Distressing furniture and home decor accessories is quick and easy. You can distress any type of paint and there are many different techniques for distressing paint. I've learned some tricks when it comes to this popular technique for making furniture and decor look old and worn and I'm sharing them today!
Distressing Painted Furniture And Home Decor
I don’t pretend to know everything about the subject but I’ve learned a few things after working on hundreds of paint projects. Mostly I learned this stuff by making mistakes and by trial and error. Below is a list of things I think you should know about distressing paint.
1. Types of paint when distressing matters
Paint type makes a big difference when it to distressing the paint. Most brands of latex paint sand off easily….even the type with paint and primer in one. Sometimes latex paint will peel off when you sand the paint. There is a difference in peeled paint and distressed paint. I don't know for sure but I think the reason the paint peels is the brand of latex paint or not enough drying time before sanding. Those are my best guesses.
Spray paint is easy to distress because the paint layer is really thin. I usually go with higher grit sandpaper to distress spray painted items. More info on the grit size of sandpaper is coming up.
FolkArt Home Decor Chalk Finish Paint, Chalk type paints, Caromal Colours Paint , Beyond Paint, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, and other specialty furniture paints adhere to furniture really well. These paints also distress really well but it takes a little more elbow grease to remove the paint.
2. Type of Furniture / Home Decor
Some types of furniture just can’t be distressed. Furniture made out of particle board, MDF, and similar products other than real wood should not be distressed. Once you sand through the paint and the top coat on these types of furniture, it is like paper and turns into bulging, bumpy areas or particles flake off like sawdust.
Certain types of finishes cannot be distressed such as laminated table tops. Furniture made in the 80's and a few other time periods have drawer fronts made of plastic. These cannot be distressed either.
Real wood is the only product that can be distressed properly. When you distress painted wood it gives it another dimension and adds character to the furniture piece.
If you do have MDF or fake wood furniture, I have a great technique for making the paint look distressed. You can find that post here...How To Give Painted MDF Furniture A Distressed Look.
3. Sandpaper Grit Size
Sandpaper is rated according to grit or coarseness of the particles used to make the paper and it is available in sizes from P12 to P6000.
The smaller the number the coarser the grit. For distressing my DIY projects I use a grit range between 60 and 220. Sixty grit is very coarse and I use it to remove well adhered paint. A good standard for my furniture projects is 100 grit.
I also love the flexible sandpaper made by 3M especially when distressing paint by hand. I fold the sandpaper so there are 2 or 3 layers in order to grip it better. You can fold the other sandpaper but it will come apart when using it.
4. How long the item has been painted.
Freshly painted projects will distress easily, usually. If a piece has been painted months or years it will be much harder to remove the paint. For paint that is hard to remove I dampen it with a wet rag and sometimes spray the piece with Simple Green. It all depends on how hard it is to distress the paint. After wiping the paint with a damp rag let it sit for a few minutes then distress with sandpaper.
5. Distress Paint By Hand Or Use An Electric Sander?
Distressing paint with an electric sander or by hand is a matter of preference. You have more control over the distressing when sanding by hand. Sanding by hand is exactly how it sounds. You use a piece of sandpaper or a sanding block and you distress the paint by hand. If you are working on a large piece, then take your time and take breaks.
The power sander will remove a lot of paint in very short amount of time. If the power sander is a monster and the speed is really fast you will get ugly sand marks like the ones in the photo below.
Badly Distressed Paint
Paint Sanding Mistakes
The horrible distress job in the photo above is an example of how not to distress paint. Yes, this is one of my very first projects. In order to keep the sander from making crazy patterns in the paint you need to use firm smooth movements when sanding. If I’m distressing paint with a sander, it means I have a large piece to distress and I want to remove a lot of paint. I use the sander for moderate and heavy distressing.
6. Wet Distressing Paint Method
There are several options for distressing paint if you don't want to use a sander and deal with the mess. You can distress paint using baby wipes, Clorox Wipes, household cleaners, and probably more things I haven't tried.
The secret to the wet distress method is to distress the paint just after it has dried. If you wait too long, it takes a lot more elbow grease to remove the paint. The plus to the wet distress method is there is no mess....no sandy stuff floating around or accumulating on the floor.
I have an answer some of the issues I just mentioned about distressing painted furniture.
7. Faux Distressing Paint Finish
I talked about wood furniture being the only good candidate for distressing. An alternative to real distressing is a faux distressing technique using a layering block.
The layering block is used to apply a thin line of contrasting paint over the painted piece to give a two-toned finish. To see this technique click here….Layering Block Distressing Technique. Sometimes sanding will leave a hazy look on the paint. Applying a layer of thin wax should cover that up.
Also if the wood has a raw look to it the wax will darken the wood a bit and give it a more natural look. My favorite budget wax is Howard’s.
The frames and other accessories in the photo above were painted with spray paint. I like to save time and paint small projects in bulk. Call me crazy. I made a short video showing how I distressed the frames and other pieces. I used less than two cans of spray paint for all of those pieces.
Video: How To Distress Paint
The side table/nightstand is an earlier project I painted and distressed with Vaseline. It is the palest pink. The brass bowl is especially pretty distressed. It had all those little bumps ( hammered details?) that distressed really nicely. Any highly detailed piece is perfect for distressing!
Do you guys have any tips for me on distressing painted furniture or the products you prefer? Please share! As I mentioned, these are tips I’ve picked up over the years, I still have a lot to learn. There is a list of tools and products I like to use for distressed paint projects at the end of the post.
Products used or recommended for this project:
RustOleum Heirloom White Spray Paint
Reclaim Beyond Paint- Off White (table)
3M Flexible Sandpaper
Howard's Wax - Neutral color
You guys know I call myself the Queen of Distressing. There's a reason for that. Distressing paint is my very favorite furniture makeover technique. You can distress anything that's been painted, including; lamps, photo frames, wall and window trim, furniture, and more.
Hope you guys have a great day and thanks for being here. See you tomorrow. Kathy
Author: Kathy Owen (Petticoat Junktion)
Kathy is the founder of PetticoatJunktion.com, a home décor blog focused on repurposing and upcycling furniture, old hardware, rusty stuff, and thrifty finds into unique home décor. Kathy’s projects have been featured on the Home Depot Blog, Plaid Crafts, Behr Designer Series, and in numerous magazines. Read more about Kathy here.
Thank you so much Kathy. Great explications. Love from Marseille in 🇫🇷 France
Great post, Kathy! Very clear and helpful. Thanks for the info.