How To: Prep and Paint Furniture

August 1, 2022

Let's face it, painting furniture is all over the internet. Some people only show their final paint color and leave you wondering how they got to that point. If you're that kind of beginner, you're in the right place....

Painting furniture can be easy if you prep correctly. I'll run through all the tools you need to make sure you paint like a pro.


#1 Fill in dings, chips, and holes

Before you start prepping your surface for painting, take the time to tidy up your base. For cabinets and other furniture pieces, you may be planning on changing hardware out. If the new hardware fits where the old hardware's holes were drilled, you probably don't have "holes" to fill. However, if you are swapping hardware during your furniture flip, it's best to drill those new holes now, and fill the old ones.

For the majority of wood (or faux wood) pieces, you can grab a wood filler to get the job done. Simply squeeze the wood filler into any hole, scratch, or small chip and run across it with your finger until the filling is surface level (or a little higher) than the rest of the furniture piece. If you experience any lumps or unevenness, have no fear, we will take care of that next. Let this completely dry (your wood filler will tell you how long dry time is on the package) before moving onto the next step.

#2 Sand

This seems like the most time consuming, boring part and some might ask if this is even necessary. The answer is yes. Even if your furniture piece is good "as is," sanding is very important to help the paint adhere to something. Besides, if you aren't sure what finishes, glosses, and paint were on your furniture piece, you want to guarantee your new paint sticks the first time around.

Sandpaper vs. Liquid Sandpaper

Sandpaper can make a mess and works your arm muscles to death. Is it always needed before painting? Not at all! If you have a furniture piece that needs to remove the following, you will probably need to opt for sandpaper:

  • Deep grains or texture
  • Lumps and unevenness (if you caused any when applying wood filler, you just have to sand over that area, not the entire piece if you don't see fit)
  • Old varnish, glosses, and finishes
Sandpaper comes in many different strengths, called "grit" and for furniture paint prep, I wouldn't exceed a 320 grit. *I gently used this 320 grit to go over the area with my wood-filled holes when I did my master bathroom vanity, then used liquid sandpaper on the rest of the cabinets.* When flipping a "faux" wood or unknown surfaces (i.e. particle board or non-solid wood pieces from stores like IKEA, Target, etc.) you never want to sand too aggressively and sand through whatever material is on top of the faux wood. This is another great use for liquid sandpaper instead.

I was 26 years old before I realized liquid sandpaper existed... MIND = BLOWN! If your furniture/cabinet piece is pretty much smooth overall, there's often times no need to grab sandpaper. All you'll need is liquid sandpaper, a bowl, and something with a little grit to it for application. I use these scrubbing sponges (but you can use a rough textured rag too). Simply pour the liquid sandpaper into a bowl and saturate your sponge. Scrub into your furniture piece and completely go over all surface areas, leaving a thick coat of this sandpaper on. If it gets foamy, that's normal. To protect your skin from chemicals, I recommend wearing gloves while doing this step. Leave on for 15-30 mins before moving onto step 3.

#3 Deep Clean

Whether you used sandpaper, its liquid counterpart, or both on your furniture, you've got some residue to remove. The best way to do this is to grab TSP cleaner & windex. 

TSP is a concentrated heavy duty cleaner that removes dirt, dust, grime, you name it. You'll want to dilute this with water in a bowl (refer to the diluting ratios on the back of the bottle) and grab an old wash cloth. Dip and wipe down the entire surface areas of your sanded furniture. Re-dip your wash cloth as needed and feel free to use an old toothbrush to knock out any carved molding/grooves on your furniture if you have them. Let this dry for at least 15 mins.

Next, grab a towel and some windex and lightly spray and wipe down the cabinet again. Windex is alcohol-based, so it can pick up any water/moisture left behind (if any) and makes your furniture ready to paint! Please note, use a towel, not paper towel when using windex to prevent any fuzzies or lint.


Choosing the Best Paint Type

Once your furniture has been prepped correctly, it is time to move onto the exciting part: PAINTING! Choosing the right type of paint is the first step. Choosing a color can be hard enough as it is, but did you know that there are actual types of paint, too? One shade of a paint color can come in multiple formulas, depending on what it's being used for. There are things to consider when choosing the type of paint to purchase, such as interior/exterior use, will it have a lot of direct light exposure (close to a window) and may fade, is it in a high traffic area, will it be exposed to moisture/humidity? All of these factors are important.

I personally (not sponsored, but would gladly, lol) enjoy using the paint feature Home Depot's website has. I know the world is divided and you're either a Lowe's person or a Home Depot person, but I live closer to a Home Depot + found this tool on their website very useful. Whether you type in your chosen paint color in their search bar, or discover the color you want on their website, there are 2 options when you click on the actual paint shade: "Buy Paint" or "Buy Sample." Even IF you'd like a sample first, click on "Buy Paint" and you'll be shown options. This is where you can find your paint "type" that is right for the job.

As you go down the list, clicking what/where you plan to use the paint, the highlighted options will change, based on what you're choosing. For example, if you select "exterior" paint, you'll notice the "brand names" and "finishes" reload. 

The hardest part for most people is determining the sheen, which affects the "brand" or "line" you need. For any step, they have a "Help Me Choose" button right there, which breaks down what each mean. For me, I needed to know what finish and brand would work best for bathroom cabinets. I clicked on "Help Me Choose" for Sheen options, and this appeared:

This was such a useful tool for me because only 2 of the 5 sheen options were best suited for cabinets, which is what I needed my paint for. This helped me determine that I needed a semi-gloss finish.

Best Painting Methods

Once you have the best paint for the job, you're ready to begin. You'll need the following:

  • Painter's Tape (if needed)
  • Paint can opener
  • Paint Tray with disposable liner 
  • Paint Brush
  • Roller + brush
  • Rubber mallet (if using a metal lidded paint can)
**Most paint these days have built-in primers, eliminating the need to paint a white coat. If you feel more comfortable using a primer due to painting a dark surface a lighter color, you're more than welcome to do so!**

You'll want to tape off any areas you don't want paint to touch. If your furniture piece is attached to the wall, you'll want to use painter's tape to create a seamless line where it meets the wall. Or if there are areas on the piece that isn't attached to the wall that you don't want paint to touch, tape that off too. This helps you stay within the areas you wish to paint without having sloppy lines.

Next, pop open your paint can with a paint can opener. You can use a flathead screw driver too if you have one, but this is often a forgotten piece of the puzzle: getting the can open. Once it's open, you pour onto your disposable-lined tray and you're ready to begin.

For grooves, crevices, molding, etc. you will want to go over this area, as well as the perimeters of your furniture first with a paint brush. This will make sure all nooks, crannies, and edges are evenly coated with paint. You can certainly paint an entire piece with a paint brush alone, but if you have a large area to cover and want to speed up the process, you can go over all flat areas with a roller brush. This is the small roller I used for my cabinets, as a standard roller would have been too large for the doors.

Once your first coat is complete, let this dry for at least 1 hour before applying the second coat. I like leaving my second coat out to dry overnight before touching, maneuvering, or screwing on hardware, to ensure it's completely dry.

Be sure to use your rubber mallet on the lid of your paint so its air-tight and can be used again.

I hope this was helpful for any beginner wanting to freshen up a piece of furniture!

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