Can You Paint Over Lacquer Finish? (Latex, Chalk Paint, Enamel)

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

After a while, a lacquer finish gets old. So, can you paint over lacquer paint?

You can paint over lacquer, but you must sand and prime the finish first. This is because lacquer is a sealant and isn’t designed to be painted over.

Also, it has a high level of oils, solvents, and gloss; as such, it can’t absorb paint. So, if you paint over it, it will not stick, and the finish will come out poor.

Types of Paints You Can Use:

There are a few types of paints that can go over lacquer. Let’s check out some top choices.

Chalk Paint

You can use chalk paint over it because the paint is designed to stick over any surface, regardless of the texture. When dry, it produces a dry matte finish. So, if you want an antique or vintage finish, use it.


  • It is easy to apply and user-friendly.
  • It dries fast and you can finish the application of chalk in less than 30 minutes.
  • Easy to clean and maintain. 
  • Adheres well and requires little prep work before it is applied.


  • Not durable and will wear off if used in high-traffic areas.
  • It needs to be sealed. 

Mineral Paint

You can use mineral paint over it. Mineral paint has mineral binders and is a durable finish. Plus, you don’t have to sand or prime it before applying it because it is a self-leveling paint. 


  • Easy to apply.
  • Produces a smooth and fine finish.
  • Dies fast because it’s water-based.
  • Doesn’t need a top coat because it is designed with a built-in top coat.
  • Super durable.


  • Pricey

Enamel Paint

You can use enamel over a finished surface with lacquer. The best type of enamel to use is spray or acrylic enamel. 


  • Durable.
  • Water-resistant.
  • Easy to apply.
  • Produces a glossy finish.


  • Oil-based, so it’s hard to clean and maintain.
  • Dries hard and can be difficult to shape or distress.

Do You Need To Sand?

You can skip sanding only if you use oil-based paint, and apply an oil-based primer under it. The primer will provide a smooth surface over the sealant, and allow the new coating to stick over it. 

You can also skip sanding if you use mineral paint over it. Mineral paint is a self-leveling finish that sticks to any surfaces, including glossy and textured surfaces. Also, it has an in-built topcoat that protects the finish from different elements. 

On the other hand, you must sand lacquer before applying water-based paints over it. That’s because it has a glossy finish and will prevent water-based paints from sticking to it without sanding. 

Sanding is required to remove the top glossy layer of the sealant. The glossy top coat prevents moisture (water or oil) from penetrating the finish or the material underneath. Since the top coat prevents water and oil from penetrating, the paints can not stick well since they are either water or oil-based.

However, sanding the glossy top coat will create ridges and scratch marks in the gloss where the paint can penetrate and bite into. So, sanding the lacquer will improve paint adhesion.

How To Paint Over Lacquer?

Here are the tools you need:

  • Rags
  • Medium-grit sandpaper (preferably 150-grit)
  • Ultrafine sandpaper (preferably 320-grit)
  • Paintbrushes
  • A soft brush
  • Primer
  • Mineral spirit
  • Latex or enamel paint.

Now, roll those sleeves, and let’s get to work.

1. Determine The Kind of Lacquer Used

Determine The Kind of Lacquer Used

First, you need to know what type of lacquer you are working with. When you know its type, you’ll know how to prep it. 

Check if the lacquer is catalyzed or ordinary. To do this, dip a clean rag in mineral spirits or lacquer thinner and use the damp rag to wipe the finish. If the finish comes off on the rag, it’s ordinary lacquer. If it doesn’t come off, it’s catalyzed lacquer.

Next, check if the sealant has a high, medium, or satin (flat) finish. If the finish is shiny and sleek, it has a high or medium glossy finish. If the finish is dry and textured, it’s a flat or satin.

2. Sand The Lacquer

Sand The Lacquer

For semi-gloss, high-gloss, and catalyzed lacquer, use medium-grit sandpaper (150-grit). The 150-grit sandpaper will remove the glossy finish. After sanding with medium-grit sandpaper, even out grain with fine-grit sandpaper.

If you don’t remove its glossy finish, the paint won’t stick. The glossy finish is moisture-resistant and won’t let any liquid, including paint, stick or penetrate the surface. So, it’s best to remove or abrade its top layer first.

For the ordinary and flat lacquer finish, sand with ultra fine-grit sandpaper to scuff the finish. Scuffing helps to improve the adhesion, but it’s not necessary. Since the finish doesn’t have a glossy top coat, the paint will stick. 

3. Remove the Dust

Remove Dust

After sanding the finish, you must get rid of the dust. If you don’t remove dust, the paint will be riddled with bumps when the finish gets dry. 

To remove dust, use a vacuum (with a portable vacuum) or brush off (with a soft brush) the dust grain from the surface. After, wipe down the surface with a clean rag. Don’t use a cloth with loose threads or wool as the wood can poke out loose threads.

4. Apply Two Coats of Primer

Apply Two Coats of Primer

The primer helps to create a smooth surface for the next coating to stick to. Plus, it covers imperfections and holes in the surface. 

The primer you use must be compatible with the paint you will use. So, use oil-based primer for oil-based paints, and water-based primer for water-based paints. 

You need two coats of primer. The first coat should dry before you apply the next one. It takes primer 2 hours to dry enough for a re-coat.

5. Apply 3 Coats of Paint

Apply Up To 3 Coats of Paint

To apply paint over lacquer, use a brush or sprayer and apply 3 coats. If you are using oil-based paint, apply 1-2 coats only. Wait until one coat dries before applying the next one. 

Once the final coating dries, seal the finish with varnish or polyurethane. 

Related Read: Lacquer vs Polyurethane?

Types of Finishes To Use Over Lacquer

You can put polyurethane, wax, gel stain, and alkyd varnish over lacquer. However, a glossy alkyd varnish is the best finish to apply over it.

Glossy alkyd varnish is a polyester resin that sticks to lacquer better than other sealants. The glossy alkyd varnish has a natural appearance, it’s easy to clean and maintain, and has different sheens. Spray gel is also a good choice.

On the other hand, polyurethane doesn’t stick well to it, the finish will come off after a while if subjected to regular or heavy use. 

However, not every type of lacquer needs a topcoat. There are two types of finishes: catalyzed and ordinary lacquer. The catalyzed lacquer is a strong and durable sealant that doesn’t need a top coat. In contrast, ordinary lacquer isn’t as durable, so you have to apply a top coat over it.

To know what type you have on your wood, wipe a small spot of the lacquer finish with a rag soaked in lacquer thinner or mineral spirits. If the finish comes off on the rag, it’s ordinary lacquer and must be sealed with a topcoat. If it doesn’t come off, it’s catalyzed lacquer and doesn’t need a finish.

Final Words

You can apply paint over a surface sealed with lacquer, but you must sand and prime the finish first. If you don’t sand, the paint won’t stick and will peel off.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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