Chalk Paint® Problems: How To Combat Bleed Through

If you’ve used Chalk Paint® with any regularity, chances are you have run into a piece that just doesn’t cooperate. Knowing how great Annie Sloan’s paint is, it can be a head-scratcher when you meet a stubborn piece of furniture that doesn’t take to the paint the way you know it should.

As we like to tell everyone, Chalk Paint sticks to nearly everything. You also don’t need to sand, prime, or do any prep work. Almost always, this rings true. As with every rule, there are always exceptions. The biggest exception to the Chalk Paint rules are when you run into a piece that experiences bleed through. If you’ve never experienced it before, it usually starts the same way. You paint your first coat of paint and wait for it to dry. Once dry, you begin to notice pink or brownish spots and streaks bleeding through to the surface. If you’re stubborn or uninformed (like I was the first time I tackled this obstacle), you will cross your fingers and hope a second coat will hide all of the crap that has now come to the surface. The bad news is that if it is bleed through, it will come back again and again. (It’s okay at this point to admit if you’re super stubborn, as I was, and throw caution to the wind with a third coat, hoping that will do the trick. You could probably apply thirty coats and it wouldn’t matter. It would also be a waste of wonderful Chalk Paint.) This is where we deviate from the no prep work missive and call in the cavalry to slay our pesky bleeding. In this case, clear shellac is the cavalry.

Here is a perfect example of bleed. It usually looks like water stains. Sometimes it can even be pinkish in hue.

Here is a perfect example of bleed. It usually looks like water stains. Sometimes it can even be pinkish in hue.

Some other bleeders will also cause the paint to crackle. This is a severe example. Use shellac to solve this issue as well.

Some other bleeders will also cause the paint to crackle. This is a severe example. Use shellac to solve this issue as well, that is if you don’t like the cracked look. (People do pay good money to get this look)

Ok. So now you’re probably wondering, “How will I know what types of furniture bleeds?” For the most part, oak, mahogany, and knotty pine will cause problems, particulary stuff made in the 1930’s and 40’s.  If you use wood filler to fix some divots in furniture, that can bleed, too. Up here in New England, there seems to be a plethora of antique mahogony furniture, and it can give you fits if not treated properly. I’m speaking bitterly from experience.

Anyway, fear not. Grab a can of clear shellac from any paint or hardware store. I like to use Zinsser brand (not paid to say that, but I would gladly take their money if they offered.


Shellac goes on quick and easy. Apply a thin coat and allow it dry according to drying time on the can. Once dry, paint away as usual.

Before I go, I should also mention that heavily pledged furniture can sometimes be a pain in the ass. The oils or whatever the heck that stuff has in it will resist the paint. In this case, I will wipe it down with mineral spirits. Just figured I toss you that bone while we were talking #chalkpainproblems.

Colin and I are currently painting a beautiful old mahogony dining room set. Chances are it's gonna bleed and I'm guessing its seen heavy doses of Pledge. We decided to take the precautionary steps and use both mineral spirits and shellac to make our lives easier.

Colin and I are currently painting a beautiful old mahogony dining room set. Chances are it’s gonna bleed and I’m guessing its seen heavy doses of Pledge. We decided to take the precautionary steps and use both mineral spirits and shellac to make our lives easier.

Shellac. Glorious shellac.

Shellac. Glorious shellac.

photo (2)

As always, hit me with your questions in the comments.



138 thoughts on “Chalk Paint® Problems: How To Combat Bleed Through

  1. Hi Justin I hope I am not asking a question that was already answered as I read almost through the entire feed (most asked the same thing over and over without reading your post). I have a replica of an Amish cradle that I had in my hot attic for 20 years ugh. The clear finish crackled and I realized it was not all real wood. I lightly sanded that with 220 sand paper and it was smooth but as soon as I put the paint on I’m thinking the places I sanded swelled the particle board or whatever it is underneath and all those marks show through as ugly bumps like before. I am thinking I have to sand them smooth again and put the zinser bulls eye clear shellac and try again? Not sure if the shellac will swell it up either?

    • I’d use the same shellac in spray form. Put on several light coats (it should only take about 15 minutes to dry) rather than one heavy one.

  2. I’m fairly new to this world of painting over perfectly beautiful antique furniture. I have painted about 5 pieces. The problem I want to ask you a question about is the chalkpaint yellowing in the areas I distress with sandpaper. I have experimented with various grits and
    it doesn’t make much difference. It happens on dark and light paints. What causes this?

