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How to Prep Furniture for Paint

I love the look of painted furniture and I love how quickly a dated, yucky piece can transform with just one coat of paint. Instant gratification! Because who doesn't love instant gratification!? What I don't love is the prep work involved in getting a durable, professionally painted piece of furniture. It is so tempting to skip the gross part, am I right?!

The Vintage & Varnish Blog | Painted Furniture | Chalk Painted Buffet | Country Chic Soiree | Refurbished Furniture | Furniture Prep | How to DIY Tutorial

The Vintage & Varnish Blog | Painted Furniture | Chalk Painted Buffet | Country Chic Soiree | Refurbished Furniture | Furniture Prep | How to DIY Tutorial
Custom Painted Buffet - Country Chic Paint's "Soiree"

Everybody knows that scrubbing and sanding are no fun and that's why there are so many companies out there that market the claim of "no prep" paint products. Can you use their products without prepping your furniture? Sure! Will they hold up long term and look great for years to come? Sometimes! But for the most part, no they won't. If you're investing the time and money to update your furniture , do you want to risk the paint chipping or wearing just months down the road? And what about if you're reselling your furniture? You'll definitely build a better reputation turning out high quality, long lasting finishes. So how do you prep a piece of furniture for painting? Here's everything you need to know:

How To Prep Your Furniture for Paint

Step 1 - Remove the Hardware


Remove all the knobs, pulls and other hardware such as hinges. If your piece has an attached mirror, remove it. Painting chairs? Remove the upholstered seat. It takes a little extra time to remove all these tids and bits but it's faster and easier to achieve a clean, smooth finish if you're not trying to maneuver around them. If you plan on reusing your hardware take the time to give it a good scrub with hot, soapy water to remove any built up grime.

Spoiler Alert!! I'm definitely going to tell you, you have to sand your furniture!! But first off, I'm going to tell you to clean your furniture. Sounds counter productive, doesn't it?

There are two reasons I ALWAYS clean, then sand and then clean again! First of all, there are a lot of unknowns when you are painting secondhand furniture. Years of oils from hands touching the finish, or grease in the air from cooking or even countless sprays of Pledge can leave a built-up layer of grime that you just can't see. The last thing you want to do is sand your dirty furniture, forcing oils down into the wood substrate allowing them to work their way back to the surface later on, potentially causing adhesion issues. Secondly, when I take the time to clean every inch of my furniture, inside and out, it gives me the opportunity to really check it over for damage, stains, peeling veneer and so on. There really is nothing more annoying then finding a loose piece of veneer when you've already loaded your brush with paint and are dying to get it on your piece. Because instant gratification... remember?! So how should you clean your furniture?

How To Clean Your Furniture

Step 2 - Clean Your Furniture

What You'll Need:

There are dozens of cleaners on the market that you can use to prep your furniture, whichever you decide to use you'll want to be sure that it is a degreasing product. NOTE: Trisodium Phosphate (also known as TSP) is a popular and commonly recommended surface preparation cleaner for painting. If you do a little online digging you might find a bit of controversy surrounding TSP. You can learn more about TSP cleaners in my blog post: TSP - The Down & Dirty.


To start my cleaning, I like to give my furniture a good vacuuming to remove loose dust and debris that will quickly muddy up my bucket of cleaning solution. I start by pulling out all of my drawers so I can vacuum the interior of the piece. You will find a lot of cobwebs and sometimes even live spiders inside the shells of your furniture! Next I vacuum inside all of the cupboards and inside the drawers and finally I vacuum the exterior of the furniture paying special attention to any crevices and corners within the paneling.

Next, I fill a bucket with hot water and my LA's Totally Awesome Cleaner. This cleaner has a pretty extensive chart on the bottle that tells you the dilution ratios to use depending on what you are cleaning. I use the 10:1 water to detergent ratio when cleaning my wood furniture. If I expect the piece to have heavy oils (such as the arms of an old rocking chair or a kitchen table), I will increase the strength of my mix to as much as a 5:1 ratio.

I wipe down my furniture, inside AND out, using a disposable all purpose cloth but old socks and t-shirts also work well for this purpose. For really grimy pieces I will use a scotch-brite scrub sponge so I can alternate between the softer sponge and the grittier scrub pad when a little extra elbow grease is needed. I also like to keep a toothbrush in with my cleaning supplies. Dust and dirt can build up in the corners of raised panels and can be difficult to wipe away with a cloth, using an old toothbrush to scrub debris out of these corners ensures your paint will adhere in these areas and you'll have a smooth finish, free of chunky dust and dirt!

When I finish giving my piece of furniture a good scrub down, I dump my bucket, rinse it out and fill it up with clean water. Then I grab a fresh clean cloth and go over my entire piece a second time with fresh clean water. This step is important for rinsing off any cleaning agents - this step should never be skipped, especially when cleaning with TSP. Once my furniture is clean and rinsed I leave it to dry and then get started on my repairs.

