How to Clean Furniture before Painting

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Cleaning Furniture before Painting

Your paint may not stick to your furniture or will crack and peel in a few months if you hesitate to use the cleaning preparation step. There will be grease, grime, or dirt deposits on the surface of your furniture. Oils from your hands, cooking grease landing on the furniture, or even spray polish solutions all leave a built-up layer that you may not notice.

Cleaning old and new furniture will give your finished furniture piece a look that is gorgeous and long-lasting. Painting on a nice and cleaned piece of furniture is like painting on a blank canvas. Your painting furniture goals will go much easier and look tremendous if you thoroughly clean your furniture before painting.

6 Steps on Cleaning Furniture Before Painting

Step 1:

The first step in any project is to get yourself organized before you start. Once you are organized, your job will go faster, and you will not be running around looking for cleaning and repairing supplies.

Step 2: 

The next step to an awesome paint job is preparation. You don’t just throw on a coat of paint and sit back and be happy with your work. Wood furniture needs a good cleaning before you do anything else. Remove the hardware and drawers (If you have them) and get to work on the main body of the wood piece.

Step 3:

Rags, scrubbers, and wood cleaners should be part of your cleaning arsenal. You also need medium grit sandpaper, fine-grit sandpaper, and a tack cloth. There are several products you can use when you clean your old furniture for painting, including Murphy’s Oil Soap, denatured alcohol, lukewarm water, mineral spirits, or TCP. One good piece of advice is to wear gloves when are you use chemicals and detergents to clean wood.

Step 4: How to Clean Furniture before Painting

  1. Start by mixing a small amount of liquid detergent with water. Using a sponge or cloth, wash the entire piece of furniture thoroughly. Washing helps eliminate grit or grime that may be on your wood piece.

    If the piece has been sitting for a long time, washing with water will help get off the dust so you can see what you are going to refinish or paint. Washing your furniture piece right out of the starting gate may uncover details that you didn’t know existed.
  2. One great suggestion from furniture restorers is to use denatured alcohol mixed with water at a 50/50 ratio to take off the grit and grime before painting. You can use scotch bright pads that are strong enough to clean off grime and grease, but gentle enough not to damage your furniture.

    We have also found that using denatured alcohol is great if you are planning to use water-based paints, including chalk paint, milk paint, latex, and acrylic paint.

    If you are going to use oil-based paint, denatured alcohol for cleaning is still good, but don’t mix it with water. Water will hinder oil-based paints from adhering to the surface.

    A note about denatured alcohol: The substance contains ethanol and is manufactured to discourage human consumption. Denatured alcohol is poisonous, bad tasting, and can cause nausea. It is an awesome cleaner as well as a fuel for camping stoves, a glass cleaner, and a sanitizer, but it is not rubbing alcohol.
  3. You can also use odorless mineral spirits to wipe down your furniture. Use a rag that is slightly damp with the mineral spirits. Rub the piece of furniture in the direction of the wood grain. After wiping your furniture with mineral spirits, let the piece dry or allow the mineral spirits to evaporate.

    Mineral spirits are petroleum-based and used as replacements for vegetable-based turpentine or paint thinner. Mineral spirits are more refined than paint thinner and have no additional solvents. Mineral spirits are not smelly and are equally effective and less harsh as paint thinner in cleaning the furniture.
  4. TSP or trisodium phosphate is often used for preparing wood furniture prior to painting, too. Make sure, however, that you wipe off your furniture with water or denatured alcohol after using TSP. If you don’t, the paint will not adhere to the wood, and you will have peeling paint.

    TSP is an inorganic chemical, and it works as a robust chemical cleaning agent. There are risks associated with using TSP as with any chemical. Beware that using TSP can irritate your eyes and cause damage to your skin. Don’t let TSP come in direct contact with plants, or your plants will not be happy.

    TSP can cause harmful effects to the environment if you allow it to get into rivers, streams, or lakes. Check and see if TSP is authorized for use in your area and do watch what you are doing.
  5. Make sure you finish your cleaning with a lukewarm water rinse. Water will help remove any residual dirt or grime from the piece. Don’t soak the furniture, just gently rinse with a rag dampened with water.

Step 5. Sanding: 

It is a good idea to scuff up the surface of your furniture so that the paint will adhere to it. Lightly sand every piece you paint. You will find that sanding helps to fill in scratches and spots. It also helps you find areas that are still covered in oil and grime. Use your tack cloth to wipe off any sanding residue and rewash if necessary. 

A Man Sanding Furniture

If you are using chalk paint and want the piece to look distressed, you may want to skip the sanding step. (Chalk paint is designed to make your furniture piece look old and distressed. Sanding may take away the cracks and damages that make furniture pieces retain their character.)

Even if you have removed old paint and varnish from your furniture piece, you still want to sand it. Sanding will take out scratches or light damage and fully get furniture ready for paint. It is best to paint bare wood for the best results.

To make sure your sanding preparation time is successful, take your time and sand slowly. If you are rushing through the job, you might scratch or mar the wood. Sand by hand and with the grain of the wood, not against it.

Step 6. Fill in Holes and Cracks:

Filling in Holes and Cracks

Filling in holes and cracks or chips in the wood is not exactly cleaning furniture before painting, but it is part of the preparation. We recommend you use wood glue and clamps to fix pieces back in place. Using wood filler if you have chunks taken out of the wood is a good idea. Fixing your cracks, joints that don’t fit, and filling up cracks and scratches will give you a final product that looks almost new.

  1. Wax sticks are similar to crayon, but a little harder. They come in colors to match different wood. Use wax sticks after you have cleaned your furniture and before you apply the final paint.

    If you use wax sticks before the final finish, seal the wood with shellac. Simply draw the wax stick on the wood by pressing it into the defect. Remove the excess with a putty knife.
  2. Wood putty is a thick paste that you spread into the crack with a putty knife. Sand. Let dry.
  3. Shellac sticks come in many colors that are easy to apply. Shellac is a natural product made from beetle excretion, and you melt it with a soldering iron. Let it drop into the imperfections.

    Press in with a putty knife and let it harden. Once it is hard, sand it down or scrape it flush with the furniture you want to paint.
  4. Glue and sawdust is an inexpensive way to fill a crack in your furniture. A mixture of wood glue and sawdust works beautifully, and you can match the wood exactly. Use the right amount of glue and sawdust and make a filer that paints well. It’s not hard to do; it just takes time. 

It is best to clean your wood furniture before painting. Without thorough preparation, you will fight old wax, grime, dust, and irregularities in the wood surface. Now you can start painting using paint sprayer for your furniture or others manual method that you like.  

You may think paint will cover everything, but if you don’t spend time ensuring the wood piece is clean, your result will not be something you want. Prepare your wood project with the proper chemicals or cleaning supplies, repair damage, and sand. Don’t forget to reclean your wood piece with a damp cloth or with a tack cloth after initial cleaning and sanding. Let your furniture piece thoroughly dry before you paint.

About the Author Todd Davis

Todd Davis is a DIY enthusiast, traveler and writer for a long time. He has a deep understanding of all types of paint sprayers, chairs, vacuums and door hardware.

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