  3. Just a quick question as yourselves I painted some louvre doors with Annie Sloan pure white paint and they bled and then started to show colour coming through, Ives since bought some zinzeer shellac primer for the others, my question is can I put the primer onto the already painted doors or can I put the primer onto the doors already painted with Annie Sloan paint, just its a long job with a paint brush n I’m trying to find a slightly quicker method. I’m a newby at the chalk paint upcycling. Many thanks Angela

  4. Ok my first time , an experience the yellow An pinki of the paint , I thought the wax would help … Nope so have I Ruined fireplace mantle ?

    • So sorry. You’ve probably already done something to remedy this, as I see your post was listed nearly a year ago. To answer your question, no, it isn’t ruined, but your hard work may have been in vain. Waxing over this just makes it even harder. You can’t paint over wax. That’s one reason I rarely use wax anymore. If I change my mind or someone in the future wants to change the paint, wax just makes it more difficult to repaint or refinish. I also wouldn’t recommend using wax on a mantle because of the heat that the wood will be exposed to. Not sure how the wax will hold up. Even in ideal settings, wax has to be reapplied every couple of years and buffed. For pieces that get heavy use, like dresser tops and table tops, I like to use matte finish topcoat, about 4 coats. Water based topcoat dries faster and has less odor, and oil based is easier to apply (less visible brush strokes) and more durable over the long haul. Hope you found a good solution to your problem and it looks great.

  5. HI! So glad I ran across your help because I am painting the EXACT same antique chairs! HA! Would love to see some pics of how they turned out and what you chose to do to them (color ect.) I am painting mine Old White, but I can’t decide if I’ll use dark wax or not. Those cut-outs on the back of the chairs are a PAIN to paint….do you have any advice or tricks?
    Thanks so much!

  6. Hope you can answer this. My late husband, an artist, painted our knotty pine dining floor–huge room too. But we prepared it improperly and used a finish that yellowed the floor. Also, lots of knots showing through. I want to retain the design and thought of using chalk paint on the floor, but first taping the design. Since I can see the knot holes through the old finish, I wonder if I have to do a coat of shellac before redoing the floor. And what do I do about a finish?

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  8. So I’m there! I have painted three coats and still fighting bleed through. Do I nhave ed to sand down to apply the shellac or can it go over Sloan paint? Please and thank you

  9. I’ve had this issue as well on a sideboard unit I painted in white Annie Sloan paint and ended up doing 4 coats hoping it would get better but it didn’t. I’ve been using it for about a year now as a tv unit but hate the colour of it (it’s almost a yellow). Can I apply the shellac over the chalk paint or is it a lost cause at this point??

  10. Newby to chalk painting but I’ve painted a few lighter pieces with Annie Sloan and they turned out great, then I painted two darker pieces and they turned out great too. Now I’m on to the bedroom furniture and was trying to save a little $$ so used Valspar Chalk Paint. It’s dark furniture and the first round after applying the Valspar wax I started seeing the bleeding and it’s so bad now. Before I finished the other pieces, I found where I should have shellac’d first. So I used mineral spirits to remove wax and shellac’d two coats (drying in between), then repainted two coats of the white chalk paint AGAIN. Then I waxed it. It looks fine but now I”m restarting with same steps on the bigger pieces. I had not waxed those yet so only had to do 2 coats of shellac over the initial first coat of chalk paint. I started the wax on one side but did have time to finish for a few days – now that I’m ready to start back the side that i waxed is cracking so bad and the bleeding is coming through again. I am not going to apply anymore wax to the rest of this piece until I can figure out why it’s cracking so bad. I should mention the smaller piece is not cracking and I did the same steps on it so I’m stumped…. Is it the Valspar? Would Annie Sloan also cause this problem? Any advice would be so welcome as now this is ending up costing me a lot more than if I had just stuck with Annie Sloan!

  11. I have a dresser I painted with 2 coats of chalk paint and finished with 2 coat of polycrylic a year ago. It is beginning to show faint bleed through of the dark stain that was on its original pine. There was no indication it would bleed as I worked on it! Dp I have to strip it down all the way tot he wood again before shellacking?
    Thanks for your help!

