How (and why) to Prepare Furniture for Paint

Why It Is Important to Properly Prepare Furniture before Painting

I’ll admit it… My projects don’t always turn out that great. Its not always because I am super-critical of my work, its just that sometimes my projects fail. This failure was completely my fault, too. I chose to paint a dresser (for the third time) without doing the prep work and guess what… I have to strip it and paint it again. I think I need to follow my own advice on how to prepare furniture for paint!


I bought a really great old dresser with a mirror for $25.00 at a flea market. It was such an awesome steal, I couldn’t pass it up! It sat under my carport, covered in plastic for a year before I could decide what color paint I wanted to use. Three different colors later and I am in my current dilemma which is this – after the second color, I still wasn’t “feeling” it. I had already waxed the finish and figured that a quick sanding would be sufficient before I applied the next color of chalk paint since, you know, “chalk paint sticks to everything.” This totally went against my better judgement and I should have listened to that inner voice. So here are a few tips to avoid the huge mistake I made…

Remove the Previous Finish

Always remove the previous finish by stripping it off. Seriously. It is a time-consuming pain in the tail but it makes the difference between a durable finish that will withstand tons of wear and tear, and a finish that peels off as soon as you breathe on it. Old furniture pieces may have been cleaned with furniture polish which creates a waxy build up. I find it is always best to start with a clean slate. Kleen Strip (<– affiliate link!) is my very favorite stripper and I have been using it for years!


Sand, Sand, Sand

There is no way any type of paint will stick to a surface without sanding. NO WAY! A “quick” sanding will not work! Sanding helps create a surface for the paint (or primer) to “bite” into. The same goes for chalk paint. The surface must be properly sanded in order for the chalk paint to adhere, as well as sanding after the first coat. Another pain in the tail but worth every second spent on it!


Prime the Piece Before Painting

Another very important step is to prime. Priming seals the furniture piece as well as creating an additional layer for the paint to adhere. The key is to sand the primer using 220 grit sandpaper when the primer is dry. My two favorites are Kilz 2 and Zinsser BIN. Both are fabulous and help create a flawlessly smooth finish!


Use Quality Brushes

A great brush will set you back a few pennies but will reduce the brush strokes in the paint. To clean the brushes, use soapy water or plain vinegar, washing them after every use. This will help keep them in “like new” condition! I like to use Wooster brushes. They are a bit pricey but are well worth it. I just recently replaced several of my brushes because I wore them out, and am glad I did.


A Good Sealer Makes All the Difference

The finishing touch will also make all the difference with the durability of the piece. I’m not a huge fan of Polycrilic (by Minwax) but I am a big fan of the Valspar Signature Clear Protector. The Valspar sealer is very durable and is self-leveling, plus it does not yellow. It is specifically created to be used over paint or other faux finishes, plus it is really inexpensive. I love it, plus it comes in a satin finish that adds a subtle sheen over the paint.

Trust me, speaking from experience, trying to paint over an unprepared surface is not going to work. I went against my better judgement and tried it… Now I get to strip the dresser and start from scratch, all while listening to my inner voice chant “I told you so!” Any questions about how to prepare furniture for paint? Contact me at cher {at} designsbystudioc {dot} com or leave a comment below!


  • LindySez says:

    I hear you about prepping the wood. I can’t tell you how many houses I’ve bought that the previous owner just throws some new white enamel over the old door frames and doors without any prep and you touch it and it just peels off. Makes me so mad!

  • Elle says:

    I love all the tips you give for the whole process Cher. Pain in the proverbial or not, ultimately it makes it so worth the time and trouble.

  • […] I bought this really nice office chair about a year ago from my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. It was in really great shape but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with it – so it sat under the carport covered with sawdust and plywood scraps. I’ve seen so many tutorials on painting upholstery on a chair or sofa using chalk paint so I thought I’d give it a try… I just didn’t want it to end up being a disaster like my dresser painting fiasco! […]

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