Not sure if you should sand first before painting that table? Could you skip the sanding? Maybe just degloss instead? Or maybe prime? This guide to prepping furniture to paint should answer all those questions and more…
I will be the first to say that not every piece of furniture I’ve ever painted has turned out so well. There have been pieces where the paint just peeled off, where the old finish bled through or where the paint color decision wasn’t exactly my best.
That kind of stuff happens. I don’t have a PhD in furniture painting, but I have learned from my mistakes. With the exception of the poor paint color decisions, the root of the problem often stemmed from not prepping the furniture properly before painting it.
While there are some pieces where you can just slap the paint right on there without doing diddly squat, there are some pieces that require a bit more prep work. So, here are my tips on prepping furniture for painting – when you should sand it, when you should degloss it, and when you should prime it.
Prepping Furniture: When to Sand, When to Degloss and When to Prime
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Do you have to sand before painting?
I know. Sanding furniture can be a pain in the butt and messy. There are times you can skip it, but sometimes not so much.
If the finish of the piece you are painting is damaged or chipping in any way, then always sand first. If you try to paint over that, then your new paint job will start chipping off almost as soon as you paint it on there.
If the piece you are painting has any rough spots, like let’s say you’re painting new wood, then you need to sand those spots smooth before painting as well.
Sanding Furniture to Paint
What to Sand With
I generally use a power sander with medium grit sandpaper (like a 120 grit) on it when I sand furniture. You can also use just regular medium grit sandpaper without a power sander as well, it will just take you a good bit longer. I have a tutorial here about using power sanders if you need it.
After sanding furniture, I usually give it a go-over with my Shop Vac and then follow-up with a tack cloth. If there isn’t that much dust, then I just use a tack cloth. Either way – don’t skip the tack cloth! It keeps you from having dirt and dust bumps in your finish.
Got holes, gouges, dents or dings?
If you’ve got any holes, gouges, dents or dings in the piece you are painting and want to smooth those out, then this is the time to do it. Fill them with wood filler and then sand smooth.
How to Paint Furniture Without Sanding or Priming
When You Can Just Degloss Furniture
There are times when you can skip sanding furniture. However, before painting it, you might need to degloss it.
If the piece you are painting has any sort of finish on it that is shiny, slick, glossy, semi-glossy, even satin, then you need to degloss it before painting it.
What is deglosser?
Exactly what it says it is. 🙂 It’s a liquid that removes the glossy finish from painted or stained surfaces.
Deglosser vs. Sanding
Now, if you already sanded it, you probably already removed that shine, so don’t worry about de-glossing it. You should always sand the piece if you have uneven surfaces as well. A paint deglosser can be used when the piece is in good condition and you only need to remove that shiny finish.
How to Degloss Paint
My go-to deglosser is Ready.
You just spray it all over your piece of furniture, let it sit for a few minutes and then wipe it clean with a cloth or paper towels. Ready will remove the shine from the finish. If you have something that has a really thick shiny topcoat, it make take a few rounds of Ready. I’ve also used Klean-Strip Sander Deglosser and it worked well too, the application is just a little messier.
When You Should Prime Furniture
A lot of times, if you had to sand your piece of furniture or degloss it, you usually won’t need a primer. There are two cases though where I always tend to use a primer before applying my actual paint:
1. When I’m painting something a much lighter color than what it already is.
Let’s say I’m painting something white that started out black. I can just go on and paint tons of coats of white on it until I get all the black covered, or I could start with a coat of primer to reduce the overall number of coats of the white paint. Make sense?
2. When I’m painting over a stain or wood with red undertones.
Some stains and woods such as mahogany, have lots of red undertones. I’ve found that these red undertones can easily bleed through your paint finish – especially if you are painting the piece a lighter color rather than a darker color. I suggest a minimum of one coat of primer to keep those red colors from bleeding through.