Varathane Classic Wood Filler \ Prepping Furniture for Painting | How to Fill Old Hardware Holes | Painted Furniture Tutorial | The Vintage & Varnish Blog

Step 3 - Repairing Your Furniture

What You'll Need:

When it comes to furniture repairs, the most common repair is filling in old or stripped hardware holes - I'll save more complicated repairs for another day! When it comes to filling holes, I've never been a big fan of those squeeze tubes of sand like wood filler. You know the ones! They claim to be sandable, paintable and stainable. They're user friendly and easy to sand but I find them to be too soft and they almost always shrink up after I paint leaving these subtle little dips in my otherwise perfect paint finish! Aaargh. Not a fan!!!

My go to wood filler is Varathane Classic Wood Filler - this wood filler consists of two parts; a putty like substance as well as a tube of hardener. You only mix up what you need and then you apply it to your piece. This stuff hardens quickly so you only have about 5 minutes from the time you mix it until it becomes unusable so you're better off to start small and mix up more if you need to. This wood filler dries extremely hard and is strong enough for use on broken corners as well as table tops. Once you've applied your filler you'll want to scrape back as much excess as you can. This wood filler takes a little more muscle to sand smooth but it's totally worth the extra effort! No shrinking here! (Note - this stuff is pretty stinky so it's best to use in a well ventilated area.)

After I've given my furniture a good once over and puttied any dings, deep scratches etc. it is finally time to sand! You didn't think I'd forget did you?!

Step 4 - Sanding Your Furniture

When I talk about sanding furniture do you picture hours of dirty, back breaking labour and slowly die inside? Don't worry, I promise I'm not trying to kill you! I'm not going to lie and say there isn't furniture out there that really does require this kind of extensive sanding but if you've got a decent piece of furniture in fairly good shape this next step should only take 10 or 15 minutes.


What You'll Need:

When it's said you have to sand your furniture prior to painting, nobody's talking about completely removing the existing finish or sanding down to bare wood. When it comes to paint prep what we're really after is a scuff sand. Scuff sanding is the process of lightly sanding a surface in preparation for primer or paint. Scuff sanding smooths out surface imperfections and creates some "tooth" on the surface giving the paint something to grip on to. If the finish of the furniture you are painting is damaged or chipping in any way, you'll want to spend a little extra time sanding those areas smooth. If you try to paint over a chipping finish, then your new paint job will unavoidably start chipping as well.


What should you use for sanding?

I generally use an electric power sander with a 180 grit sandpaper when I am scuff sanding furniture. If my piece has a rough finish and needs a little extra smoothing I will use 120 - 150 grit. If you're just starting out and don't have a power sander you can use a medium grit sandpaper to get the job done but it will take you a little longer. An electric sander is worth the investment if you plan to paint furniture on a regular basis. My first power sander was the Bosch 5-inch Random Orbit Sander, which is an amazing sander that I still use to this day. Recently, I've added the SurfPrep 3"x4" Electric Ray to my toolkit as well - this sander has expanded my ability to power sand more detailed, including curved, surfaces - saving me even more time! When you're first getting started, it's important to remember you don't always need the best of the best. As you continue to grow your business you can reinvest some of your earnings into expanding your toolkit.


Hardware stores have a large selection of foam sanding blocks in different shapes and sizes, if you don't have a fancy sander these can be helpful in sanding corners and roughing up curved edges, I recommend keeping a small collection of these on hand. My favourite sanding sponge is the ProSand Corner Sanding Sponge, I picked mine up at Home Depot for just under $7 CAD.

Step 5 - Clean It Again!

Once I've completed my sanding, including smoothing out any of my wood filler repairs, I will vacuum my entire piece of furniture a second time using my shop vac. After a good vacuum, I wipe down the entire piece using a tack cloth – don’t skip the tack cloth! The tack cloth will pick up any loose dust and debris the vacuum missed, preventing bumps and blemishes in your painted finish. and now that we have cleaned, sanded and cleaned some more - it's time to get our paint on!

Do you have any questions on prepping furniture? Maybe tips or tricks you've picked up along the way? I love to hear from you! Comment with your questions or tips below.


DISCLAIMER: This is not sponsored content. This is a personal review and the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed herein are strictly my own. I did not receive financial compensation from any of the brands mentioned in this post.

Refurbished Bedroom Set in General Finishes Lamp Black Milk Paint

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3 comentários

Kelly - Another great post! I'm just starting out and trying to navigate the plethora of advice on line, but I find your posts particularly useful because you explain why you do it the way you do eg I wondered about why clean if you're going to sand anyway. But your explanation makes sense, as well as the scuff sanding and sandpaper grit detail, which I'd also wondered about. Great posts! Please keep them coming 😊. Saved 😉 Catherine, Northern Ireland

Respondendo a

Nope. Definitely not too wordy! 👌🏻

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