How to Give a Painted Vintage Mirror a Makeover

If you’re looking for an easy DIY project that can give an old mirror a new life, a vintage mirror makeover is the perfect solution. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a new mirror or even a vintage one in perfect condition. All you need is an old mirror frame and some basic supplies.

Beautiful vintage wooden mirror with ornate carvings on the top refinished.

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The first thing you need to do is find an old mirror that has potential. Look for one at a thrift store, yard sale, or even an estate sale.

If you want to decorate your home with vintage items the first thing you need to learn is to throw out the idea of perfection. There’s no such thing as perfect in vintage and antique items because they’re old and used.

If you are lucky they will be in great used condition, but they’re still old. But if you use words like character, charm, and distressed it sounds more attractive! And honestly, I’ve learned to embrace the flaws for exactly that, character.

So, today I’m going to show you how you can turn a mirror with good bones into something spectacular. How to do it on a budget AND redeem a vintage item at the same time.

Supplies You’ll Need

Transform Your Home Decor with a Thrifted Mirror Makeover

You want to find a mirror with a frame that is in good shape but just needs a little love. Make sure the shape of the mirror is the perfect piece for your home decor.

A close up shot of a vintage mirror refinished hanging in my entryway.

This mirror was fairly scratched by the previous owners, but it is still a beautiful piece that deserves the spotlight. Plus, it functions perfectly for this space as it is.

Step One – Purchasing an Unassuming Vintage Mirror

I’m sure dozens of people saw this in the thrift store. But chose to walk by it. I mean, it’s not much to look at, is it?

The mirror has scratches from a previous refinishing job. Maybe an entirely different owner than the one that gave it this unfortunate paint job. But it had the look and it was $5 so I was game to see what could become of it with a little bit of love.

You see, the unassuming things are typically the best projects in my experience.

Close up picture of a vintage mirror that had been painted blue and purple sitting on a dresser.
Thrifted vintage mirror before photo sitting on a dresser in the entryway.

Step Two – Stripping off the Paint

Lay down a drop cloth to protect your work surface, then use painter’s tape to tape off any areas you don’t want to get stripper on.


  • Citristrip
  • Painter’s Tool 5 in 1
  • Detail Scraper + Attachments
  • 2″ Angled Paint Brush
  • Plastic Wrap

I’m not worried about getting Citristrip on the mirror itself because that will not harm it. Also, it easily wipes off in the cleaning process.

Citristrip stripper applied all over the vintage mirror frame.
Full vintage mirror covered in paint stripper getting a makeover.

Why I Like to Use Citristrip: The Pros & Cons

Citristrip is a popular brand of paint and varnish remover. It uses a citrus-based formula instead of traditional chemical solvents. I have been successfully using it on projects for over a decade now and love it.

Here are some pros and cons of using Citristrip:


  1. Citristrip is safer to use than traditional paint strippers. Traditional paint strippers contain harsh chemicals that can be harmful to your skin and lungs. Citristrip is also biodegradable and non-toxic, making it a more environmentally friendly option.
  2. Citristrip works well on a variety of surfaces. This includes wood, metal, and masonry. It can also remove multiple layers of paint or varnish in one application.
  3. Citristrip has a pleasant citrus scent that is less overpowering than the fumes from traditional paint strippers.
  4. Citristrip is easy to use and can be applied with a brush or a spray bottle.


  1. Citristrip may not work as quickly as traditional paint strippers. And it may also require several applications to fully remove all layers of paint or varnish. But so will traditional strippers.
  2. Citristrip may not work as well on certain types of paint or varnish. Particularly those that are oil-based.
  3. Citristrip may require more time and effort to remove the stripped paint or varnish. As it can leave behind a sticky residue that needs to be washed or scraped off. But it cleans off really easily with warm water and soap. Read more below.
  4. Citristrip may not be as effective on intricate or hard-to-reach surfaces. It can be difficult to apply and remove in these areas. But again, that’s true for all paint strippers.

Overall, Citristrip can be a good option for those who are looking for a safer and more environmentally friendly paint or varnish remover.

However, it may not be the best choice for every situation.

Top view of a vintage mirror getting a makeover by stripping the paint off the wooden surface.
The middle of a stripping and scraping of a vintage mirror getting a refinish job from the paint that was on it.
a vintage compass rose on a creamy circle.