  12. I have painted a oak fireplace with 3 coats of white annie sloane.. looks yellow as tannin coming through i waxed it thinking this may seal it and stop the yellowing.. it didnt!! how do i proceed? do i repaint over the wax then shellack and then re paint white? or can i shellack over the wax? or will i need to remove wax before shellacking. Thanks

    • Funny, I just asked essentially the same question. I don’t THINK you can shellac over wax, but I hadn’t thought of your idea of painting over wax again and then shellac…..if we find we can’t shellac after adding more paint, then we’d need to find out how the heck to get the wax off to start over. best of luck….

  13. HELP!! I hope you will get this question….I see this post is fairly old. I sanded and used wood filler in some areas on the top of a desk. Outcome – terribly blotchy. I did what you did, multiple coats of paint (I even changed the color from ASCP french linen to ASCP graphite) oh but I wasn’t smart enough to stop where you did…..I clear waxed and then dark waxed thinking that would solve my problem. Nope, not the solution! I don’t think I can shellac over wax, so how in the world do I get the layers of wax off so I can start over with shellac?

  14. I painted a thin layer of chalk paint on a dresser. Decades of oil are coming through. May I apply Shellac directly on top of chalk paint, then paint & wax as usual?

  15. Hello! Reaserching as this is the first time having this issue…I’m using chalk paint on a 1940’s dark mahogany dresser. Anyway, I’ve already done two coats of paint…can I use the shellac over that? Should I lightly sand first…what about using primer over instead?

  16. Hello, having this very problem after 2 coats on a 1940’s dark mahogany dresser. Can I still use the shellac? Should I lightly sand first? Can I use primer instead? Sent this question a few seconds ago and realized I didn’t correctly enter my email…thanks!

  17. If you Shellac the piece and the chalk paint can you still do a heavy distressing with the shellac on it?

  18. Just finishing my first chalkpaint project (round 2) after a very failed distressing attempt. As I feared it looks like there might be bleed through in literally 1 1 inch spot on the front of a chair back. I haven’t waxed yet and am debating wether it’s worth buying the shellac for the 1 spot.
    In your experience will others pop up? Also-how large a section around the area do I need to shellac for best finish?

  19. Oh, bless you! I found an old wood desk for a STEAL and began planning immediately, only to have a hideous pink bleed-through. I thought I was going to have to scrap the whole thing, but you’ve given me hope. Off to the store I go for shellac!!

  20. The picture of you working on a chair, I happen to have a set of those exact chairs from my grandmothers dining set. Cool!


  22. All of these comments have been very helpful! I’m sorry if this has been asked or covered previously! After prepping our cabinets with mineral spirits, before using rustoleum chalk paint, do I need to wipe off the surface with water? We’re painting our kitchen cabinets… what an undertaking!
    Thank you so much!

  23. HI Justin – I need help! I found out the hard way my piece needed shellac after I painted two coats of chalk paint. So i went back, applied the shellac, then repainted and everything looked great.! It wasn’t until i added the top coat of varnish that the bleed started up again! Any ideas? Should i just strip the whole thing and start over?

  24. Hi,
    I have used chalk on little projects, but this is my first time with a big piece of furniture. I inherited this hutch from my grandparents so I’m really nervous about the makeover but want to give it character. They had it custom made around about 25-30 years ago but never painted it or put any sealer on it so its was in its original state when I got it. I cleaned it with just water and have put one coat of chalk paint when I noticed the yellowing taking place after it dried. So I went and got shellac. I lightly sanded over the previous coat of chalk paint and now I’m ready to apply the shellac. My question is…after applying two thin coats of shellac do I have to sand (lightly) after the shellac has dried before I continue painting? Does that matter with the sanding as to showing brush marks? Please help…thank you.

  25. Pingback: Farmhouse Chair Tutorial - Bellewood Cottage

  26. I have already painted a piece (with 2 coats) before I came looking for answers. Can I shellac over the paint or do I strip it back down?

    • Selena, I think they stopped answering this thread long ago. I had the same problem on an old mahogany buffet that I turned into a bathroom cabinet. I used two coats of the suggested shellac over chalk paint bleed through, which did NOT work! Unfortunately I think you’ll need to strip it. Maybe use it prior to painting? Good luck, I know it’s frustrating!

    • Selena, I also had already put on two (or maybe three) coats of paint before I realized the bleed-through was not going away. I applied two coats of shellac and two more coats of paint and haven’t had a problem with bleed-through since.

      Hope that helps.

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