Asked on Oct 30, 2015

Am getting a brown stain coming through chalk paint when I varnish it.

by PerversePoet
This has happened twice to me when I've been upcycling old darkwood furniture. My latest is an old ladder back chair (see photo). I sanded it and put several coats of duck egg blue chalk paint. All fine so far. Then because it is going to get quite a lot of use I decided to varnish it with Homebase clear matt varnish and soon after application I get the brown stain coming through. Any ideas why and how I might in future prevent this please?
  21 answers
  • Janet Pizaro Janet Pizaro on Oct 30, 2015
    I think it is the finish you are using. Chalk paint for highly used furniture should be sealed with a water based polyacrylic protective finish.
  • Susan Boothe Susan Boothe on Oct 30, 2015
    You're experiencing "bleed through". It's what happens when either old wax is not removed before painting or certain woods have "tannins" that seep out of the wood and through the paint. If this happens you realize you have a certain wood that requires more prep than usual. First, use a deglosser and after give a good sanding. After a wipe down apply a finish to seal in the tannins. Then after it is well dried, paint as usual.
  • PerversePoet PerversePoet on Oct 30, 2015
    I did give it a good sanding first thanks Susan.Something I always do.
  • GrandmasHouseDIY GrandmasHouseDIY on Oct 30, 2015
    You may want to consider stripping old wood with a good paint stripper or - rubbing alcohol works too (though its more labor intensive). And then I would use a good oil based primer before painting.
  • PerversePoet PerversePoet on Oct 30, 2015
    Thanks. Strange how they never say that on the You Tube instructional videos. On there they say make sure surface is clean and paint straight on.
    • E.g28731307 E.g28731307 on Oct 06, 2017

      I agree. I cleaned the furniture with Goo be gone. Wiped furniture piece very well. Applied oil base primer, two coats. Let dry overnight before applying chalk paint. stain seeping on one leg of the furniture.

  • Shari Shari on Oct 30, 2015
    Susan is's "bleed through." It is common with some raw woods and stains (not wax) used on older furniture. Trust me, it is NOT the varnish you are using. It would have likely happened no matter what kind of top coat treatment you used. Actually, I am surprised you didn't have problems with the bleed through before you got to the top coat step. It usually appears as the paint is being applied. I personally dealt with this very aggravating problem when I used Annie Sloan chalk paint on an old desk with a reddish, mahogany-type finish. I started seeing pink stains bleeding through the paint long before I got the top coat on. I tried a couple coats of stain blocking primer but that did absolutely nothing--still had considerable bleed through. I finally went to the Annie Sloan website for help and found the solution is to spray or paint on Shellac to seal the bleed through and then repaint and use the top coat of your choice. Here's the Annie Sloan link: What to do if stains bleed through the paint I'm just going to tell you though, in the end I was not happy with this shellac "fix" either. I only "spot treated" the bleed through areas with the shellac since the bleed through problem did not affect the whole desk. With time, the spots I treated with the shellac have now started showing through the chalk paint as shiny areas! Ugh! It just makes me sick! All that time, effort and money I put into it and the whole desk really needs to be stripped and repainted but I can guarantee you I WON'T be using chalk paint again when I do! My recommendation is cut your losses now. Forget the chalk paint on this chair (or any project that shows evidence of bleed through). I would sand (or strip) off the top coat/varnish you used and use latex paint instead. In my experience of painting well over 35 pieces of furniture with latex paint, I have never, ever had a bleed through problem with latex. If you aren't keen on using latex, you might try Miss Mustard Seed's milk paint. I like her milk paint so much better than Annie Sloan chalk paint but I can't really say if you will continue to have the bleed through problem with it. I've painted 5 pieces of furniture with MMS milk paint and didn't have any bleed through problems but those pieces may not have been inclined to bleed through anyway.
  • PerversePoet PerversePoet on Oct 30, 2015
    Thank you Shari.
  • Bill Robinson Bill Robinson on Oct 30, 2015
    One word....KILZ. Prime with kill first, then paint. I put 5 coats of finish paint on a ceiling that was damage by cigarette and cigar smoke and it bleed thru every time. That is when I learned of the value of a coat or two of Kilz primer. Any store that sells paint will have it. Zingers 3 in 1 primer is also good.
    • See 3 previous
    • Bill Robinson Bill Robinson on Oct 31, 2015
      Debra thanks for advise. But it should be directed to Perverse Poet, who asked the original question. I'm done with refinishing furniture.
  • PerversePoet PerversePoet on Oct 30, 2015
    Thanks Bill.
  • Bill Robinson Bill Robinson on Oct 30, 2015
    I should have read the whole post before suggesting Kilz. It must be the varnish. How about polyurethane as a top coat?. They also make a water based polyurethane that would not be as harsh.
    • Terry Terry on Mar 30, 2018

      Poly will do the same thing , it's not the finish it's the furniture. I just experienced the same thing when I painted a paneled room. There were water stains on the window sills that bled through when I applied a poly finish. Varnishes soak in to bond. I went over the sills with latex satin paint and the stains didn't bleed. Paint creates a layer but the varnish soaks into the paint.

  • Judy Judy on Oct 31, 2015
    If you are just painting it use works....I painted old stained windows and it covered it so I could paint without bleed through. Easy.
  • Karol Anderson Karol Anderson on Oct 31, 2015
    Spray bleed thru with clear shellack. Then paint away. No more bleed thru!! I recently went to a demo on this.
  • Kathy Bitzan Kathy Bitzan on Oct 31, 2015
    My dad taught me to always prime your work if you want it to last. That idea from Karol Anderson sounds like a good one since your project is almost done. But will know for next time. I just read the other day someone suggested a few good coats of good paint and I thought nope I'd prime, that's why they make it.
  • Mary Wilshire Mary Wilshire on Nov 01, 2015
    At a workshop I learned that many dark finishes do need to have shellac applied before the first coat of chalk paint. Quick job, dries in a few minutes. Prevented bleed-through on my mahogany piece but not crackling.
  • Mary Feaster Mary Feaster on Nov 01, 2015
    You should not varnish over chalk paint. You do not need to sand. Paint the piece 2 coats of chalk then wax it. Then sand it if you want it to look antiqued. If you want it to really look old wax it again with a dark wax. Lot's of instructions on Pinterest and UTube.
  • Marion Marion on Nov 01, 2015
    Block first with an oil based primer close to the same color u will b painting with! Safety for me bc is BLOCKS the bleed through! I haven't used varnish over cp but have used General Finishes and Modern Masters for top coats. I am on facebook at Best of luck, Marion
  • Pgl Pgl on Nov 02, 2015
    Marion is correct you are dealing with a stain with an oil base, this is common in many pieces of furniture also old wall paint.A primer is made just for this problem available at any home improvement store just ask.
  • PerversePoet PerversePoet on Nov 02, 2015
    Thanks. Funny how they never say that on the You Tube instructional clips. It's all wipe it down and paint straight on.
  • Wendy Wendy on Nov 10, 2015
    I agree with the above comments. I just use Zinsser Shellac Interior Oil Primer It has "BIN" in big bold letters as part of the name. Works great, drys quick, you can clean your brush with ammonia instead of mineral spirits, and best part is, it's readily available. Oh, and you can also get it in a spray can. I just prefer to brush. I find this is a crucial step on any piece that has been heavily varnished or has dark stain, even if I have sanded it first.
  • Mogie Mogie on Nov 04, 2022

    Primer will generally fix that problem. Did you prime first?