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How To Clean And Repair Furniture Before Painting

It’s necessary to clean and repair furniture before the painting process begins. Prepping furniture for painting is often the most time-consuming part of a furniture makeover.

I write a lot of posts on painting furniture and I usually share most if not all of the makeover details. But I guess I’ve been leaving out some important info.

A nice lady named Marsha sent me an email, and this is part of what she had to say……”one question I never seem to see addressed all over Pinterest on how-to pages is whether or not a particular project required the original piece to be sanded or stripped of varnish”.

Huh, I don’t know about all over Pinterest, but I haven’t been including that info in my posts. I replied to Marsha’s email with the prep details for the particular project she asked about. Since I’ve been remiss……. this post is about how I prep furniture for painting.

How To Prepare Furniture Before Painting Tips And Tricks

The wardrobe is one of my great deals from the Nashville Flea Market

All furniture projects are different. What needs repairing on one piece may be fine on another. There will be major differences in vintage furniture and newer furniture because they are made differently.

How To Prepare Furniture Before Painting

As you’ve probably noticed on your own furniture, sometimes a furniture drawer fits better in one slot than it does in another. And paint on the drawer edges will make them fit differently too.

I usually see where a drawer fits best before the painting begins and then number the back so I know exactly where it goes when the painting is done.

I started doing this after I ran into problems. When you have a dresser with 9 drawers and they all only fit best in one slot……well, you can guess how long it takes to get them in the right spot.

How To Prepare Furniture Before Painting

Next comes the cleaning. Most of the pieces I buy have been around for a while and they are dirty….inside and out. I use a shop vac and vacuum the whole thing top to bottom, back to front, inside and out.

Don’t forget the bottom. Usually there are spider eggs, cobwebs, dirt dauber nests, and other nasty things hanging out there.

Then I clean the furniture  with Simple Green….in all the places I vacuumed. It is a time consuming process. The actual painting takes no time at all.

How To Prepare Furniture Before Painting

The vacuum gets the loose stuff and the Simple Green gets all the other stuff. It’s easy to see how dusty the wardrobe was by looking at where I’ve already wiped it down. I clean the outside and the inside of the drawers too…..sides, back, bottom…..every surface.

How To Prepare Furniture Before Painting

Repairs may be needed before painting. In one small area of the wardrobe the veneer was pulling away from the door front. Have to fix that.

The thing about most preparation work is there are no fancy tools required. You probably have just what you need in your junk drawer or tool box already.

How To Prepare Furniture Before Painting

How To Prepare Furniture Before Painting Tips And Tricks

I pushed some wood glue under the veneer with a craft stick (popsicle stick) then used these cute little clamps to hold the veneer down while the glue dried. I’ve also used toothpicks, tweezers, flat tip screwdrivers…..whatever works to get the glue where I need it. When the clamps go on the excess glue is pushed out. I wipe the glue off with a damp paper towel.

Prepare Furniture Before Painting

The veneer on the top was a little bubbled and broken up with some pieces missing.

Now here is where I have to decide weather to….. peel all the veneer off, glue and clamp down what veneer is there, fill it in with putty, or do something else.

In this case since it was on the top and it’s a very tall piece and I was going to rough it up anyway after painting……I didn’t do anything to it.

The paint will adhere the loose pieces to the top and for this particular piece, that’s good enough for me.

This wardrobe was in pretty good shape, sometimes more in-depth and time consuming repairs are involved.

Prepare Furniture Before Painting sanding rough veneer

There were a few deep scratches on the details so I smoothed them a little with 100 grit sandpaper.

I didn’t make them disappear, just made them a little less noticeable. They were too deep to sand all the way down. I could always add wood filler and smooth them out. This project didn’t call for that.

Prepare Furniture Before Painting

Next I removed the drawer pulls and used steel wool to smooth the impression left by the pull. I always remove drawer pulls and knobs before painting.

I do not remove doors and hinges before painting unless I absolutely need to. I have had fits trying to get hinges, screws, and doors to line up properly after painting. So I no longer remove them!

Prepare Furniture Before Painting

The last step before painting is to tape off areas you don’t want painted. I used Frog Tape for this project.

Where there are door openings such as on this piece, I tape off an area inside to paint the same color as the piece. There will be a nice smooth straight edge.

