works best with oil-based paint.

Once done, wait for it to dry completely as long as the manufacturer’s instructions suggest. If there are naked patches after, you can reapply the primer and wait it out before painting. 

Step 6: Apply the paint

Once the primer dries to the touch, apply the first layer of paint using a brush or spray gun. Try to maintain steady, even strokes for smooth coverage.

Step 7: Let the paint dry

Allow enough time for the paint to dry completely; rushing can result in a poor finish. Refer to the paint’s instructions manual for the exact drying time. More importantly, adjust the drying times based on the ambient conditions. 

Step 8: Scuff the first paint layer before recoating

After the first coat dries, gently scuff it using 300-grit sandpaper to improve the next coat’s adhesion. Always dust off after sanding. Then, repeat steps 6 and 7 for a rich coverage. Two coats will be enough.

Step 9: Finish with a clear coat

Finally, apply a clear topcoat like lacquer, polyurethane, or varnish for added protection and longevity. When using a clear coat, ensure it’s compatible with your paint. 

See also: Can you paint over varnished wood?

Can I paint over lacquer without sanding?

Yes, you can paint over lacquer without sanding. By this, you must prepare the surface using sanding alternatives like liquid sandpaper or bonding primer. Alternatively, you can jump straight to painting, but only if using chalk, mineral, or milk paint.

By no means should you paint directly over lacquered wood unless you want to watch the paint peel off the surface once it dries.

Should I sand between layers of paint over lacquer?

Sanding between layers of paint over lacquer is not always necessary, but it can help improve the smoothness of the final finish and promote better adhesion between the layers. It may require extra effort and potentially prolong the time your project takes, but it’s well worth it.

But if you are looking for a more rustic or textured finish, or if the surface appears smooth and flawless, you can skip the sanding process between the layers of paint.

How to paint over lacquer without sanding

If you’re hesitant to sand but still want the best results, this section is for you! These are the alternative ways to paint over a finished wood without an ounce of dust. 

Tray of white paint with a paint roller-can you paint over lacquer on wood?

a) Apply chalk paint over the lacquer.

Chalk paint is a popular option for painting over lacquer without sanding. Simply clean the lacquered surface thoroughly and layer thin coats of chalk paint.

b) Use a deglosser 

Deglosser or liquid sandpapers are products specifically designed to remove the gloss and prepare surfaces for painting without traditional sanding. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to prepare the surface for painting.

c) Apply mineral paint

Mineral paint typically contains ingredients like clay and minerals that help it adhere well to lacquer surfaces without sanding. Your work is to clean the lacquered surface thoroughly and paint away! 

d) Use lacquer primer for wood.

This primer creates a strong bond between the lacquer and the paint. Clean the lacquered surface and apply a thin coat of the primer. Once it dries, you’re ready to paint as usual.

e) Use milk paint with a bonding agent.

Milk paint can also provide good adhesion to lacquered surfaces when combined with bonding agents. Mix the milk paint according to the manufacturer’s instructions and add the bonding agent as directed, and you’re clear to paint. 

What finish can be applied over lacquer?

Obviously, you can apply more lacquer over existing lacquer. Other finishes that can be applied over lacquer are furniture wax, shellac, and varnishes, particularly Alky Varnish.

For this, you must ensure the lacquer is fully cured before putting on an additional finish. This will ensure the product gets maximum adhesion as intended.

Unfortunately, you can’t apply polyurethane over lacquer unless you plan to strip the finish to bare wood.

Suggested read: Best varnish for wood.

Safety precautions when painting over lacquer

Focus on safety measures to ensure a trouble-free experience while painting over lacquered surfaces.

  • Ensure you’re working in a well-ventilated area, and consider using fans to help disperse any harmful fumes from paints or solvents.
  • Always wear safety gear such as goggles, masks, and gloves to shield you from chemical exposure and splatters.
  • Keep children and pets away from your workspace to prevent accidental contact with hazardous materials.
  • Store all chemicals, paints, and tools securely and away from the reach of children and pets.
  • Have a first aid kit on hand and keep emergency numbers, like poison control, easily accessible for unexpected incidents.

FAQs on Painting Over Lacquer

Can I spray paint over lacquer?

Yes, you can spray paint over lacquer using aerosol paint cans or regular paints in a spray gun. Whichever option is available, prepare the surface properly and layer the paint in thin, even coats. Ensure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and practice safety precautions. 

How do you paint over lacquered wood without sanding it? 

Using mineral, chalk, or milk paints mixed with bonding agents, you can paint over lacquered wood without sanding. Another shortcut to painting without sanding is prepping the surface using liquid sandpaper or using wood-specific lacquer primer.

Can you paint straight over lacquered wood?

It is not recommended to paint straight over lacquered wood. The paint will not adhere properly, and you will end up with a peeling or bubbling finish. Sanding or using alternative surface preparation methods before painting will ensure better paint adhesion.

Can you paint over stained and lacquered wood? 

Yes, you can paint over stained and lacquered wood. However, the same principles of surface preparation apply, including sanding or using alternative methods to promote better paint adhesion. Also, consider using a stain-blocking primer and compatible paint for better results.

For more details, here’s how to paint over stained wood.

How do you remove lacquer from wood?

The first method is removing lacquer with lacquer thinner or a chemical stripper. The next option is sanding the lacquer layers off the wood surface. Alternatively, you can turn on the heat gun to soften the hard lacquer finish and scrape it off the wood with a putty knife.

Final Thoughts on Painting Over Lacquer

So, can you paint over lacquer on wood? A resounding yes! Painting over lacquer on wood is a fantastic way to transform your furniture, cabinets, and any wood surface. 

With the right preparation, supplies, and techniques, you can achieve stunning results that breathe new life into your living space. 

Remember to prioritize safety, follow the steps diligently, and don’t hesitate to get creative with your choice of paint colors and finishes. Willing to share your results? We’ll be delighted to see them in the comments.

Happy painting!

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