Yellowing is a common complaint among topcoats. You spend all the time and effort painting your furniture a beautiful clean white or light color, only for your paint finish to take on a yellow tint. There are a few different things that can cause clear coats to yellow, but they aren’t always predictable. Here are some general tips and rules when considering which topcoat to use and how to prevent yellowing.
Stain Blocking primer
Paint in shades of white
Water-Based Clear Coats
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Things to remember when painting furniture with light colors to prevent yellowing
Urethane and oil-based topcoats are known for yellowing over time.
Consider what color you are painting, yellowing is more easily noticeable over white and light colors, but can still happen with dark colors.
If you are experiencing yellowing with water-based topcoats, it is most likely an issue with preparation rather than with the topcoat itself.
All woods have tannins and topcoat can leech these out of your wood, whether immediately or overtime.
Protect yourself! With whites, always use a stain and odor-blocking primer or a shellac based primer like Zinsser Bin before painting.
Certain woods are more likely to bleed, contain heavier oils, and may require extra coats of stain-blocking primer to prevent yellowing. A few of these are mahogany, pine knots, oak, cedar, and Douglas fir. Think of woods that tend to have heavy sap, odors, usually perform better outdoors, all of these are because of their heavier oil content.
Inside corners are more difficult, places where liquids can gather and amplify yellowing in these areas.
Certain period pieces were often finished in stain containing aniline dyes that cast a pinkish bleed-through under light paint, stay away from light colors. Not every piece of furniture is suitable for up-cycling with a light paint color.
Painting plastic or other non-porous materials are easier to guarantee no bleed-through from the surface underneath.
Sanding or penetrating the existing factory clear coat removes any barrier in those spots, sanding can make bleed through more likely to occur.
For bright whites, tint your clear coat with a bit of paint to maintain color.
Yellowing may not happen immediately but can occur over time with seasonal and temperature changes, wood is very susceptible to these changes.
“Softer” whites like will be friendlier to color changes than bright whites like Cotton or Fluff.
For low use projects, One hour enamel self-sealing paint and may not require a topcoat or clear/white wax over top may be sufficient.
Full dry times are important for stain blockers to be fully effective, don’t rush the process.
Selling white or light custom painted furniture
Upcharge when painting whites, they require extra precautions and additional materials, add a clause to your contract that yellowing can occur over time, even with every precaution.
UV exposure can also discolor whites. Inform customers that placing furniture in front of a window will make it more likely to discolor.
Even with all precautions, whites tend to discolor with time. Think of touching up white trim in your home, new white paint will be a different color than older white paint.
I made a video showing you how I prep for painting white furniture to prevent yellowing. Check it out!
The best advice I can give is this; if in doubt, prep! You will never regret additional protections taken beforehand, but you may regret not taking them if you experience yellowing in your project! Now let’s admire some crisp, clean whites!