How to Paint a Shelf Unit

You find a shelf that is perfect in size and design, but the wrong color. If the piece works for your purposes, then paint it. It is a lot easier than you think, and the results will give you a special shelf unit that is all your own. Follow these easy steps to paint a shelf unit.

  1. Set up a work space in a well-ventilated area to paint your shelf unit. Make sure there is nothing to spark a flame nearby. Place a drop-cloth over the work surface to protect it and the piece you are working on. If you can't move the unit, cover the surfaces and things around it with a drop cloth.

  2. Take the unit apart, if possible. Remove any movable shelves if you can't take it apart.

  3. Use a mild cleanser to remove dirt from the surface. Sand the unit to help it accept paint better and wipe off the dust with a damp cloth or use a hand vacuum.

  4. Repair any chips, holes or other damage with wood putty or spackling. Let the putty dry completely before sanding down the repaired areas. Remove any dust that is still on the unit.

  5. Apply primer to the shelf unit if it is painted a darker color than you are plan to paint, or if the shelf unit has a design that you want to cover. Primer is usually white or gray. Allow the primer to dry before proceeding. Follow the instructions on the package.

  6. Apply the first coat of paint in even strokes in one direction. For spray paint, move in even sweeps about six to 10 inches from the surface. Let the first coat dry. Add a second coat and let it dry completely before using the shelf unit.


  • Always wear protective goggles and gloves when using power tools and chemicals.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area.
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