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How To Stain Laminate Furniture – A Paint Trick For Changing Fake Wood Colors

how to change the wood color on laminate furniture

It’s week two of the 555 Room Challenge and today I’m showing you how I updated two IKEA chests. The catch? They’re not real wood. Here’s how I changed the wood tone from a white washed grey to a modern blonde wood without sanding or ruining the laminate finish. Plus, an update on my daughter’s bedroom design with exclusive sneak peeks on how the room is coming together!

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Changing Wood Tones On Laminate Furniture | DIY Tutorial | How to update the color of your fake wood furniture.

Interior Design involves a ton of evolution. Sometimes plans change. Sometimes (especially in my own home), designs get scrapped altogether when a new idea comes to mind. This week, my four year old daughter’s bedroom design completely pivoted when I found three major inspiration pieces at a serious discount!

The first moment of clarity in her room came while I was installing her new rug over the freshly painted striped floors (that tutorial will be on the blog next week).

painted wood floors in a colorful kid's bedroom

I didn’t really love the way the rug was working with the existing items in the room: the painted wood floors and pink walls. If I was going to move forward with using this rug, I really needed something to tie the light pink wall color in with the bright colors of the rug.

colorful kid bedroom ideas with pink

That’s when inspiration struck via a set of sheets and a pair of curtains.

While I was sourcing ideas for a client’s playroom design, I stumbled upon these really cute sheets with a rainbow plaid pattern. Recalling how much plaid we have throughout the rest of our home, I was instantly enamored with the idea of bringing in a masculine pattern to counteract the polka dots in the rug. I ordered them immediately.

Then I recalled a floral curtain panel I’d seen pretty early on in my design concept building. When I first saw the curtains, I nixed the idea of using them because I’d planned to paint a floral motif in a mural on the wall behind my daughter’s bed. At the time, I’d planned to keep her bed against the solid wall directly adjacent to her door. Once we started putting the room back together, I actually changed my mind and decided to try her bed under the wall of windows that faces her doorway.

We placed the bed there and she loved it. I also loved how much more space this gave her to play in the room. So we decided to leave the bed on the wall. Since this would require curtains, I knew the floral curtains I’d found on clearance at Crate & Kids would be the perfect substitute for a floral wall mural. At $30 each, they weren’t as cheap as the mural I’d planned but they were still a bargain! So I ordered them promptly.

Bringing even more red into the room made me so happy because I’d found these modern chairs to use for her desk area and loved the way the red played off the pink paint color on the walls.

combining pink and red in a modern interior design

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by a piece of furniture

Have you ever purchased something online thinking it was absolutely the perfect color or wood tone to go with your decor only to discover when you view it in person that the color is actually a little “off”?

Last weekend, I bought a set of Ikea chests from a seller on FB Marketplace. In photos, the stain of the wood looked perfectly suited for our modern aesthetic. But once I got there to pick them up, the wood stain looked more whitewashed and kind of farmhouse-y. I bought them anyway, assuming they were covered in a wood veneer (a super thin cut of real wood) and I could just alter the stain color. 

buying furniture from local sellers


Once I started to sand the back section of one of the pieces, I realized they were comprised of laminate. There was no real wood grain and therefore, I couldn’t just re-stain them. (If you have a piece of furniture that has a wood veneer, here’s a great tutorial for staining wood veneer).

Since I really wanted the wood look to go with our existing decor, I didn’t want to paint them. Instead, I had to get creative. 



latex craft paint (I used Unicorn Spit, as it’s made specifically for this application)
clear glass mixing vessel
craft paint brush for mixing
cloth rag

Using paint as stain on laminate wood

STEP ONE: Find an inspiration wood tone + compare it to your furniture.

This was a really easy process for me because I have a lot of existing furniture that already has the yellowish pink stain I was hoping to achieve. If you don’t have an existing piece already, head to your local home improvement store and browse the wood flooring samples. These are free, so you can take them home with you to see how the tones look with the other finishes in your home.

Once you’ve determined a color you want, compare your desired wood tone to the current tone of the laminate wood. What does your inspiration wood have that your current piece of furniture is lacking?

creating a wood stain out of paint to change the color of laminate wood furniture

STEP TWO: Mix paint colors to create the base of your “stain”.

For this application, a stain is really just a thinned out paint. So you’re going to create a paint color that adds exactly the missing tones you need to make your furniture appear more like your inspiration piece.

