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Can I Use Exterior Paint on Furniture?

Painting a wooden furniture with blue paint color.

Exterior paint is perfect for outdoor furniture. However, due to the VOC content, most exterior paints aren't suitable for indoor furniture. VOCs can cause short and long term health problems. Hybrid and low VOC exterior paint are options. With proper preparation, interior paint is ideal for most interior furniture items.

Exterior paint certainly has some advantages over interior paint. It’s designed to withstand outdoor weather conditions. If it can withstand rain and sun, it will stand up to messy kids or that neighbor that refuses to use a coaster on your table. It also provides vivid colors without bleed through.

These benefits might have you wondering if you can use exterior paint on your furniture. You may also simply have leftover exterior paint, and prefer to use it on your next project to save money. Unfortunately, exterior paints can cause health issues when used indoors.

Exterior Furniture

If you want to paint exterior furniture, then you should use exterior paint. If the furniture is varnished, you’ll want to sand it first. If it has old paint that is peeling or cracking, you’ll need to scrape it or sand it with a power sander to remove it. Old paint in good condition can be painted over, but removing it is generally recommended for the best results. Be sure to clean the surface well with soap and water, tsp, or household cleaner before you begin painting.

A primer will give the paint a good surface to stick to. If the piece has dark paint or stain and you want to paint over it with a light color, primer is a must. If your piece is bare wood, primer is still recommended but not absolutely necessary. When selecting your paint, be sure that it’s designed for the material you intend to paint over. Standard paints are suitable for wood. If you want to paint plastic or metal, select a paint designed for these surfaces.

Your exterior paint can be applied with a brush or a paint sprayer. A paint sprayer is faster and provides even coverage. It works well for furniture with intricate details or curved legs. Brush painting is also effective. If you choose a brush, purchase a quality angled brush or a foam roller. Both provide a beautiful finish and can be used with latex or oil-based exterior paint.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Paint

The question isn’t really if you can use exterior paint on furniture. The question is can you use exterior paint indoors. If you want to repaint your patio set, the answer is yes, you definitely want to use exterior paint on your furniture. However, if you want to know if you can use exterior paint on your kitchen table, the answer is more complex.

Exterior paint is designed to withstand weather conditions. The binders used help combat mold, cracking, and peeling. Interior paints aren’t designed for these issues, so it isn’t quite as durable. Outdoor paints are also created with pigments that reduce fading. In short, exterior paint is generally more durable than interior paint.

VOCs

The other, and for our purposes most important, the difference between interior and exterior paint, is VOCs. VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. Water-based interior paints typically have the lowest levels of VOCs. Oil-based interior paints are considered safe as well. Interior paints must meet a low VOC threshold.

Exterior paints aren’t subject to these regulations, because they are intended to be used outdoors where there’s enough ventilation to keep them from being a health risk. VOCs can cause a wide range of health problems. Short term issues include headaches and dizziness. Long term effects can include respiratory disease, cancer, and liver damage.

Is It Impossible To Use Exterior Paint on Indoor Furniture?

Blue-painted round wooden tables and chairs.

Most VOCs will be released in the 48 hours after painting. If you can leave your furniture outside for the next few days after painting, this would reduce the risk. Using an air purifier and keeping the home well ventilated very well can help as well.

Hybrid Paints

Most paint brands now offer hybrid interior/exterior paints. These can be a great way to get most of the durability of exterior paint without health risks. They are usually more expensive than paints designed for interior or exterior use. If you want the most durable option, you should consider it. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, it’s not the best option.

Low VOC Exterior Paint

There are low VOC exterior paints as well. These are usually latex paints. Technically, these paints can contain mercury, which can also cause harmful exposure. It’s not illegal for exterior paint to contain mercury, however, most paint manufacturers have discontinued using mercury in exterior paint. If you are determined to use exterior paint indoors, low VOC paint is the best choice. It should provide the performance you are looking for without putting your health at risk.

Making Interior Paint Work For You

Since exterior paint isn’t recommended for indoor furniture, the next question is why do you want to use exterior paint? Is it the durability? Bleedthrough prevention? Do you need a paint that’s easy to clean?

Satin or semi-gloss paints provide a surface that’s durable and easy to clean. They form a hard shell that effectively seals the surface and prevents staining. High gloss paints provide high shine, but they can also call attention to any scratches or imperfections in the paint. Flat or eggshell paint doesn’t clean as well as higher gloss versions, but there are some flat paints that are designed to be easier to clean.

If you are concerned about bleed through, a stain-blocking primer will remedy the problem. Primer also increases the durability and coverage of paint. For old furniture that has acquired an unpleasant smell as well as a bad paint job, some primers are designed for odor blocking as well. If you have picked up a thrift store piece only to discover it makes your room smell like smoke, an odor-blocking primer is what you need.

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This is the front view of the house with light-toned exteriors, dormer windows and a large screened front porch. Image courtesy of Toptenrealestatedeals.com.

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