Can You Paint MDF With Emulsion?

MDF can be found all around your home, and if you want to freshen up its appearance with emulsion, we show you how.
Written By: Edward Bailey | Updated:
paint mdf with emulsion
Edward Bailey/DIY Works

MDF (also referred to as Medium-Density Fibreboard) is a type of engineered wood commonly used in furniture and construction. It’s made by breaking down wood fibres and then bonding them together with resin and wax. While MDF is a versatile and cost-effective material, it can be challenging to paint with emulsion, as we discussed below.

Why Painting MDF With Emulsion Can Be Problematic

One of the main issues when painting emulsion on MDF is that the wood fibres in the MDF absorb the moisture from the paint. This can cause the MDF to swell and warp, which makes it difficult to achieve a smooth, even finish. Additionally, the MDF’s surface can be porous, which can lead to poor paint adhesion.

Although MDF has a smooth surface, it’s not as hard as solid wood. Therefore, this can make it difficult to achieve a smooth finish if the surface isn’t properly prepared with an MDF primer beforehand.

On top of the difficulty of painting the smooth surface of MDF, the sides/edges are also a problem. This is because the fibrous edges soak up the paint at a much greater rate and begin to “fur” up. Therefore, you’ll need to sand the edges with fine-grit sandpaper and also ensure they are properly sealed afterwards.

Is It Possible To Paint MDF With Emulsion?

Although using emulsion on MDF isn’t the best option, it’s still possible.

The only downside is that more preparation work is required, and you’ll have to take a bit more care when painting MDF with emulsion.

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to paint MDF with emulsion based on my experience:

  1. Sand down the MDF to remove any roughness or unevenness (we would recommend fine-grit sandpaper)
  2. Clean the surface with a damp cloth or rag to remove any dust or debris.
  3. Apply a coat of MDF primer to the surface. (This will help to seal the MDF and improve the adhesion of the paint)
  4. Allow the primer to dry completely before applying the emulsion paint. (Use a paint brush or paint roller to apply the paint in thin, even coats)
  5. Allow the first coat of paint to dry completely before applying a second coat. If required, you can apply further coats of emulsion until you’ve achieved the desired finish.

It’s important to note that when using emulsion paint on MDF, you may find that it soaks up a lot of the paint. Therefore, for the first coat of emulsion, you may want to apply a mist coat as it’ll dry faster and be less wasteful. However, if a high-quality MDF primer has been used, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue and may not be required.

Is It Better To Paint MDF With Satinwood or Gloss Paint?

Satinwood and gloss paints are far better at painting MDF than emulsion because they provide a harder, more durable finish. They also tend to be more resistant to moisture and heat, which can be an issue for MDF surfaces.

Additionally, satinwood and gloss paints tend to be more resistant to fading and yellowing over time. This is an important factor to consider when painting items that will be exposed to sunlight or other sources of UV light.

In terms of the differences, if you want to achieve a shiny, durable finish, the best option would be to use gloss paint. However, if you want a fuller finish with less shine, satinwood paints are a great alternative.

The Importance of Using an MDF Primer

An MDF primer is an essential step in the process of painting MDF with emulsion (as well as satinwood or gloss paint). The reason being is that it seals the MDF and improves the adhesion of the paint. This is made possible thanks to the formula’s special resins that reduce moisture absorption from the MDF fibres. Therefore, if you do intend to use emulsion to paint MDF, it’s a crucial step that’ll prevent any issues from arising.


Although emulsion can be used to paint MDF, it isn’t necessarily the best option that we would recommend. Satinwood or gloss are our top recommendations, but if you are painting cupboards, there are many cupboard paints you can choose from, as well as chalk paints. However, if you are trying to match MDF to your painted walls, it’s still possible to achieve a good finish with emulsion paint as long as you follow the steps in our guide above.

Hopefully, our guide on painting MDF with emulsion has answered all your questions, but if not, feel free to get in touch, and we will try to provide our assistance where possible.

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