Can You Paint The Ikea Kallax? [And How To]

The Kallax, a shelving unit of cube-shaped modules, is one of Ikea's most popular products. Kallaxes are manufactured only in white or black, so many owners consider painting them to complement their decor. However, the Kallax is laminated with nonporous melamine, which is notoriously poor at handling paint. So, how do you paint your Ikea Kallax? We've done the research, and we have the answers for you!        

To paint your Ikea Kallax, follow these steps:

  • Disassemble the unit
  • Scuff-sand all surfaces with 120-grit sandpaper
  • Apply deglosser (optional)
  • Prime with shellac-based primer
  • Paint with gloss or eggshell paint
  • Allow paint to cure completely
  • Apply clear sealer

In the remainder of this article, we'll provide a detailed description of each step. We'll also discuss the best types of paint to use on Ikea's laminated furniture. And we'll explain how to install legs, doors, and casters on your Ikea Kallax. Keep reading to learn more!

An elegant living room interior with shelving unit and comfortable armchair, Can You Paint The Ikea Kallax? [And How To]

How To Paint The Ikea Kallax
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Comfortable grey furniture with wooden shelving unit and black lamp in light living room, Can You Paint The Ikea Kallax? [And How To]

Disassemble The Unit

Although it is quicker to paint your Kallax while it is still assembled, the job will look better and last longer if you disassemble the unit first. The advantages of disassembling before painting include the following:

  • You can thoroughly sand all the surfaces, a critical factor in getting the paint to adhere.
  • In an assembled unit, it is difficult to paint the 90-degree joints on the interior of each cube.
  • You must use a paintbrush, rather than a roller, on an assembled unit; the finish will not be as smooth.

Be careful as you disassemble and reassemble your Kallax. It is among Ikea's least expensive furniture lines, constructed of chipboard and melamine veneer. This makes it vulnerable to stripped screw holes and to chipping of the veneer. 

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Scuff-Sand All Surfaces

sanding a the wood in the shelves

Using a random-orbit sander with 120-grit sandpaper, scuff-sand all the surfaces of the shelving. If you prefer to sand your Kallax manually, use broad arcing strokes. The object is not to sand off all the veneer; rather, it is to roughen the surface enough that primer will adhere to it. This is a critical step: without sanding, the nonporous veneer will not absorb the primer, and your paint will quickly peel off.   

Apply Deglosser

applying a deglosser to clean the surface of the shelve

To further prepare the surface of your Kallax to accept primer, apply a deglossing agent after sanding. First, wipe all surfaces clean with mineral spirits and allow them to dry. Next, brush on the deglosser. Allow it to sit for the time recommended on the manufacturer's label; then wipe it off with mineral spirits. After deglossing, allow the surfaces to fully dry before moving on to the next step. Although deglossing is optional, skipping this step will leave your paint job much more vulnerable to peeling. 

Prime All Surfaces

Prime all surfaces of the Kallax, making certain to fully cover the edges. You should select a primer specifically designed for use on laminates: the shellac-based Zinsser B-I-N is the best choice. It adheres to even the glossiest surfaces and provides a strong bond between the surface and the paint. To ensure a smooth, even coat of primer without visible brushstrokes, use a mini-roller. After the primer has dried, sand it lightly with very fine, 220+ grit sandpaper.

A caution: B-I-N primer emits noxious fumes. Always work with it in a well-ventilated area, and wear a respirator.


painting the wood of a shelves

Water-based paint in an eggshell or gloss sheen provides the best, strongest finish on laminate furniture like the Kallax. Ideally, use a small paint spray gun to achieve the smoothest surface; a mini-roller can also work well. Avoid using a paintbrush, as the brushstrokes will show in your finished product. You will need to apply at least two -- often three or four -- coats of paint to achieve a rich, smooth finished color. Allow each coat to dry exactly as specified by the manufacturer -- if the paint remains even slightly damp, it will not adhere to the surface of your Kallax. 