How to Strip off Paint Using Citristrip:

  1. Apply a generous coat of Citristrip on the entire wooden surface.
  2. Allow it to sit for 20-30 minutes until you see it start to bubble.
  3. Then use a metal stripping tool to get the majority of the stripper and paint off.
  4. At this point, come back in with a detail scraper for all the tiny hard-to-reach spots.
  5. If there are multiple layers of paint you may need to do this process multiple times.
  6. Also, if the Citristrip seems to be drying you can cover it with plastic wrap to hold the moisture in and allow it to do its work better.

Step Three – Clean it Thoroughly

Once you have removed the majority of the paint from your mirror frame, the next first step is to clean it thoroughly.


  • Bucket
  • Scrub Brush or Toothbrush
  • Detail Scraper
  • Abrasive Sponge
  • Warm Water
  • Mild Dish Soap
The first step after stripping the paint is to clean it really well. This mirror, bucket of warm soapy water, a scraper, bar keeper's friend, and a sponge are the tools.
The second step cleaning a mirror after stripping the paint is to take a detail scraper to the tiny spots.

01 Wipe All Excess Off

The first step is the general wipe-off. Use your sponge to clean off all the excess Citristrip.

02 Detail Scrape the Tiny Areas

Once you get a little warm soapy water the paint (not oil base) will typically start to slide off. Great chance for getting those detail parts cleaned.

The third step of cleaning citristrip off of a mirror while stripping it is to use a toothbrush to get into all the hard to reach spots.
Step four of cleaning a mirror after citristrip is to scrub any stubborn paint off using the abbrasive side of a sponge.

03 Scrub Hard to Reach Spots

Take this time to use up an old toothbrush and get those hard-to-reach spots. Like between the mirror and the frame.

04 Final Scrub Down

In the very end, you will want to use the abrasive side of the sponge. Get all the stubborn leftover paint that will come off with a bit of elbow grease.

a vintage compass rose on a creamy circle.

How to Clean Up After Citristrip

  1. Do a very general wipe-off to get all the excess Citristrip off.
  2. Then do a more detailed follow-through with your detail scraper. The paint will be fairly pliable at this point.
  3. After the Citristrip is off, then take a toothbrush to all the hard-to-reach areas like between the mirror and the frame.
  4. At the very end, use the abrasive side of a sponge and elbow grease to get the last bits of paint.

Note: Your sponge will most likely be wrecked. So, use one you’re fine sacrificing. Also, your water will get dirty really fast and often. But keep it clean for the best results.

The Different Stages of a Vintage Mirror Makeover: The Details

Don’t freak out if you get into the thick of stripping paint and feel like you made a terrible mistake. It happens to every single person, every single time. This is a little demonstration. The middle one definitely looks the worst.

Painted carvings on a vintage mirror ready for a makeover.
Wooden carvings painted being stripped on a vintage mirror makeover.
Vintage mirror details after being stripped of their paint with a vintage mirror makeover.

It is totally normal for it to look like a complete mess in the middle of the vintage mirror makeover. There is a definite ugly stage when dealing with refinishing anything.

Additional Steps You May Need To Do: Sanding, Staining or Painting, & Top Coat

This mirror was a jewel in many ways, but mostly because it literally only needed a quick strip. It was beautiful underneath the paint and required nothing additional from me.

However, this is super rare and you will probably have additional steps in most projects.

Sanding to Finish Your Vintage Mirror Makeover

You may occasionally get a project that has been painted in oil paint. This may require being stripped multiple times, but will likely also require scraping as well as sanding.

However, if you’re going to paint your mirror you can also use sandpaper to distress it for an aged appearance.

Add Character to Your Home with a Distressed Vintage Mirror

For a distressed look, you can use sandpaper to lightly sand the edges of the mirror frame.

a vintage compass rose on a creamy circle.

