How to Paint a Headboard

Painting your wood or metal headboard provides an immediate update.

Prepare for Paint

Create a one-of-a-kind bed by painting a new headboard to match the existing base.Create a one-of-a-kind bed by painting a new headboard to match the existing base.
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.

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

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

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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.

Step 3

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.

Step 4

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.

Step 5

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.

Things You Will 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)


  • 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.

About the Author

Amanda Bell spent six years working as an interior designer and project coordinator before becoming a professional writer in 2010. She has published thousands of articles for various websites and clients, specializing in home renovation, DIY projects, gardening and travel. Bell studied English composition and literature at the University of Boston and the University of Maryland.