Learn the tips and tricks to painting a dresser to make it look new again! This inexpensive yet professional looking project will keep looking great for years with our tried-and-true method.
While we are working feverishly fast on getting the new floors installed in the kitchen (update hopefully next week!), I took on a small side project that had been bugging me forever and ever. We scored this dresser for free when it was leftover from an estate sale. Clearly no one but me saw the potential in this piece.
Yes, there is some damage (claw marks?), but that’s nothing that a bit of wood filler and some paint can’t make beautiful!
Over the years, I have done dozens of furniture and painting projects and honed my go-to steps and products to make it easy with consistently great results that last. I know because my son has tested our furniture to the max, so durability is super important to me. This same exact method will work on most any furniture piece.
Supplies Used On This Dresser
- Fusion Mineral Paint in Little Whale
- Ultra Grip
- Mouse Palm Sander with 120 or 220 grit sandpaper and Sanding block
- Fusion Mineral Natural Paint brush
- Clean, dry lint-free rags
If you are interested, I have written a guide on my tried-and-true best paints for painting furniture. This guide will help you decide exactly the right paint for your project.
Step 1: Evaluate and Clean
I usually start a project by asking myself a few questions.
What is the dresser made of? Solid wood, laminate, or something else?
Always inspect a project piece thoroughly. It’s very rare to find solid wood furniture. Most always, large flat surfaces like sides or a tabletop is made of plywood with a thin veneer on top to match the rest of the wood. So long as the veneer is thick enough, this won’t be a problem with painting or sanding, but useful to know.
For tricky surfaces that can’t be sanded (like paper printed laminate), I use a product that grips to hard to sand surfaces. I decided to test a small section first with sandpaper and the veneer seemed fine. I did use Ultra Grip on the sides, however, because they were definitely a paper thin laminate.
Are there any stains or knots in the wood?
I’ve painted pieces covered in everything from sharpie to gooey-icky-what-in-the-world?! Stains are important to note ahead of time because some things will bleed through paint, no matter how many coats you use. Here is a rough guide to dealing with various stains:
- Knots – use a shellac based primer
- Gooey stuff/adhesive – I like Goo Gone for gooey messes, but make sure to clean off with a degreaser or TSP afterwards to remove any residue.
- Grease stains – clean with a good degreaser like Simple Green to break up what you can.
- Permanent Marker/food coloring/other – Clean as best you can with TSP and then prime at least two coats.
For strong stains and greasy or grimey surfaces, I recommend using a primer. My go-to never fail primer is this one from Kilz (not the original Kilz). Wait for the primer to completely dry, usually 24-48 hours, before painting.
How to Clean furniture for painting?
First, remove all the hardware and use Tri-Sodium Phosphate for getting any grime and dirt off of them. I like it because TSP doesn’t leave a film.
Step 2: Remove Hardware
Remove any hardware present. If you are changing out the hardware to a different size, fill any holes from the old hardware. Also, fill any deep scratches or gouges. You will sand them smooth during the next step.
Step 3: Sand Lightly
There are two ways of prepping furniture or cabinets for painting: sanding or etching.
The first way is to sand it off with a palm sander or a mouse sander (we use a multi-tool for inner corners). You don’t necessarily need to get every bit of varnish off. I give a general rule – sand enough to take the gloss off. Sanding is going to give the best bond, and I will always sand high traffic surfaces such as table tops, around doorknobs, or dresser tops.
I sand with 120 generally on an orbital sander. I sand with 220, after the 120, if I want a high gloss or ultra smooth finish, or when hand sanding.
However, there is a no-sand method that I have had good success with. I use a product that helps paint bond to wood. My favorites have been Ultra Grip or this high-bond primer that works amazingly well. I’ve also used deglosser, but it isn’t my favorite overall.
Repair any scratches or gouges in the dresser. This is pretty easily done with wood filler.
Step 4: Priming (Maybe)
I would skip priming if:
- You use on a no-primer needed paint.
- There is no risk of stains, oils, or grease coming through the paint (use a stainblocking primer if there is).
- You aren’t painting bright white (I like to use a stainblocking primer for white).
Paint lines/brands that don’t require priming include Fusion Mineral, Benjamin Moore Advance, Sherwin Williams Emerald Line (whoa expensive!), and many chalk paints. I do not recommend painting furniture in latex wall paint. You get what you pay for.
If priming for stains, 2 coats is fine and I usually lightly sand the second coat for smoothness.
Step 5: Paint
Usually 2 coats is all you need. You do not need to sand between coats unless the surface is not smooth to your liking.
Tips to get the best finish:
- Get the right tools. A few extra dollars will save you a lot of heartache and frustration. I have a helpful post on painting without brush strokes here. I prefer fine taklon brushes.
- Tape off any edges you don’t want painted such as inside doors.
- Use a lint free -microfiber roller across all flat or large surfaces for the smoothest finish.
- You will get the best results if you brush details or corners then roll before the paint has time to dry.
I chose to paint the drawers while on the dresser. It made it considerabley easier to get all the edges and allow the drawer fronts to dry fully without disturbance or taking up as much room. I removed them to paint the frame.
Optional: Top Coat
With the paints I use, a top coat is not required, but recommended for high traffic pieces, and especially kid’s furniture. If you do choose to add a protective topcoat, I have some recommendations on choosing the best top coats for furniture in this post to help make a decision. Just make sure that it is water based.
And welcome our newest beautiful addition! I will be much more proud to show guests to their room with this lovely storage piece now.
I knew that I wanted to give this painted dresser a romantic hand-painted style. Honestly, I tend to pride myself a lot on developing a technique to eliminate brush strokes so that there was more of a modern or professional style. I don’t want to call it imperfect, because it isn’t that. It’s a bit softer and romantic, like a hand painted Italian masterpiece. It is still very smooth, but it isn’t quite the same as if I used a paint sprayer.
It feels so fresh and spring-y, doesn’t it?! I’ve got heart eyes all over this piece and I love that it’s a baby blue!
Wanna See More of Our Painted Furniture Projects? Here ya go!
- Midnight Blue Painted Vanity
- How to Create A Cerused Finish
- Beer Safe Mini-Fridge Makeover
- Regal Executive Desk Transformation
- 10-Foot Entertainment Center Transformation
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