Of course, if you have other stains on your furniture that you are afraid may bleed through, go ahead and give those spots at least a coat of primer. Primer is also good if you have a musty or stinky piece of furniture. It helps to kill those smells.
Also, if you’re painting raw wood that’s never been painted or stained before, giving it a coat of primer before painting it helps to reduce your number of coats of paint. Otherwise, the wood will soak up a lot of your paint color.
Best Primer for Furniture
You can find different primers at your local home improvement store. I generally use Kilz primer or Zinnser primer. You’ll apply just as you would your paint – with a roller and brush or you can use it in a paint sprayer. I’ve got a tutorial here for using a paint sprayer when priming and painting furniture if you need it.
When You Can Skip Sanding, Deglossing and Priming
There will be times that you can skip all these things. If the finish on your furniture isn’t damaged or chipping, it’s flat not shiny and you aren’t painting it a drastically different color, then you may be able to just go ahead and start painting. Before painting though, do make sure the piece is clean. You can wipe it down with a wet cloth to do this. Follow up with a tack cloth to pick up any bits of dust or dirt your cloth might have missed. If you are skipping sanding, deglossing and priming, then I do suggest using a paint that already has a built-in primer such as Velvet Finishes, Behr Marquee, or Behr Premium Plus just for good measure. There are also other paints out there that have this (I think chalk based paints have it), but I’m not very familiar with those.
Do you have any tips for prepping furniture or to make it easier?
Perfecting your furniture painting skills? You might want to see these too then…
What kind of paint do I use on that? – The ultimate guide to all types of paints and what kind of furniture to use them on.
Furniture Painting 101: Topcoats and When to Use Them – ever wondered if you should use a topcoat on painted pieces and if so, what kind? Here’s your answer…
Best Paint for Cabinets – All the paints I’ve used on cabinetry and what I think is the best.
FAQ: Painting Furniture – All the FAQ I get about painting in one place.
Want to remember these furniture prepping tips for later? Just pin the image below!
Thank you Jenna! Your tips are always just what I need!
Jenna @ Rain on a Tin Roof says
Awesome, Paula!! That is always great to hear!
Julie Saatoff says
Can you do prep furniture to train and tain over stain
I am about to redo my daughters room and she has a medium brown wood bed. I would like to either change the color or just refinish it to revive it. Her colors are grey burgundy and white or cream. I can paint the headboard and foot board correct?
Yes, you should be able to paint the headboard and footboard. Just prep it accordingly!
Joann May says
So. I have some black wooden dining room chairs that i’ d like to paint a nice ‘facebook blue’ (hahaha) to compliment a sort of beach theme in my dining room.
They came painted black and have been used a few years but aren’t chipped or anything. They look fairly matte to me, but maybe just a tinge of shine? Would I be able to spray paint right over them or should i do some type of prep first?
Since there does seem to be a little shine, I think I would degloss them first. I don’t think you would need to sand or prime, but at least degloss.
Joann May says
Yay! Thanks for answering so quickly!! 🙂
Lately, if I can take a piece outside I strip it quickly with Citristrip. I mean I do it fast, fast, fast.
Scrape it off, reapply if necessary then get the stripper off the surface. If I have a stubborn part, I put a little stripper on a rag and scrub the spot. Then I use an after wash to further clean the stripper off if necessary.
I learned that stripping can be fast and it brings me to a uniform surface. I sand it and once I feel all dust is off I prime.
As you said if you have a light top coat, prime with a white OR Tinted primer. GET THE RIGHT PRIMER for the surface you are painting.. But if I have a dark top coat, I go with the darkest tinted primer. I have been using one from Sherwin Williams primer because they can do a dark primer. It’s dark gray, but it works.
If I cannot take pieces outside, like the base on a cabinet, I clean, sand and use a good deglosser, one that creates a tack. Recently, I lightly sanded a piece with a rough grit. Went back and the surface felt slick as glass. So I will use a deglosser even after sanding! (not on bare wood). Why sand?…because a cabinet surface wears irregularly.
