How to Re-Paint an Old Dresser

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A stain-blocking primer prevents wood oils and wood stain from bleeding through to the paint.
Image Credit: PaulMaguire/iStock/Getty Images

A quality dresser lasts for decades or longer, but its style may not. Repainting a flea market find or hand-me-down gives a beat-up, outdated or simply ugly dresser a fresh makeover that fits right into the bedroom's style. While it may be tempting to dive right into the painting process, proper preparation and priming are key to a nice-looking finish. The existing finish, as well as the material the dresser is made from, dictate the ideal primer for the job.

Pre-Priming Preparation

A little work needs to be done even before the dresser can be primed. Remove the drawer pulls or handles or cover them with painter's tape if they are unobtrusive enough to not hinder priming and painting. Sand every area you wish to paint, including the edges of the drawer fronts, with fine-grit sandpaper. Remove the drawers or pull them out as far as possible to reach all the areas you need to sand. Sanding helps the paint adhere better whether the dresser is stained or finished wood, or laminate or plastic. Sand just enough to scuff up the finish for laminate or plastic, or enough to remove the glossiness from a sealed, painted or varnished dresser. Wipe down the dresser with a tack cloth or soft rag to remove dust, or vacuum it with an upholstery brush attachment.

Picking and Applying the Primer

The primer you choose for the job plays a large role in the final outcome of the paint finish. A general latex primer may do the trick for a dresser that has been previously painted, but it isn't sufficient over plastic, wood stain, varnish or some types of paint. Select a plastic primer for plastic or laminate dressers to ensure the paint adheres. A stain-blocking primer helps keep wood stain or oils from knots in bare wood from showing through. A gripping primer adheres to glossy finishes such as polyurethane or some resins. Before settling on a specific primer, read the container label to ensure it is suitable for the type of finish or the construction of your dresser. Set the dresser upon a tarp or sheets of newspaper; then coat all areas you wish to paint with your chosen primer. Allow the primer to dry for as long as the package instructions recommend, applying a second coat if the original dresser finish is still visible through the primer. Once the primer dries, use fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out drips or imperfections; then wipe the dust away with a soft rag.

Paint It Pretty

Select a quality latex paint for the dresser; while an inexpensive brand may be a good value, a quality paint offers better coverage, which means fewer coats of paint are required to achieve the desired finish. A paint in the sheen range from satin through semi-gloss offers washable durability without being extremely shiny. Brush on the paint in thin coats, which reduces the chance of runs or drips. Whenever possible, brush one complete stroke across or over the height of the piece, depending upon whether you paint from side to side or top to bottom. The one-stroke method helps prevent brush marks from showing in the middle of a large expanse, such as the side or top of the dresser. Apply a second or even third coat once the previous coat dries, sanding away any imperfections you notice between coats. With a quality washable paint, a sealer is not needed, although you could apply a coat or two of polyurethane afterwards, if desired. Polyurethane may make the dresser look a bit more shiny than the paint alone.

Special Touches

Instead of painting the entire dresser the same color, give it a stylized finish that suits your own sensibilities. Paint each drawer a successively lighter shade of the original dresser color for a hint of ombre. Give the dresser a striped or chevron pattern by applying strips of tape in the desired pattern once the base coat dries. Use a second paint color between the strips; then peel the tape away when the paint is dry to the touch. Repaint the drawer hardware to give it a new look as well, such as an oil-rubbed bronze specialty spray paint over old black metal pulls. Apply a tinted glaze over the painted dresser to customize the piece: dark blue glaze over a light blue or light green dresser for a watery effect, or a honey yellow over an antique white paint for a slightly aged appearance. Brush the tinted glaze on in either case, rubbing most of it away with a clean rag.

references & resources

Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.

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