My son’s room consisted of a bed and a lot of toys everywhere. Since we moved, we’ve been slowly accumulating furniture and walked into a thrift store and found a cute dresser and night stand set. Get this though- it was $37 for both! I had to get them! Since then, they’ve sat, not touched in the room looking sad. So it was time for an update! Here’s how to paint a dresser.
Before of the dresser-
Try to look past all that toy and keep reading for how I’ll be addressing it! The dresser was a light wood and not terrible.
Now, before you message me saying that it looks beautiful, there was some damage on the sides (which you can see in the video). The whole thing is laminate so the damage could only be addressed by painting. I totally respect that others would have kept it as is, but for me and my house, color is the answer!
Also, if you’re wondering guidelines for when to paint wood and when not to, this post is for you.
how to paint a dresser
Let’s start with the video tutorial so you get an overview on what I did and see how easy it is to paint a dresser. Then, I’ll dive in with more details below:
If the video doesn’t work here, you can watch it on YouTube here. I’d be over the moon happy if you subscribed to my YouTube channel! Videos are actually released on YouTube first (usually the night before they’re published on the blog) so you get a first peak at my projects. Thank you!
Here’s exactly what you’ll need when painting a dresser. These supplies will also work for any painted piece of furniture. I listed the exact quantities I needed to paint my dresser which should give you a good idea of what you’ll need.
- Furniture Cleaner
- 16 oz. Chalk Paint- I used the color Sea Glass
- 16 oz. Primer- I use Slick Stick to prime shiny furniture
- Paint Brush– to apply the chalk paint and primer. I prefer synthetic brushes for chalk paint
- Water Mister– this helps get an even coat of paint
- Easy Peasy Spray Wax– what you apply as a top coat to finish the dresser
- Applicator Pad– to apply the spray wax
- Floor covering to protect your floor. I put cardboard under the legs of the dresser
Start by preparing to paint the dresser. Prep might not sound like fun (probably because it isn’t- lol), but it is key to getting a good finish. It is so tempting to just start painting, but you have to clean it first or it’s possible that the paint won’t stick.
To clean the furniture, I like to mix furniture cleaner with hot water. Just mix 2 Tablespoons in 1 gallon of hot water. Then use a lint free rag and wipe the whole dresser off. You might as well clean the drawers as well at this point! This will take less than 10 minutes to complete the cleaning of the whole dresser.
Next, it’s time to find a place to paint. I had three options for where to paint- outside in my back yard, in the garage, or in my son’s room. I really didn’t want to move the heavy dresser in and out of the room and risk possibly dinging up the paint, so I painted it in place.
The good news is that painting inside the house is totally fine! Chalk paint and most other furniture paint is no VOC or low VOC. Make sure to check your paint can first to make sure it’s low VOC if you’re painting inside. That way you don’t have to be worried if you also paint inside with kids nearby like I did.
You’ll want to find a spot with room to work around the dresser and have plenty of space to paint. If that’s in the room- go for it! You could also pull the dresser into a bigger room or maybe a patio or basement.
And now, choose the paint you want to use. There are endless options of furniture paint available at craft and hardware stores. It’s super nice to have so many choices when it comes to paint, but it can also be overwhelming.
I personally love Dixie Bell Paint- I’ve had such great results with the paint and they’re really suited for beginners.
Next, cover those floors to protect them from paint. You can do a drop cloth and cover the whole floor under and around the dresser. That’s advisable since it’s easy to drip paint. If you have carpet floors, I’d definitely recommend totally covering under the dresser.
I had some cardboard on hand so I put that under the feet of the dresser. That was great because I could get the very bottom of the feet and not worry about painting the floor. I did drip in the middle a bit and so I would have saved myself some time by using more cardboard.
When painting a dresser, I 100% suggest removing the drawers. Why? If you don’t you could paint the drawers closed. And you’ll miss painting some of the frame. This is another step that feels like a pain since all the drawers need to be emptied, but you’ll get better coverage and the end result will be worth it.
Once the drawers are out, take off all the hardware and store it together in a bowl or zip lock bag so you don’t lose any of the screws.
When painting a dresser there are two instances when you might need to prime-
- You’re painting a wood dresser and that wood or original stain bleeds. I’ve had this experience and it’s frustrating because no matter how much paint you apply, red or pink will bleed through and it’ll look awful. If you start painting and see bleeding, stop what you’re doing and prime. I suggest this primer to stop bleeding.
- If you’re worried about bleeding, I have a blog post here with steps for how to test for it as well.