I want have to worry about bare wood peeking under and around the door or ugly uneven paint on the inside when the door is opened.

Prepare Furniture Before Painting with Frog Tape

I also tape off the drawer pull hole on the interior so paint will not leak inside when I paint the drawer front. Always tape the top and sides of the drawers for a nice straight line, and paint up to the tape. I think that’s about it….at least for this piece. I’m ready to start painting!!

Ok, now for the disclaimer…do I always, vacuum, clean, glue, tape, etc., etc., etc., every piece of furniture I paint…….NO. Sometimes I paint right over the dirt and I brush paint willy-nilly on the inside surfaces, not using tape or straight edges. Gasp!

It depends on the furniture and the finish. If it is going to be a rustic highly distressed piece I may not do any furniture prep. If it is a custom order for a client I am going to prep, prep, prep.

update! This piece is painted now. Not sure I like the outcome at all. Take a look and tell me what you think. It’s okay of you don’t like it just be kind in your comments. See it here….Color Block Furniture.

Tomorrow I have a new paint project to share. It’s also Furniture Fixer Upper Day. As always thanks for being here and have a great day, Kathy

Kathy Owen founder of Petticoat Junktion
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Author: Kathy Owen
Kathy Owen is the founder of the home decor blog Petticoat Junktion where she shares tutorials on painting furniture and upcycling thrifty finds into unique home décor. Her DIY projects have been featured on the Home Depot Blog, Plaid Crafts, Behr Designer Series, and in numerous magazines. Kathy’s newest website is HappyHomeDIY.com

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  1. Ha! Thanks Christie, not sure I’m a pro. I’m self taught too. Great minds and all that!

  2. this is a great post full of wonderful information. I’ve been painting furniture for a couple of years now and do most of this instinctively but it was great to see it written down. At each step – especially the taping – I had to stop and think “Do I do that? Oh yeah, I do it just like that.” To see it written down step by step with details was nice and made me think about my own process. I particularly liked the taping portion. I was glad to see I do it the same way and I’m not sure how i learned to do it like that since I’m self-taught but it was great to know I do it like the pros! Thank you!

  3. I think many people have different tastes, so we may not always love what we paint but someone will.

  4. This caught my eye for a kids room or a rec room. Not sure I would want it in my bedroom. I HATE distressing of any amount.

  5. Thank you for the post. It was helpful in regard to prep, however I’m with you and the others — not a fan of this one. I don’t like color blocking in general, though.

  6. What a great idea….nautical. Why didn’t I think of that. My booths are in Clarksville. One is at You Never Know and the other is at Warehouse 41 Antiques. They are right next door to each other on College St. The Wood Shed? Haven’t heard of it. Will have to check it out.

  7. Hey Kathy: first where is your booth? I play tennis in Hoptown some and I always want to see your booth but don’t know where it is. Second a plug for the Wood Shed and their Coconut or Caramel pie! I like the concept behind the wood block wardrobe but since it has the round mirror, my taste would have been to do a nautical theme with navy and white (and maybe have a drawer or two painted like a nautical flag.

  8. You are right Adrienne. I used to think Primer was not important. I changed my mind. Even though most paints have primers in them now it’s not the same as using a primer. You may have noticed in my paint posts that I use Glidden Gripper Primer tinted gray. It gives a nice even color surface before applying the top coat.

  9. Oh Kathy – I usually like your furniture whether it is something I would buy or not. Unfortunately that is not the case with the color block wardrobe. It looks more like a piece that you bought to redo than one that you transformed. But this is just my opinion and it may be that someone visiting your booth will love it.

    Thanks for all the details on the prep for painting.

  10. You never mentioned putting on a primer on furniture, this a must.
    I paint furniture ,shabby, distress, restore all types of furniture.
    If you want to paint to stay on and look good in a few years, a primer is a must

  11. Normally, I like your furniture, but not this one. Its like trying to marry two different eras……just does not work for me. But you did a great job restoring the piece in the prep process. I’d strip that paint off and go back to the natural finish. It would be pretty painted white or pink too.

  12. Hi! Thanks for all the info on prepping furniture.☺ I am not a big fan of the color block trend, but I bet someone who visits your booth will love it!☺