How to Paint Fabric

Painting Upholstery Fabric With Chalky-Finish Paint

painting fabric with chalk paint
Lauren Thomann

Paint is a versatile makeover tool that can transform rooms, but did you know it can give your dated and dingy textiles a makeover, too? Paint can be used to update curtains, pillows, and furniture so long as you keep certain tips in mind. 

This tutorial will show you how to paint fabric with chalky-finish paint. This type of paint is versatile, requires minimal prep, and will give your fabrics a matte sheen. If you opt to use fabric paint, read the manufacturer instructions and follow them accordingly. 

This pink ottoman was the perfect candidate for painting because the fabric was dingy and slightly worn, but there were no rips or tears. It's also not a piece of furniture that is sat on often. Chalky-finish paint will paint over synthetic and natural fabrics, but the resulting finish will be less soft than the original fabric.

Think twice before using this method on your family couch or beloved recliner. Also, don't use chalky-finish paint on any fabric that you will continue to wash in the washing machine. The paint is not designed to withstand machine washing. 

Gather Supplies and Prep the Paint

prepping chalky finish paint
Lauren Thomann
  • The Spruce Best Home chalky-finish paint (we used the color Casual Sophistication)
  • Painter's tape
  • Paintbrush 

When you are painting fabric with chalky-finish paint, it's important that you water down the chalky-finish paint to give it a slightly thinner consistency. Every fabric will cover differently, so test a hidden spot first and keep adding a small amount of water to the paint until you get the desired effect and coverage. If needed, find a swatch of similar fabric and test the paint on that.

Chalky-finish paint that is too thick can stiffen up the fabric and crack over time. Thinned out chalky-finish paint can give you a transparent finish, but it can be a little splotchy and uneven. We found success with one part water to one part paint.

Clean the Fabric

cleaning fabric before painting
Lauren Thomann

Before painting the fabric, remove all dust and debris using a vacuum. Treat obvious stains with a spot cleaner. In most cases, the paint will cover stubborn stains. 

After vacuuming, run a lint roller over the fabric to remove any additional hair or debris.

Tape Off Fabric Section

masking off fabric
Lauren Thomann

Carefully apply painters tape to any section of the furniture that you wish to protect. If you get paint on wood or metal during painting, have a damp rag on hand to quickly wipe it up before it dries. 

Some people have had luck spritzing their fabric with a light coat of water before painting for an even finish. This thicker fabric didn't require that extra step. 

Paint a Thin, Even Layer

painting fabric
Lauren Thomann

The key to successful fabric painting is to use just enough paint to cover the area. To apply a thin layer, dip the paintbrush in the can and wipe off the excess from both sides of the brush on the side of the paint container.  

Next, paint a thin layer using long, even brush strokes that go in the direction of the fabric texture. Use the same direction stroke to paint the entire section of fabric unless there is a seam and the fabric changes directions. If your fabric doesn't have a texture or has a texture that is random, dab the paint into the texture using circular motions. 

Dab Paint into Seams and Buttons

how to paint fabric
Lauren Thomann

Take your time making sure the fabric is fully covered. Pay special attention to the seams of the fabric and around button detailing. Use dabbing motions to work the paint into all the nooks and crannies. After you dab the paint into the seams and around any buttons, go over the top with a long brush stroke to even out the paint. 

Allow to Dry and Heat Seal

painted fabric
Lauren Thomann

Allow your fabric to dry completely before putting on an additional coat. In most cases, the chalky-finish paint will only require one even coat. After 24 hours, examine the fabric and touch up any spots that need more paint. 

Optional: If you want to seal the chalky-finish paint into the fabric, use a heat seal method. To do this, lay down a plain cotton sheet on top of the fabric that was just painted. Next, gently run a hot iron over the top of the sheet. The heat will help the paint cure to the fabric. Test an inconspicuous spot first to make sure your iron isn't too hot.  

You could also help your paint cure by placing the furniture in the hot sun for a couple of hours.

Enjoy Your Newly Painted Furniture

painting fabric with chalk paint
Lauren Thomann

That's it! Be sure to test paint fabric first before you commit to painting an expensive piece of fabric or furniture. We hope this tutorial gave you more insight into how to paint fabric, particularly with chalky-finish paint. Good luck!