How to Refinish A Painted Antique Wardrobe
One of the best ways to get a deal on a beautiful piece of furniture is if it has had a terrible or hideous color paint job. Today I’m going to show you how you can refinish a painted antique wardrobe or any other piece with a bit of time and a bit of elbow grease.
I was walking into the thrift store when I happened to look at this ugly old brown wardrobe. I peeked at the price which said $45 and squealed inside. Then I looked inside and I immediately knew it was coming home with me.
I went straight into the store and got in line to pay for it before someone else recognized the potential.
Typically I shy away from painted furniture. If a piece is in otherwise great condition and at the right price I’ll occasionally make an exception. Sometimes stripping a piece can be a lot more work than I’m willing to invest.
It can also be messy and when you’re working out of your dining room, like me, it doubles and triples the inconvenience factor. But if it’s nice outside you can do it there, which would be a definite bonus.
Things to Consider Before Purchasing a Vintage Piece
The overall condition of the piece. Inspect it carefully.
I check that it isn’t wobbly or loose. Do a good once or twice over to ensure it doesn’t have veneer damage. Veneer damage is probably not worth stripping because you might have to paint over it at that point anyway.
Sometimes damage will hide under the paint. So keep in mind there may be surprises.
The price and value of the piece itself.
Is it worth the time and added expense of stripping the paint? This piece was only $35 after a coupon and therefore was worth taking a chance on.
How do you refinish painted wood?
To refinish a painted piece you first have to get the old paint off. You can use a variety of products to help you do this, but my absolute favorite is *Citristrip. It is low VOC (low fumes) so much better to use indoors with proper ventilation and works tremendously.
Clean the piece thoroughly. I use a damp rag and a touch of dawn dish soap. Then vacuum.
Gather all your supplies, including protective gear.
*Goggles, *Rubber Gloves, *Apron, *Chip Brush, *Scraper, *Citristrip, *Waterlox (*Wipe-On Poly, *Polycrylic, or *Furniture Wax)
Apply liberally all over the piece. Allow to sit for 20-30 minutes (Max. of 24 hours, but I wouldn’t wait that long it starts to dry then it’s a real mess).
Start scraping the paint off. When the paint comes off effortlessly you know it’s ready to come off, this shouldn’t be a struggle. If it has multiple coats of paint you won’t see the wood underneath just yet, typically.
Repeat the process if needed.
For more detailed instructions I have created a printable DIY list for you at the bottom of this page.
Thankfully it only took one full layer of paint stripper to get the brown paint off. I had one small stubborn spot and the bottom panel I couldn’t reach easily I left for later. The worst part of the whole piece was the top center of the door where it allows for airflow into the wardrobe. I had to faithfully sit there with my scraper and chip away at it little by little. But I was willing to put in the work to refinish this painted antique wardrobe.
Sometimes you find surprises! I had no idea this keyhole existed until I scraped the paint off. In one fell scrape, it appeared.
After I had all the paint stripper scraped off it was time for the next step.
You have 2 options.
1. Use *mineral spirits to clean the piece off, or the one I usually use,
2. Sand the piece thoroughly. Using *220 grit sandpaper I used my *orbital sander for the majority of flat surfaces and sanded by hand in the other tighter spots around the door.
Another amazing surprise was the original door pull that was hiding inside of the wardrobe on the floor.
After I had completed the stripping and sanding it was simply beautiful. But a bit one-note, it needed something to break up all the wood. Even though the wood was lovely, it needed dimension. So I got out my *painter‘s tape and started mapping out a few clean simple lines. Just enough to break it up and hope to stay true to the original feel of the piece itself.
It really didn’t take long. I wanted to keep it very simple. Really just a highlight, if you will. And then I went in with black paint.
It looked simply gorgeous when it was all painted. Just enough black to highlight the shape of the piece and accentuate the few curves on it. A lovely Mid Century Modern piece. I felt like I’d done it justice and given it a new life.
To finish the piece off I used three solid coats of *Waterlox. What I love about Waterlox is how easy it is to use and how beautiful the finished product is. You don’t have to sand in between coats, you simply apply it and let it dry. I did three coats as recommended, 24 hours in between each coat. For the last coat, I wiped off any excess after about 10 minutes and buffed it.
