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From Grime to Shine: Cleaning Furniture Before Painting

Discover the secret to better finishes! Elevate your DIY experience by conquering the essiential pre-paint cleaning process. Your furniture deserves it, and your paint job will thank you!

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The Importance of Cleaning

Cleaning a piece of furniture before painting it is the most important step of the refinishing process and must never be skipped. It is critical to remove all dirt, dust, grime, and any other contaminates that could interfere with proper paint adhesion. Leaving any of this behind could result in peeling or chipping paint over time. A well cleaned surface will contribute to the longevity of the paint job that will withstand wear and tear and give you a more professional and polished result.

Cleaning can also a great way to get to know your piece. It allows you to identify any potential issues and repairs that need to be addressed before painting. Don't overlook the necessity to explore the often neglected spaces such as underneath the piece, inside the drawers, changing old liners, and remove the hardware to clean or switch it out. Cleaning these areas are just as important as cleaning the visible surfaces. We are going for that new furniture feeling!

Materials and Tools

Cleaning Products

Read below for help choosing the right cleaner for your piece.

Choosing the Right Cleaner

Mild cleaning: There are a few options when it comes to cleaning varying from mild to harsh. My personal go to are mild and green solutions. I love when a piece isn't too bad, and I can simply use warm water and Dawn dish soap. Sometimes adding a little vinegar can help, too, if you don't mind the smell.

Heavier Cleaning: If you have a piece that is way dirtier then give white lightning a try. To me it's a little more of a harsher chemical, and I would always recommend wearing gloves and proper eye coverings. The mixing directions are on the container. Remember to rinse completely off with water afterwards, and really, that goes with any cleaning solution. You do not want any left behind cleaning solutions interfering with your paint later.

Removing Wax: I use mineral spirits to remove wax build up. If refinishing a piece that was sealed in wax it is important to remove that before it can be painted. Use an old rag damped in mineral spirits and wipe the surface. Keep the solution off of your skin as it could be very irritating. Use gloves and eye coverings. These rags can spontaneously combust. I usually put them in a jar with water after I use them. Avoiding the heat. After using mineral spirits I will also clean up with my mild cleaning solutions.

Alligatoring Wood: This is where the paint or finish of an old piece has failed usually. It can appear bumpy or crackly like the skin of an alligator. The best way I have seen to remove it is using denatured alcohol with a rag or sanding it right off. Wipe well afterwards with water to remove any residue or dust. This solution is very flammable, so I would soak the rag in water after use.

Removing a sticker: Peel as much off as you can. Dampen with mild cleaning solution and allow to sit for a few minutes. Gently use a scraper or putty knife to remove the remainder of the sticker. Be sure to remove all sticky reside. You can also use Goo-Gone if it is extra troublesome. Just don't forget to remove the cleaning agent with water afterwards.

Cleaning Steps

  1. Start with vaccuming. I really like using my shop-vac to clean out the drawers, inside the piece, and underneath. Being sure to remove all cobwebs and dust.

  2. In a bucket or spray bottle - I like to mix Dawn dish soap, vinegar and water for my cleaning solution. Dawn is tough on grease and helps with the vinegar scent. Vinegar can help with cleaning and with any odors.

  3. I prefer a sponge with a scrubby side to to clean the entire piece. Rags work great, too. Clean until the water is clear.

  4. Rinse all cleaning solutions off with just plain water.

  5. Allow it to dry thoroughly. Put it in the sun if possible. It needs to be completely dry before moving to the next steps.

  6. Give it a last inspection. Check for anything you may have over looked.

Safety Precautions

It is very important to take precautions to ensure your safety when working with cleaning agents. Be sure to read all labels and instructions as different products have specific safety guidelines. Here are some critical things to consider when using cleaning solutions:

  • Work in well ventilated areas. Open windows and doors to allow airflow.

  • Wear the proper clothes and gloves to cover your skin from direct contact.

  • Wear respiratory protection to protect from harsh fumes or dust.

  • Throw on a pair of safety goggles to keep splashing liquids from harming your eyes.

  • Avoid mixing cleaning solutions. Some combinations can create some harmful fumes.

  • Keep your pets and children out of the cleaning area and protect anything you have near by that you do not wish to get cleaner on.

  • Remember to follow proper disposal methods.

Your well being matters. Following good safety precautions will allow you to enjoy working on your DIY projects longer.


As you wrap up this part of the process remember that every step you took contributed to the masterpiece you are about to create. Now that your piece is clean you can pick up your paint brush with confidence knowing you have laid the groundwork for stunning results. Step back and admire your freshly cleaned canvas and anticipate the beauty that will unfold.



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