Latex Paint Tacky on Furniture: FIX IT

Though I much prefer the look of real wood, there are some pieces of furniture in my house that are painted.  I’ve painted a few with latex paint.  The problem is the tackiness.   No matter how long I let the paint dry, even years later, it still feels tacky to the touch.  Set something plastic on it and a week later it makes a noise as you peel it away from painted surface.

Painted floating shelf

Here is a floating shelf I made for my son’s room.

I have seen lots of suggested solutions but I didn’t like any of them for a variety of reasons

  • Dust it with baby powder (talcum powder) or corn starch: The idea being that the powder sticks to the paint so nothing else can.  I don’t really want more dust in my house, and if you wash the surface, it may wash the powder away, leaving you with a tacky surface again.
  • Use a heat gun to cure the paint.  Too big a risk of bubbling the paint.
  • Use oil based paint instead because it cures harder.  Oil based is probably a better choice, but sometimes it is just not an option due to odor, available colors, clean-up,  and not as kid friendly to let kids paint with it.

polycrylic water based polyurethane over latex paint While building a floating shelf for my son’s room, I was stuck with having to paint it.    The shelf was covered in luan plywood so it had to be painted and the paint had to match the color that was already used elsewhere in his room.  I was not about to dust it, heat gun it or use oil based paint…. so I tried something new.  I topcoated it with water based polyurethane, and I ended up with a tack free finish that looks solid and is solid.


Water based polyurethane topcoat over latex paint

My process looked something like this:

  1.  Fill all the nail holes gaps with wood filler.
  2. Sand to 220 grit.
  3. Apply 1 coat of latex paint.
  4. After  at least 24 hour drying time, light scuff sand with 220 grit to remove nibs.
  5.  Apply 2nd coat of latex paint.
  6. After at least 24 hour drying time, apply 1 coat of water based polyurethane.
    I used Minwax Polycrylic in gloss because I wanted a glossy look.  I imagine any other brand of water based poly would work just as well.
  7. After at least 24 hour drying time, light scuff sand with 220 grit to remove nibs.
  8. Apply 1 coat of water based polyurethane.


The resulting finish was hard, glossy and smooth to the touch.  The water based poly is so clear that it did not seem to alter the color of the paint at all.  The shelf has been up in his room for over a year now and the finish has not failed.  It looks great and most importantly, it is not tacky.  Not to the touch and not to anything that is left sitting on it for a long time.  If I am faced in the future with needing to paint furniture, I will definitely use this method again to create  a tack free finish.

Reader's Comments »

  1. By Mr G on June 17, 2017 at 9:45 am

    I have had good results with paste wax on bearing surfaces over latex paint. It is easy and quick to apply. Probably not as durable as your solution, but it holds up very well on surfaces that see occasional object movement. Annual re-application is just as quick and easy for higher traffic surfaces.

  2. By swirt on June 17, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    That is good to know Mr G. Thanks for that tip. I’ll have to give it a try.