Distress techniques to use

  1. Sanding. Sand the painted mirror with fine-grit sandpaper. Focus on areas that would naturally show signs of wear and tear, such as corners and edges.
  2. Wax resist. Apply a coat of wax to the mirror frame before painting it. Then focus on areas where you want the paint to be removed. When the paint is dry, use a scraper or sandpaper to remove the paint where the wax was applied. This will reveal the original surface underneath.\
  3. Dry brushing. Dip a dry brush into a small amount of paint, then wipe most of it off on a paper towel. Lightly brush the paint onto the mirror frame. Focusing on areas where you want a distressed look. This will create a subtle, worn effect.
  4. Image transfer. Create a vintage image transfer on the mirror frame using a decal or transfer medium. Once the image is applied, use sandpaper or a scraper to distress the surface and give it a worn, vintage look.
  5. Layering paint. Apply a base coat of paint, then add additional layers in different colors. Once the paint is dry, use sandpaper or a scraper to remove some of the paint. This will reveal the layers underneath and create a distressed look.

But when it comes to distressing, the type of paint you use will make the biggest difference. Also, if I’m going to distress I will do only 1 coat of paint vs more for better coverage.

Annie Sloan chalk paint is really great for distressing for a more unique look. In fact, chalk paint in general distresses really well. Milk paint is another great option.

However, sandpaper isn’t the only way to distress! Wet distress is quite easy and a more “gentle” technique to use. You simply use a wet rag to gently wipe some of the paint off in certain spots. This works particularly well on chalk paint and milk paint.

The Power of Stain: How to Give Your Vintage Mirror a Refresh

When I’m working with a wooden vintage anything my first inclination is always to strip it down to raw wood and stain it. I have a real obsession with wood grains, they’re all different and they’re all beautiful.

a vintage compass rose on a creamy circle.

How to Stain a Wooden Vintage Mirror

  1. Either sand or strip the current paint or finish.
  2. Then clean the mirror frame thoroughly.
  3. You can apply a wood conditioner to help the wood absorb the stain evenly.*
  4. Apply the stain using a lint-free rag. Wear gloves to protect your hands.
  5. You only need one application, but can do several coats depending on how deep of color you want.

Note: Make sure there is no paint or varnish left on the wood before you start. The stain will not work over varnish unless you are using a gel stain. But that’s an entirely different process.

Vintage Mirror Makeover: Tips and Tricks for a Flawless Paint Finish

Adding a really pretty coat of paint to your mirror can take it from boring to timeless. Especially if the mirror ornate details require a bit more than a solid color.

The second coat of paint should be applied after the first coat dries completely. Unless you want to distress the paint. This is where the biggest transformation takes place.

If you want to add a lace design, use a spray bottle filled with water and spray the back of the lace. Then, press the lace onto the edge of the mirror frame.

Once the paint is dry, apply a top coat of clear wax to protect the paint. You can also use an old t-shirt to buff the wax for a nice finish. This will protect the paint from any future wear and tear.

Protect Your Vintage Mirror with a Good Top Coat: Polycrylic vs Wax

To finish your project out strong pick a good top coat! I have a few favorites, let’s talk about them!


Polycrylic is a water-based protective finish that provides a clear, hard, and durable coat. Some of the benefits of Polycrylic include:

  1. It dries quickly.
  2. It is easy to clean up.
  3. It has a low odor.
  4. It is resistant to yellowing.

Furniture wax

Furniture wax, on the other hand, is a natural finish that is typically made from beeswax, carnauba wax, or a combination of both. Some of the benefits of furniture wax include:

  1. It adds a soft, matte finish.
  2. It enhances the wood’s natural beauty.
  3. It is easy to apply.
  4. It is repairable.

Get Creative: Ideas for Your Vintage Mirror Makeover

Don’t forget the details! There is so much charm to be added when you take care of the small stuff. There was hardware left on my mirror that needed tending to. But it was nothing a little Rub’n Buff couldn’t handle.

Hardware after a rub'n buff on a vintage mirror for a makeover.

Fun Additions to try for a Vintage Mirror Makeover

In Conclusion

In conclusion, taking on a vintage mirror vintage makeover is truly an easy DIY project that can transform any small piece. Just a bit of elbow grease and a few supplies to create the perfect addition to your home decor.

Thanks so much for stopping by!


Meet the Author

Hi, I’m Julie! Mother to five beautiful kids, Homeschool Educator, Writer, Handicraft & DIY Enthusiast, Photographer, Thrifter, and Furniture Restorer. Follow along for fun DIY projects creating a handmade home on a budget! Read more about me here→


    1. Always shop your home, it’s always so much fun when you do find something you have that you can do something with. Those are sometimes my favorite pieces. Thank you!

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