How to Paint a Headboard


Painting your wood or metal headboard provides an immediate update. Since headboards aren’t touched as often as other types of furniture, nearly any paint finish is possible, including a sleek, modern matte or a blinding metallic shimmer. Start by detaching the headboard from the frame, setting aside the hardware and moving the headboard to a well-ventilated, covered workspace. Set it on sawhorses or a raised work surface, protecting the surrounding area with dropcloths.

Things You'll Need

  • Dropcloths
  • Saw horses
  • Face mask
  • Random-orbit sander
  • 80-grit sanding disc
  • 180-grit sanding disc
  • Sanding blocks, various grits
  • Wire brush
  • Electric drill
  • Wire wheel
  • Vacuum
  • Lint-free cloths
  • Tack cloths (optional)
  • Water-based stain-blocking primer
  • Rust-inhibiting metal primer
  • Paint sprayer
  • Water-based paint
  • Metal-specific paint
  • Clear polyurethane (optional)
  • Rust-inhibiting enamel topcoat (optional)

Prepare for Paint

  • Affix an 80-grit sanding disc to a random-orbit sander. Sand all sides of the wood headboard, brush off the dust and smooth the surface with a 180-grit sanding disc. Hand-sand grooves or other difficult-to-reach areas with a sanding block. Sanding removes shine and smooths the surface to provide a solid grip for the paint. Do not remove the entire finish.

  • Remove rust with a wire brush or a drill outfitted with a wire wheel before painting a metal headboard. Sand the headboard with 80-grit sandpaper to remove peeling paint, if applicable. Don't remove the metal’s entire finish; skip this step if the headboard is in good condition.

  • Vacuum the work area and wipe down the headboard with a damp cloth or tack cloth. Tape or cover any portions you don’t want painted. If you’re painting a metal headboard, proceed from cleaning to painting immediately to prevent the development of flash rust.

Transform Your Headboard

  • Mix either a can of water-based stain-blocking primer -- for a wooden headboard -- or rust-inhibiting primer -- for metal -- and pour it into a paint sprayer.

  • Point the nozzle of the sprayer just off to the side of your starting point. Engage the nozzle and move across the headboard, applying a thin, even coat of paint. Go off the edge and make a second pass toward the direction you started, creating a slight overlap between the first pass and the second. Repeat this motion, coating the entire headboard. Follow the shape of the headboard as you work to minimize waste; for example, if you're painting a rail-style headboard, paint each rail individually rather than working horizontally left to right across the headboard. Always engage and release the nozzle while pointed away from the headboard.

  • Flip over the headboard and paint the opposite side after the primer is completely dry. Apply a second, thin coat of primer if desired. Two thin coats reduce the chance of clumps or globs marring any decorative detailing on the headboard.

  • Run a bare hand across the headboard after the primer is dry. If the surface is gritty, very lightly sand the headboard with 220-grit sanding block to smooth it. Wipe down the piece with a damp cloth or tack cloth to remove dust. Clean the paint sprayer according to the directions outlined in your manual.

  • Mix water-based paint or paint for metal and pour it into the paint sprayer. Apply two to three coats using the same method as you used to apply the primer. Wait 2 hours between coats to prevent the paint from peeling or bubbling. If desired, lightly sand with 220-grit sandpaper after each coat dries for a smooth finish.

Tips & Warnings

  • Add decorative details with a stencil or painter’s tape after the last coat of paint dries. Spray the back of a stencil with stencil adhesive, press it in place, and stipple the paint on with a stencil brush; or, tape off a design and use thin detail brushes to fill it in. Let it dry for 24 hours.
  • Protect the fresh paint job with polyurethane for wood and laminate headboards and a clear, rust-inhibiting enamel topcoat for metal.
  • Use a primer intended for slick surfaces when painting laminate furniture.
  • Depending on the condition of the headboard, you may be able to sand with just 180-grit paper to remove shine.
  • Attach your sander to a shop vacuum to minimize dust in the air.
  • Wear a face mask when sanding and a certified paint mask when painting.

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  • Photo Credit Mikhail Kalakutskiy/iStock/Getty Images
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