Can You Use Emulsion on Wood?

As a beginning DIYer, it’s common to have questions about the many paint varieties and how they can be used on various surfaces. Several products are useful when painting on wood, but emulsion paint is not ideal.

While you can use emulsion paint on wood, it is not the best option. Due to the water base and thick nature of the paint, it does not create an even coat and does not adhere to the wood effectively for long-term use.

Emulsion paint is great for walls, especially bathroom walls where it will be exposed to high amounts of moisture, but for wood floors, baseboards, or any woodworking projects, it’s going to cause you more trouble than it’s worth. Read on to learn why emulsion is not your best option when it comes to painting on wood.

Why Emulsion Isn’t Ideal for Wood

Emulsion paint has its place. It’s great for interior walls, ceilings, and even some exterior surfaces, especially those more prone to moisture. It’s pretty easy to apply and it goes on fairly thick, making it durable over time. But one area of emulsion does not excel? Wood.

Here are just a handful of reasons why emulsion isn’t great for wood:

  • The adhesion is poor. It doesn’t stick very well to the wood and can quickly come off over time or with friction against the surface.
  • It’s water-based. This isn’t a problem on its own, but when you try to mix water-based paints with a gloss or finish that is oil-based, it doesn’t work very well.
  • It’s thick. This makes it difficult to get a smooth finish and even more difficult to evenly sand down after it dries.
  • You need a primer. To get emulsion paint to stick, you usually need to use a primer underneath it, so applying it directly to wood doesn’t work.

Based on these reasons, it’s clear that emulsion would not be your friend for any kind of wood painting project. The adhesion is bad, it doesn’t pair well with other paints or gloss, and it’s too thick: it’s the wrong paint made out of the wrong stuff.


Can I Use Emulsion as an Undercoat or Primer on Wood?

You might be looking at the reasons listed above and wondering if you should use emulsion if you just need it as an undercoat or primer. The short answer is no. Emulsion still isn’t ideal, even for just an undercoat or primer.

To use emulsion as an undercoat, you need it to be able to stick well to the wood. You also need it to stick to whatever paint you used as the topcoat. The emulsion does a poor job in both of these areas. It doesn’t blend well with other paints or glosses, so using it as an undercoat is not ideal.

The emulsion is meant as a stand-alone paint with possibly only a primer level underneath it. It’s meant to be thick and moisture-resistant, so it would make your wood project blotchy and difficult to sand or work with after it dries. For all of these reasons, it’s not great as an undercoat or primer either.

I Still Want to Try Emulsion Paint on My Wood. What is the Best Way to Use It?

If you have read to this point and are still itching to give emulsion a try on your wood project, there are a few ways to make it more effective.

  • Prime it. For emulsion paint to work well on wood, you’ll need to generously prime it first. Paint a few coats of high-quality primer and allow it to dry completely.
  • Undercoat it. After priming, you’ll need to paint an undercoat layer. Follow the manufacturer’s directions and make sure to allow for proper drying time.
  • Emulsion it. After priming and undercoating, you are now ready for the emulsion paint. Paint a few layers of emulsion paint on the wood (allowing for some drying time in between), and your project should be finished!

Even though emulsion definitely isn’t recommended, it can be done well. Just make sure you know what you’re getting with emulsion paint before you start and complete the appropriate steps beforehand to make it as successful as possible.

Which Paints Are Better Than Emulsion for Wood?

The list is long when it comes to paints that are better for wood than emulsion paints. You have choices between water-based paints like traditional latex, milk, or chalk, and then you have oil-based paints like alkyd-based or plaint-oil-based.

Once you pick which type of paint would work best for your project, you also have a choice of sheen variety like flat (matte), semi or high gloss, eggshell, or satin. All of the choices you make will be based on the desired look and use of your wood project.

No matter which paints you choose and what use you desire from your finished project, you’ll need a good primer. Primer helps seal the wood and allows for the paint to act as it should rather than combine with the natural chemicals in the wood itself.

Why Are These Paint Options Better Than Emulsion for Wood?

These paint options are better for your project than emulsion for several reasons. Not only are they made to complement your wood, but they are also built to last. The greater number of options adds more flexibility and makes your project more customizable.

  • These paints are built to stick. Unlike emulsion paint, which is meant for flat, smooth surfaces like a ceiling or wall, other oil-based or water-based paints are made to adhere to various objects and textures. Find the one that works best for the texture of your project.
  • They are better for oil-based finishes. While some of the suggested styles of paints are water-based like emulsion, you also have the option of oil-based. If you plan on using a gloss or finish that is oil-based, you have greater flexibility in paint choices that will complement the base of that finish.
  • You’ll get a smoother finish. The emulsion is thick and blotchy. These paints offer you options to get a softer, thinner finish that helps you get a more polished look for your project.
  • They are easier to sand. If you are planning several layers or want to go for a distressed look, these paint options are a better bet. The emulsion is so thick that it is difficult to sand it down and smooth it out. You want something thinner and easier to work with.

Some paints will work better for your wood project than others, but regardless of which type of paint you choose, emulsion should not be at the top of your list.



Emulsion paint has its uses when it comes to walls, ceilings, and some exterior surfaces. But especially for the budding DIYer, the emulsion is not the best type of paint to use when it comes to your wood projects. It’s too thick, unforgiving, and challenging to pair with other types of primers or finishes.

There are many other types of paint for your wood projects that would be easier to handle and do a better job. These paints are meant to pair with wood and will offer you a smoother finish, easier sanding, and better adhesion. If you must use emulsion on wood, it’s not impossible with a fair amount of priming and undercoat, but it’s not ever going to be the most ideal option.


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