The secret for me painting cabinets is to get a 4 inch roller and press hard and paint very, very fast. Sure you can go back and blend strokes, but only for the first half minute, after that you will mess up the finish. If that happens, sand, prime and paint again. I let things dry overnight (minimum) between coats.
A big secret I learned. If using and 4 inch roller, get a sample jar of Marquee at HD. One sample jar goes a LONG way. Now, drum roll, paint the roller with a brush. This reduces the amount of paint on the roller and you get no orange peel.
If you have a large piece you will have to use a tray. The stuff dries fast and you can’t continue to paint fast if you are stopping to paint the roller. Once I used two rollers. Wife loaded one while I painted with the other. Why do this. I hate orange peel as much as I hate brush strokes. Speaking of brush strokes I use a generic “Scrub buddies quick erasers” foam erasers from the Dollar Store for applying ploy top coats. It come 2 in a box. I dip an edge in the poly (in a tray) dab off the excess on the other eraser and wipe fast. Easy and no brush strokes.
I guess my tip would be:
Try anything you do first on a scrap piece. DON’T learn on the real piece.
Now I am going outside to sand some more. When will it end?
Thanks for all those awesome tips!
My daughters furniture is white, not glossy and the top is stained up from different thing she has lain on the was wanting to paint it teal (just too only). Should
I do any prepping?
If there is some staining, I would suggest priming it first.
I painted unfinished dining room chairs with Kilz Primer and then white oil based paint using a paintbrush. Once finished I noticed a lot of drip marks so I sanded them off and planned to spray paint the entire chair with Rustoleum white gloss enamel (which I did with another pair of chairs from the same set). However in the sanded areas ,of the chairs I am currently working on, the spray paint looks a lot lighter and uneven. I tried spot spraying white primer on the sanded areas, but there was a lot of over spray and it got messy. Any suggestions?
I think what I would have done was just to go back and touch up those sanded spots with the oil-based paint.
Thanks, your idea worked great!
Steph A. says
Extremely informative article, can’t wait to go forward with new projects! So I have a dresser that’s a glossy, light maple color, with a little wear and tear to the top not much and a little wipe down around the drawers. Should I sand it down, or degloss?
I also have a wooden bookshelf that’s pretty much stripped, but should I still sand down some more to get rid of the bumps and stains? FYI, both items will be painted white.
You could probably go either way in terms of sanding or deglossing. It sounds though like you could take the easy route and just degloss.
As for the bookshelf, I would give it a light sanding so you get a good even finish.
Hi I’m going to spray paint dining room table and chairs they seem to have a clear lacquer spray factory finish on them. What do you suggest I do to prep them?
I also want to finish them in an off white flat finish, but it needs to be a hard wearing material. What would you suggest?
If it’s got a shiny lacquer finish, then you will definitely want to degloss first. In general, flat finishes just usually aren’t that durable. To get a relatively flat finish, but with good durability, I would use a flat latex based paint, then topcoat with a satin sheen polycrylic.
My mother antiqued a cherry mahigany bureau. I want to paint it blue. It is flaking off in spots. Should I strip it or sand or prime
If it’s flaking off, I would sand it first, then prime it as well before painting it!
I just purchased paint and primer to paint my kitchen cabinets white. They are currently an oak color. I am also going to sand them, but before I do that, is it necessary to clean them since I’m going to sand anyway?
It wouldn’t be a bad idea to clean them before sanding just because kitchen cabinets especially can get a lot of grease on them that will quickly gunk up your sandpaper.
I have two pieces to repaint. Already stripped with Citrustrip, sanded. They are both pine. I noticed that the knots kind of bled through the previous paint and I want to avoid spots on my white paint. Should I prime first? Or will a paint with primer be good enough to block the bleed?
I would use a primer first, at least on those spots. Knots are sometimes bad about bleeding through so maybe even give those spots 2-3 coats of primer.