Since my laminate piece looked whitewashed, it was missing the colors of the wood. I knew I would need to add a lot of yellow, a little red or pink, and tone it all down with a touch of brown so it didn’t look like an orange stain.

Since you’re not a machine and no two batches will be identical, you’ll want to fill a small container with a lot of paint so you don’t have to make an additional batch. I used a glass yogurt jar and filled it with paint to the halfway mark.

creating a thin paint mixture that will act as a wood stain for laminate furniture

STEP THREE: Add water to thin your paint mixture + create a translucent “stain”.

Because laminate is essentially paper and plastic that’s been applied to MDF, you’ll want to keep the stain mixture relatively thick. This is because plastic is nonporous and therefore can’t absorb water like real wood can. If you apply too much water, you will ruin the finish. Remember that water removes stickers and you don’t want to remove the laminate from your furniture.

Apply just enough water that your paint mixture becomes transparent but not so much that it looks like water. I chose a 1/2 and 1/2 measurement that gave me the consistency and transparent qualities of cream (versus milk).

how to fake the look of stain on furniture that's not real wood

STEP FOUR: Apply first coat of “stain” to laminate furniture.

This is where you want to proceed with caution. Don’t get overzealous and start soaking your laminate with the stain. Simply dip the rag lightly into the stain mixture and then squeeze out any excess drips. You want your cloth rag to be damp with stain but not wet.

Apply the stain using long strokes, following the direction of the existing wood grain. The difference in wood tones may not be super obvious at first and that’s okay. You’re going to apply this method until the desired tone is achieved. Patience is key to not destroying your laminate with an over-application of liquid. Allow the stain to dry completely before proceeding to additional coats.

applying a fake wood stain to laminate furniture to change the color of the wood

STEP FIVE: Apply additional coats until wood tone matches your inspiration.

My desired wood tone was achieved in just two coats. However, for darker or lighter stains, you may find that your furniture requires three or four coats. Have patience and know that with each layer of stain, you’re edging closer to your desired outcome.

If you begin applying the stain and find it isn’t matching your goal wood color, go back to step one and add additional colors to your existing stain base as necessary.

giving laminate wood a different color hue - a full tutorial with before and after


This process should work with any desired stain idea. If you want to go lighter, you just need to add white to the base instead of brown. For going super dark, like creating a mocha stain, you may find you’ll be adding black and brown to the base. Just play with colors until you get the general tone you want and then add more paint to your base as you go, if necessary.

Don’t fret about getting it right the first time. As long as you don’t over saturate your laminate, you’re not ruining your furniture. The tones can be changed. If you find you’ve gone too dark, use a clean damp cloth to remove the finish as quickly as possible.

using wood stain on laminate furniture

For my piece, the end result was subtle. I got rid of the grey and white undertones and ended up with two chests that look a lot more like the midcentury style furniture we have throughout the remainder of our home.

Staining Laminate Wood Grain: How to fake a stain and apply it on laminate furniture. Even if your furniture is a cheap wood sticker (as some MDF  furniture pieces are), you can still change the color of the wood with this easy technique. Here's how…

I added the white drawers back into the chests and I absolutely love the look of the crisp white against the blonde wood! I’m still deciding if I should apply a paint treatment to the edges of the wood trim. For now, though, I really think they look sharp next to my daughter’s bed.

555 Room Challenge.jpg

I’ve completed this project, and the can light installation I showed you last week, as part of the 555 Room Challenge. During this home decor challenge, I’m joining a group of talented bloggers to complete one room in five weeks!

The goal is to spend less than $500 and show you 5 different DIY projects that you can incorporate in your own home. For this project, I’m overhauling the first room I should have focused on in our new home: Our daughter’s bedroom.

Click the images below to see what projects all the other bloggers are up to this week:

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

We still have four weeks to go in this challenge and I have a slew of DIYs coming up. These Ikea chests have helped me work out a better clothing storage solution for my kid’s upstairs attic bedroom.

CLOTHING STORAGE: No Closet Necessary | Storage solutions for kid's bedrooms that don't have a closet.

This coming week, I’m finishing up the floor painting and I’ll have that ready to show you next week! So make sure you come back to see how I’ve used leftover wall paint to create a durable floor paint! Cheap is awesome but free is best, right?!


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