What Causes White Painted Furniture to Turn Yellow?

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Keep your white paint white by protecting it from heat exposure.

Stripping and refinishing a piece of furniture with white paint is a great way to bring new life into an old item. Over time, however, you may find that paint that was once white has begun to turn yellow. This is particularly prevalent in oil-based paints and it is a very common occurrence. There is little you can do about yellowing except to repaint the piece again or to use a latex paint instead. If you like the look of antique furniture, however, you may choose to allow the yellowed effect to remain.

Why White Paint Yellows

The tendency to yellow is a quality prevalent in many white paints and clear varnishes, but particularly in those that are alkyd- or oil-based. It is the curing mechanisms in these paints that turns yellow over time, and this effect is often most noticeable in areas that are not exposed to much sunlight. Over time, the paint will begin to take on an amber or yellowish hue, and the hue will darken as the paint continues to age.

How to Avoid Yellowing

The best way to avoid having your white paint turn yellow is to avoid using oil-based paints. Oil-based paints are generally more durable than latex paints, but latex paints have a lower tendency to yellow over time. Urethane varnishes also have a lower tendency to yellow, so you may be able to protect your white furniture by coating it in a layer or two of urethane varnish. Heat and lack of sunlight speed up the yellowing process so keep your white furniture away from stoves and radiators and position it in well-lit areas.

How to Repair Yellowed Paint

The best way to repair yellowed paint is to cover it up with a new layer of white paint. If you simply apply another coat of oil-based paint, however, it will only be a matter of time before you are dealing with the same problem. Rather, apply a coat of interior-grade latex paint or primer. Once the paint has dried, protect it with a coat of sealant or varnish to further prevent yellowing. Keep your white furniture out of dark spaces such as closets and protect it from heat exposure to minimize future yellowing.

Other Tips for White Furniture

If someone in your family is a smoker, you may find tobacco stains on your furniture which will contribute to the yellowing effects. Excess moisture in the air can also damage furniture if it is not protected with a layer of sealant or varnish. In order to keep your white furniture white, protect it from heat and moisture and reapply the top coat of varnish every two years or so for added protection.

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Katherine Barrington

Katherine Barrington has written on a variety of topics, from arts and crafts to pets, health and do-it-yourself projects. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a creative writing concentration from Marietta College.