Re paining 2 pieces I had professionally painted. ? Wanted the sprayed look. I don’t think they prepped them correctly. I think they used a deglosser with no primer. The pieces were older so they may have been shellac or varnished. Paint just came off with fingernail. I’m sanding most off then paining with oil base. Also it went from a red stain color to white. I have finished one piece and looks really good, starting on the other. My question is should I put any finish coat or some kind of sealer on it? Both are going into bathroom.
If you’re using oil-based paint, then you shouldn’t need any sort of topcoat. That is the most durable paint you can use.
I’ve been wanting to paint my dining room table and chairs with chalk paint. They are painted with oil paint right now. Do I need to sand it down to the bare wood or is there a primer that I could use instead.
I haven’t worked with chalk paint much at all and have never painted it over oil based paint. I would ask the paint person at your local home improvement store what they suggest. Sorry I’m not more help!
I’m getting ready to paint a scene on a old baby grand piano lid to auction as a benefit for our art center. (Read:I don’t want someone to buy it for BooKoo bucks and then for it to chip or peel off!) I’m sanding it but the old finish is stubborn and it seems shiny to me still… should I just keep sanding it or should I degloss or both? Or strip it? I’m definitely planning on priming it before I paint. Thank you!!
I don’t think you have to strip it. I would sand it well and then degauss it.
I’m refurbishishg a bed side side table i have, its white now and i have completed sanding it with my electric sander. I purchased black Behr Marquee one coat hide guaranteed, advanced stain blocking paint and primer. The worker at home depot said no primer or finisher over it necessary when complete. Do you agree with him or should I prime it or put some type of finishing coat over it? Thank you
Given that you’ve sanded it, I think he’s probably right!
I bought a new kitchen cart made of pine that was painted a black antiqued look (I guess that’s what it is called….the finish looks scratched). Anyways, it was too scratched up for me, so I painted it black yesterday. It looks good today, but when I rub the surface there is a white chalky look. Is it still drying? Or do I need to put a finishing wax on it?
It does sound like you might need some sort of topcoat. It could also be the type of paint you used.
I painted over a black wood storage cabinet with Rustoleum 2x Cover ( paint + primer) spray paint in Dark Walnut followed by Rustoleum Universal spray paint in Espresso. I didn’t like the way it looked so I sanded & repainted it with Rustoleum 2x Cover latex paint in Satin Espresso mixed with satin Behr paint in a darker brown. Painted 2 coats, then sprayed Rustoleum Spray Paint top coat in gloss. Didn’t like it so used deglosser to remove it. Applied one more coat of paint followed by Minwax Polycrylic in semi-gloss with foam brush. Dried 24 hrs., sanded lightly with 24 grit sandpaper. Now there are white water like marks and haze on it. Not sure what I did wrong. Any suggestions? Sorry it’s so long.
Correction: 400 grit sandpaper
I’d say it has something to do with the polycrylic and spray paint mixing. I can’t be 100% certain, but that’s what I’m leaning toward.
Robynne Catheron says
Jenna, I received this at the best time- I’m just starting several projects! This is all excellent advice.
I’m madly in love with the hot pink and bright yellow in the ads for your other posts! Please tell me you know what their names are and where I can find them!?
I think you are talking about Glamorous (the hot pink) and Bold (the yellow). Both are from Velvet Finishes.
Ashley Schultz says
Great info. Exactly what i was looking for, thank you!
Great! Happy to help!
Tina Penley says
I am wanting to distress a few pieces of solid Oak furniture with a black finish and some with an off white finish. They currently have a medium oak stain with a polyurethane finish. I have read that if I use a latex base paint and the vinegar/cloth method for distressing then I don’t have to sand. What is your opinion?