As you can see the finish was just about perfect. It was so smooth. It’s hard to believe how it started and why anyone would have covered it with bland brown paint in the first place.
Thank you so much for reading this far. Please keep in mind that each piece of furniture requires different techniques, some are easier than others. In this case, it was really a straightforward process that caused minor work. I couldn’t be happier with the results. Maybe you need to refinish a painted antique wardrobe or another piece? I hope with the help of this tutorial you feel less intimidated by the process.
If you love a good refinishing project be sure to check out this post How to Refinish A Vintage Dining Room Set and make sure to check out my brand new YouTube Channel where I’ll be sharing all about the DIY Lifestyle.
How do you strip paint without chemicals?
There are a few methods you can use to get paint off without using any chemicals. Depending on the piece you could simply use a heat gun, or simply use a sander starting at 80 grit and then ending at 120.
My preferred way of stripping typically is sanding, but unless you can work outside this is not ideal. Though you will have to sand the piece eventually anyway.
A heat gun is an option, but probably the last one I would choose. It’s tricky heating the paint up just enough to peel off without burning the piece or yourself.
There are a few other methods you could try like vinegar. I have never tried this for paint on furniture or wood, but I did use it for cleaning off the paint on the original door pull and it works beautifully.
How To Refinish A Painted Antique Wardrobe
- Rubber Gloves
- Mineral Spirits
- Sanding Paper, 220 grit
- Waterlox, Wipe-On Poly, Polycrylic, or Furniture Wax (recommended sealers)
- Chip Brush
- Metal Or Plastic Scraper
- Orbital Sander
- Wipe it down with a damp rag. I use a bit of dawn dish soap.
- Vacuum inside and out just to ensure you won't get junk on your brush when you start applying the chemical stripper.
- Let it dry before applying.
- Wear protective gear; gloves, goggles, apron.
- Gather your supplies; a *chip brush (disposable), *Citristrip, *Scraper (metal or plastic), A trash container of some sort, A container like a bowl or a cup with a mouth wide enough for the brush to go in (optional). Or, you can be like me and simply pour it on (horizontal surfaces, not vertical).
- Apply liberally all over the piece.
- Take your brush and dip it in the Citristrip and apply it rather thickly all over the piece. Don't skimp!
- Let it sit for 20-30 minutes. The stripper changes colors as it begins to work.
- After the time has passed and you see it change colors test a spot with your scraper. When the paint sides off effortlessly you know it's ready. Though if it has multiple layers of paint you likely won't see the wood underneath at this point.
- I keep a trash can with a trash bag liner in handy so I can simply put the discarded paint layer in it.
- Repeat the process if needed.
- Keep in mind some pieces have multiple layers of paint on them so you may have to do this process multiple times. Also, even with one layer, some parts of it may be stubborn. Don't push too hard into the wood if the paint won't come off. Especially if you use a metal scraper you risk gouging the wood. Just move on and come back with more stripper later.
Stripping paint off of a piece of furniture can be a drawn-out process, but it is so worth the work for the right piece. I hope this tutorial helps you feel more confident the next time you find a piece you think is worth taking a chance on.
Wow Julie! Great work on this piece. I’m simply stunned with the transformation, and the black really makes the wood pop. So beautiful, and a great bargain!
Thank you so much, I really appreciate that!
What an interesting piece, I like it!
Yes! I actually think it may be from the art nouveau period 1920-1930 because of the fancy hardware.
That turned out so nice!!
This is a great tutorial! I love the step by step instructions!
Thank you so much. I hope it is helpful!
Julie, you are so talented. I’m so impressed with what you did to that piece of furniture. Great great job.
Aw, thank you so much for your kind words!
Wow! That is such an awesome end result.
Wow!! What a difference! This turned out beautiful and has me inspired to run down to the thrift store to find something to update!
Thank you! You totally should. It’s so rewarding.
I love the tip about the citrus stripper. I will have to look for it. The traditional ones give me a headache!
And that cabinet is gorgeous!
I am so sensitive to strong smells, so I know exactly what you mean! Citristrip is seriously the BEST. Thank you so much.