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Can You Paint MDF With Emulsion?

Medium density fibreboard, or MDF as it’s more commonly known, is one of the easiest surfaces to achieve a smooth, quality finish when painting due to the fact that it has no obviously recognisable surface grain. But if you’re looking to colour match your MDF woodwork with your walls to create a uniform decor, you might be wondering if you can paint MDF with emulsion.

In today’s article we’re going to discuss if you can paint MDF with emulsion and whether we’d recommend it. So if you’re interested in finding out more, keep reading.

Can You Paint MDF With Emulsion?

Yes, you can paint MDF with emulsion which is very convenient if you’re looking to paint your MDF wall panels. However, for a hard-wearing finish on objects such as display cabinets and storage units, it’s better to use a self-priming satinwood or gloss.

What Is the Process of Applying Emulsion To MDF?

As emulsion is specifically formulated for use on walls and ceilings, there’s plenty of prep that would be needed to get the emulsion to key to the surface of MDF.

In general, you’ll want to:

  1. Thoroughly clean and degrease the surface with a sugar soap.
  2. Give it a rub down with abrasive.*
  3. Dust down the surface.
  4. Apply a wood primer – this step is particularly important given that MDF is a hardboard which makes it hygroscopic and therefore tends to absorb more moisture. Without priming first, your paint finish will be sub-par at best.
  5. Apply an undercoat.
  6. Add a further two coats of emulsion.

*Always make sure you’re wearing a mask and have the room well ventilated when sanding down MDF as it can be incredibly hazardous to your health.

Is It Better To Use Satinwood Or Gloss?

This really depends on what object you’re going to be painting. For example, as mentioned above, if you’re painting MDF wall panels then you’ll want to get a matt finish which is easily achieved by matt emulsions. Whilst satinwood and gloss are much more durable, the sheen would be too high and imperfections on the wall panels would be easy to spot.

On the other hand, if you’re painting display cabinets or storage units made from MDF it’s likely the paint will be rubbed often by hands or objects which means you’ll need a paint that’s durable to avoid any marks or scratches to the surface. In this instance it’s advisable to use a satinwood or gloss (and at a stretch, an oil based eggshell). As above, the process for applying these paints on MDF is very similar to emulsions.

If your dead set on painting MDF cabinets etc with emulsion then at least use a dead flat varnish such as those manufactured by Polyvine. This will at least give the surface some protection from marks and scratches.

What’s the Best MDF Primer for Emulsion?

Now that you know that you can use emulsion on MDF in certain instances, the key question becomes “what’s the best MDF primer for emulsion?”

As always with questions like these, the answer is subjective. However, from a professional standpoint I wouldn’t use anything other than Johnstone’s Trade MDF Primer. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly expensive so if you’re looking for a budget option, Leyland Trade’s MDF Primer might be a better choice for you (although it’s not as good as Johnstone’s!).