I’ve never used a vinegar/cloth method for distressing, so I can’t really attest to how that would work out. Sorry I’m not more help!
c. .. s . .. says
On a whim,I decided to freshen up our hall bathroom. including giving our 15-year-old unfinished wood vanity cabinet a light green wash. To protect its natural grain, we had professional painter finish the surface with an eggshell sealer. Initially I followed the advice of the paint tore rep and gave it a light once over with a damp sanding block, wiped down the few white particles of debris on the surface and finished with a tack cloth. Also tested the color on a paint stirrer and a cheap wooden frame I had bought Michael’s especially for that purpose.
The color looked perfect, so I started in the back corner of one exposed side. Unfortunately,paint just sat on the surface and wiped right off. A sample of the paint with less water added was no more successful. after reading your website, am wondering if a wood conditioner or deglosser would solve the problem. I think you mentioned a specific product near the top of the page but couldn’t tell if it was a generic name or that of a particular product.
You could try a deglosser. I think Klean Strip makes one that is labeled as Delgosser. I’ve used it before and it’s worked well.
Irene Fuller says
I have an reproduction desk and filing cabinet with leather insets. It is highly glossed. I am going to strip leather insets off (they are now well worn) and replace after painting. Quite intricate drawers. Will I be able to get away with just deglossing the drawers but sanding the rest of the carcas? I intend to spray finish in grey having used a primer. Do you think this will work? Thank you.
I have a nightstand I bought from pottery barn that is textured and weathered whitish/beige. I want to paint it so its lighter (more white) but maintain the texture. Should I prime before I paint it? Also, if I am trying to keep with the weathered look should I dilute the paint with water (2:1)?
If you aren’t wanting to totally cover up the current finish, I think you could just dry brush on a little more white. Just dip your brush in your white paint, brush a lot of it off on a paper towel, then lightly brush on the rest and repeat until you have as much white as you want.
Joanna Vega says
If I paint over light pink with Red or dark blue, am I able to skip all steps and just paint?
It all depends on if the piece you are painting had a semi-gloss or glossy topcoat to begin with. If it did, I would at least prime, sand or degloss first.
Do you know if polyvinyl can be used as a primer?
Hi Michelle. I have never heard of polyvinyl before, so I’m not familiar with its uses at all. I’m sorry!
I’m planning to redo our dining room table and chairs. I know I’ll have to degloss, then prime since I’m going from a dark to an off white, but what’s been your experience with finishing with a chalk paint?
Hi Erin! I’ve only used homemade chalk paint to paint with. I have seen other pieces painted with non homeade chalk paint and they look great, I’m just not always crazy about how they feel. You really have to wax and buff to get a nice, smooth finish.
I’m redoing my kitchen cabinets doors that are a yellow knotty pine wood veneer on a MDF board, there is a varnish on it would you suggest to degloss, prime and then paint? I want to do a two tone kitchen colors so the top cabinets will white and bottom a dark blue thank you for your suggestions
Yes, definitely degloss. If it still feels like there is a slick topcoat on it before priming, you’ll want to sand too.
I painted our old barstools with interior satin finish paint after priming with a water base primer a few months ago.. The paint comes off if you scrub them. I’m now wanting to change the color by using spray paint in a satin finish. What steps do you recommend? Also will the spray paint be more durable? Thanks for any help
Spray paint will be somewhat more durable. I would sand smooth any spots where the paint has scratched off and then also rough up the rest of the stools with sandpaper a little as well. Prime it with a spray paint primer, then use the spray paint to finish it.
Rebecca Taurisano says
I already painted some dining chairs and got bleed through. I want to start over and prime first. Do I need to strip the chairs before priming or can I put primer right over the paint?
I don’t think you should have to completely strip them. Just do a light sanding to rough up the chairs a bit, then prime and paint.
I want to paint over some commercially distressed cabinets. They are now an olive green color and I want to paint them a sea glass color. I plan to just keep all of the physical distressing. Any advice about how to go about painting over physically distressed cabinets?
Hi Jenna thank you for all your information!
