For the Perfect Distressed Furniture and Floors, You Need the Best Chalk Paint
Skip the primer and sandpaper for your next DIY.
Updated Jun 16, 2022 11:14 AM
Inspired by the look of grand European estates, Annie Sloan searched high and low for a paint that could deliver that coveted old-world charm without the centuries-long wait for weather to do its thing. When she came up empty-handed, the artist decided to re-create the finish herself. “I wanted to be able to paint a piece of furniture or a wall and then wax it to create a beautiful effect like nothing else could,” she says. “I wanted one paint that could do it all, and I wanted it to be quick, easy, and accessible.” Her answer? Chalk paint.
Not to be confused with the erasable boards from your childhood classroom, chalk paint is used to spruce up all sorts of surfaces today—everything from IKEA furniture and brick fireplaces to wood cabinets, mason jars, and even concrete floors. But that’s only half the story. Its real beauty lies in its simplicity: You can skip the sandpaper and primer and still achieve an antiquated aesthetic in a weekend or less, whether you’re a budding DIYer, a seasoned design professional, or just prep work–adverse. So if you’re looking to take on a large project like restoring furniture or merely want to pass the time with arts and crafts at home, here are the five chalklike brands we recommend:
- Best overall: Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
- Best value: Rust-Oleum Chalked Paint
- Best color: Jolie Chalk Paint
- Best spray: Kilz Chalk Spray Paint
- Best craft: Waverly Inspirations Chalk Paint
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Finish: The signature creaminess of the best chalk paints dries to a velvety matte finish like plaster or stucco without the rough texture or long drying times. Thanks to its characteristically high coverage—you typically never need more than two coats—it can mask the glossiest or darkest previous paint jobs to provide a faded, vintage look.
Color consistency: Sloan’s chalk paint is renowned for its rich color depth, but if the opacity isn’t quite right, you can play with it. “I created my paint following the theory of color—there is little to no black pigment in it, which means you can mix colors together and create clean, unmuddied tones like you can with artist paints,” she explains. “I’m very much an add-some-water-experiment-keep-going-until-it-looks-like…kind of person.”
Paint application: There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to using chalk paint, which is part of the product’s brilliance. “You don’t have to sand or prime; if the surface is oily, maybe wipe it down with water,” Sloan advises. “The paint is thick, so use it sparingly by painting in different directions if you don’t want brush marks.” And Becky Nelli, brand manager at Rust-Oleum, always recommends using a high-quality synthetic brush in even coats.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
Trademarked in the 1990s, the pigmentation of Annie Sloan’s water-based paint separates this original from the rest. “You simply cannot create these kinds of luxurious, rich colors without using premium-quality pigments,” says Sloan. “We also add binding ingredients to thicken the paint to ensure fewer coats and better coverage.” But what really puts Sloan at the top of this list is the product’s versatility. “You can apply the paint thinly with a flat brush to create a smooth, modern look, or use it thickly to create texture,” she adds. So have fun experimenting!
Best Value: Rust-Oleum Chalked Paint
The answer to refurbishing scratched or dinged furniture, Rust-Oleum’s paint is an ultra-matte option at a great price point. “It provides one-coat coverage on most surfaces without priming, leaving the surface velvety smooth,” notes Nelli. For best results, brush even coats in the same direction and add the brand’s top coat or glaze for permanent protection. “Most competitors offer clear and antiquing waxes that have to be applied every six months to maintain the look and protection,” she says, but Rust-Oleum is a one-and-done paint. For a distressed, vintage look, Nelli recommends taking fine- to medium-grit sandpaper to corners and edges.
Best Color: Jolie Chalk Paint
You can trust the experts behind Jolie: Husband-and-wife team Scott and Lisa Rickert, founders of New Orleans–based furniture company AVE Home, created the brand after years of refurbishing pieces purely with paint. If a trial-and-error approach isn’t really your thing—and the 300 color mixes aren’t quite right—Jolie can custom-match the perfect hue for you. One gallon can cover roughly 600 square feet of surface area for bigger undertakings (like painting walls), but there are also quarts (with coverage of 150 square feet) and 4-ounce samples available for smaller DIY projects. The company recommends using one of its signature brushes to help achieve every desired look, from a textured dry brushstroke to a smooth or washed style.
Best Spray: Kilz Chalk Spray Paint
For those times when you don’t want to use a brush—say, on tricky furniture materials like plastic and wicker or slippery surfaces like varnished wood—consider Kilz’s chalk paint and primer in a 12-ounce spray. Don’t let the small size fool you: Each can covers 12 square feet and comes in six muted colors that lend just the right amount of patina to furnishings and accessories. Just be sure to give it a good shake before getting started and stick to multiple thin coats—they dry in as little as one hour (but it’s probably best to wait for two before adding another).
Best Craft: Waverly Inspirations Chalk Paint
Available in 8-ounce bottles (or three-bottle kits), this Walmart-exclusive acrylic paint is great for smaller DIY projects like giving plant pots some pizzazz or revamping vases—in other words, the kind of crafty creations the brand has become synonymous with. The paint adheres to both finished and unfinished surfaces with little to no prep, and the water-based, nontoxic formula cleans up easily with soap and water instead of thinner.
What’s the best way to clean brushes after using chalk paint?
Once you’ve removed excess paint, Nelli recommends rinsing brushes with warm water until the bristles run clear, then air-drying. “If you need to use the brush immediately, try laying a rag on the floor, tip up your toes on one foot, and tap the brush metal against the shoe six to 10 times with light-moderate force. The brush will still be damp but ready to use,” she says.
Can chalk paint be used for more than furniture?
Chalk paint isn’t just decorative furniture paint—it was devised to be versatile. “Use it on wood, plaster, melamine, metal, glass, brick, concrete, and more,” says Sloan. “You’ll notice it on flooring, fabrics, fireplaces, walls, kitchen cabinets—the list goes on.”
How We Vetted These Products
Every product in a Domino guide meets these criteria:
- They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use.
- They’re expert approved. In addition to our team of editors, we tap a range of designers, makers, renovators, and all-around knowledgeable people to share their intel.
- They’re endorsed by people who actually own them. We pay close attention to real reviews to know that they pass the test IRL.
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