Allow Paint To Cure

After all the coats of paint are applied, allow the surfaces to cure for at least as long as the paint manufacturer specifies. This is particularly critical for laminated furniture such as the Kallax,because the paint will peel and chip if the furniture is used before the paint is entirely dry. You can expedite the process of curing if you keep your Kallax in a warm area with good airflow.

Apply Clear Sealer

To fully protect your new paint job, apply a clear sealer after the paint has cured. Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish, a water-based topcoat sealer, is an excellent choice. Apply two to three coats, allowing each to dry thoroughly. Sand lightly between each coat, and carefully wipe away all dust before applying the next coat. 

What Paint Do You Use On Ikea Furniture?

A shelves in an isolated white background

Prior to painting any of Ikea's laminate furniture, use a shellac-based primer like Zinsser B-I-N. This is a bonding primer: once it has dried on the melamine surface, it cannot be scratched or peeled off. It also bonds strongly to paint, keeping your paint job from peeling. After you prime, select either chalk paint or water-based paint in gloss or eggshell, depending on what you want the final product to look like. 

Chalk Paint

If you'd like to achieve a distressed look on your Ikea furniture, consider using chalk paint, a special type of paint formulated for use on furniture. Chalk paint has several advantages: it is easier to blend than other types of paint, and it can easily be thinned and used in a paint sprayer. For artistic finishes, chalk paint is easily the best choice. Be careful, though, while chalk paint is advertised as not requiring sanding or priming before use, this is not the case with laminate furniture. Sand, degloss, and prime your Ikea furniture as described above before painting it.

Water-Based Paint

Water-based latex paint in an eggshell or gloss sheen is an excellent choice if you prefer a sleek, modern look for your furniture. A major advantage is that this type of paint is available in a nearly unlimited range of colors. The glossier the paint you choose, the better it will adhere. Make sure to sand and prime the furniture as described above. 

Is The Ikea Expedit The Same As The Kallax?

In 2014, Ikea phased out its popular modular shelving line known as Expedit and replaced it with the Kallax. The two lines are essentially identical in appearance. They have the same internal dimensions and use the same hardware; however, the Kallax's outer panels are slightly slimmer than the Expedit's. This modification allows Ikea to use less wood in the Kallax, resulting in economic and environmental savings without diminishing the strength or changing the appearance of the shelving. 

Does Ikea Sell Legs For The Kallax?

Ikea does not sell legs specifically designed for the Kallax. Currently, Ikea offers the legs for its Capita line of furniture, which are compatible with the Kallax line. Capita legs are metal and modern-looking, so they may not be compatible with your decor. If you prefer a softer or less-modern appearance, you may buy Kallax-compatible legs online from a variety of small manufacturers. 

Can You Put Doors On Kallax?

Although the Kallax does not come with doors on its modules, Ikea does offer specially designed inserts with doors. These inserts fit snugly inside the cubical Kallax modules and do not change the exterior footprint of your shelving unit. The main disadvantages to using the inserts are their price, their reduction of the usable space within each module, and the fact that they come only in black and white. If you are an experienced DIYer, you may prefer to build doors for your Kallax out of plywood and paint them to complement your decor.

How Do You Put Casters On Ikea Kallax?

Ikea discontinued its Kallax casters in 2019 and currently does not carry any casters compatible with the Kallax line. However, you can attach many store-bought casters to your Kallax shelving. Select a style with the appearance you want and make sure they are rated to hold your shelving's full load and contents. Because the Kallax is composed of chipboard, it is advisable to strengthen the structure by installing squares of scrap wood on the bottom of the shelf where you will attach the casters. Then screw the plate of each caster to the corresponding piece of scrap wood, insert the casters into the plates, and your Kallax will be mobile! 

In Closing

Elegant living room interior with shelving unit and comfortable armchair, Can You Paint The Ikea Kallax? [And How To]

The Ikea Kallax is one of the most popular varieties of modular bookshelves on the market. If you want to personalize and customize your Kallax, you can do so by following the steps detailed above. Giving it a snazzy paint job and adding doors, legs, or casters can transform your generic Ikea Kallax into a unique work of art that you'll enjoy for years to come!

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