I have a couple of vintage probably 60s Mediterranean looking wardrobes with drawers behind doors that have a lot of squarish decorative inserts that have like mounding around them… can this be de glossed to repaint? I is dark grain sort of fake feeling wood… hope that makes some kind of sense!
Amber Leaverton says
I have a vanity I would like to repaint with a two color distressing process. My question however, is that it has a stained area where some nail polish had been spilled. The furniture is glossy so I will have to degloss it but since there are two colors (since the stain has been stripped from the remover) do I also need to sand it? Any guidance would be greatly appreciated. My brain is going into overload with the conflicting info I have found in my research!
Hi Amber! You would need to sand if the area where the removed stain and original stain meet isn’t smooth. Does that make sense? You want a smooth top, so if any places in the finishes are uneven, you would need to sand.
I’m looking to paint a tv stand with textured wood veneers. I want to paint it off white so I’m thinking I have to degloss and not sand, but still not sure. Could you please advise. Thank you.
So, I have two pieces of furniture that have been painted with dark-grey milk paint, I plan to paint these with white milk paint, but I am having trouble deciding if primer is necessary for milk paint itself. I know milk paint is supposed to just be able to cover the existing paint, but it still requires a couple more coats before it fully does the job. Should I use primer, even though milk paint is known for it’s ability to cover darker paint colors? Should I sand before using primer even if there are no rough spots in the furniture?
Peggy Oleson says
What is the best paint/primer to use on a set of maple chairs that we tried staining and didn’t finish the project?
Thank you so much for the post. I watched a lot of youtube videos on how to paint cabinets and did a lot of research. But the amount of work and the limited space I have (I live in a two-bedroom small condo) makes me feel it is never possible. Your post brought me the light and all the recommended products are so amazing!!! I finished painting my kitchen cabinet in two days and so far I am quite happy with the final result. I know I skipped a lot of the sanding and priming, and the result may not be long lasting. But I am not looking for some long-lasting result, I just want a temporary refurnish job to make it looks better for this year or so. Again, millions of thanks!
Brett Ehlert says
Thank you for sharing this information! I’m new to furniture painting and many of my questions were answered in this post. Looking forward to more tips from your site.
Anna Lynch says
Thank you for the article! I do have a question…I have already painted a piece of furniture without sanding it and noticed it will easily chip. I have not sealed it yet. I wanted to know if I could lightly sand over what I’ve painted already or do I need to sand and strip it down and start over? Would really appreciate your input!
cindy serra says
How do you know how much sanding to do. I purchased a small desk with some scratches . When do I sand down to the wood and when do I just sand.
Help!! I am painting my 1960s oak Kitchen cabinets with a moss green Waverly chalk paint. I sanded everything, applied 2 coats of bullseye 123 primer and noticed tanning so I did 2 coats of shellac. I did 3 coats of the chalk paint looked beautiful…I sealed everything with Waverly wax and the next morning there was hairline cracks everywhere. I was told by the company that I should have used polyacrylic. After 3 weeks of hard work they said I would have to use mineral spirits to strip it all, then tsp substitute degreaser..then do it all over again. I have spent many hours researching what I can do. I did use the tsp substitute degreaser to remove the wax…as it removes wax and not paint…I need advice. Can I just do this and sand after tsp substitute, paint then apply the polyacrylic? Also what grit paper should I use? TIA
How do I know when to degloss or use a stripper? What’s the difference? I read in other comments people used Citrus strip – but I’m not sure how to tell if that’s the route I should go. My chest of drawers is in great condition – from the late 60’s. It’s very shiny and glossy.
Hi, I painted over oil based gloss with oil based gloss without sanding first. I cleaned the surface. Do I now need to sand it back to the old gloss, or is it enough to remove 70% of the new gloss for a proper bond? Very, very silly of me, I know. It is taking hours to remove a few metres from the skirting board, which makes me wonder if I need to do anything.