- You’re painting a dresser that has a super shiny dresser like a laminate or lacquered piece. The problem here is that if you put chalk paint (or really paint honestly) over a shiny finish, odds are that it’ll scratch off easily. Have you ever accidentally scratched furniture painted and it’s come off? That’s what we’re protecting against!
Since I’m painting a laminated dresser, I primed with Slick Stick. To do that, I painted on a thin layer of the primer. I use this misting bottle to keep the furniture slightly damp while I paint to get a smooth surface.
I let the first layer of primer dry for 2 hours and then apply a second coat. Again, I like to apply it thinly by misting on water so you can’t see brush strokes. After that coat of primer is applied, it needs to dry overnight before adding the actual paint.
do you have to sand before painting a dresser?
You can skip sanding when painting a dresser if you use the correct primer. I hate the mess and hard work of sanding, so I skip it when I can. For a laminate dresser, sanding isn’t the best idea since it’s a thin veneer that you’re working with and you could get a rough finish is you sand it so priming is actually the better method.
If you want a natural wood finish, then you’ll have to sand. But for painting, I prefer to skip it and prime instead.
Now it’s time to paint! Finally! For this step I prefer to use a paint brush. The other options are a roller or furniture sprayer. I’ve tried it all and still, my personal preference is to use a paint brush.
Why not a roller? A brush gets in all the crevices so you only have to clean up one tool. Plus a roller uses a lot of paint so when you wash it out, you lose a lot of paint too. Also, if, when you paint you use a mister, you won’t have brush strokes which is the benefit of using a roller. If you love a roller, go for it! I skip it, but it’s not a bad way to get a smooth finish.
Why not a paint sprayer? A sprayer is a beautiful miracle- you can paint everything really quickly! And it gets in all the crevices! BUT the down side is the prep. Everything in the room needs to be tented off. The inside of the drawers need to be taped and plastic added so they don’t get painted.
Then, when painting with a sprayer, getting the correct amount of water to paint ratio is difficult. Because you might need to water down paint to get to go out the sprayer. If you get it wrong, it might need to dry and then you’ll have to sand it off. After all that, cleaning up the sprayer takes a long time to do it throughly
What I’ve found is that the hassle of a paint sprayer is just not worth it for me on small projects like painting a dresser. Can you tell that I’ve tried and failed? I’ve tried and gotten it right too, but in my book it’s just not worth it.
which paint brush should I use?
I like using this synthetic paint brush it’s my absolute favorite! I invest in expensive paint brushes because I find they give me a smoother finish and they use bristles less. After each use, I then wash them really well. They’ll last years if treated correctly! If someone is first starting out in chalk painting, I think getting a more affordable brush is fine and I like this one for that scenario.
how to paint with a paint brush for a smooth finish
The beauty of using a brush is you just pull it out and you can begin! It’s quick! But the downside is that if you’re not careful, you can get brush strokes. So how to avoid them? Step one is to plan on doing two coats of thin paint- sometimes 3 coats if needed. Use the mister as you go so the paint is thin and glides on.
If you just glop paint on really thick, brush strokes will be evident! So go thin with this first coat and don’t be concerned if you can still see the primer or original wood showing through. That means you’re doing it right! The first coat should never give you full coverage with chalk paint. P.s. for more tips on how to get a smooth finish with chalk paint, check out this post.
After the first layer of paint is applied, I like to take a pause and access any damage. For example, on the bottom trim of the dresser there were some tiny gaps that I didn’t like. To solve those, I used caulk to fill the open spaces. It’s really quick to fill them in and then I waited 20 minutes for the caulk to dry. These little fixes really help the final product look beautiful!
The second type of damage to inspect the furniture for is paint drips. I thought I was being so careful, but I did get one drip- dang! BUT all is not lost- sanding paper can save the day. I promise, sanding for 2 minutes is better than seeing a drip and having it bug you for the life of the dresser. It’s worth it to do it right!
The third type of damage I like to look out for is any dings or indents that are showing up even after the furniture has a coat of paint on it. I know these’ll bug me later so I like to fill them with wood filler. After the dent is filled, it needs to dry for up to an hour. Then it can be sanded and painted over. I luckily didn’t have any of those on this dresser!
Have you heard the saying “The details are not the details, they make the design” by Charles Eames? Paying attention to these little things that might bug you after you’re done and make you feel like you rushed things are worth getting right. It takes a few minutes, but it’ll make a world of difference.
One of my favorite parts about chalk paint is that it dries so quickly that you can get a second coat of paint on the furniture about 20 minutes after the first coat. Sometimes by the time I’m done with the first coat, the place where I started is dry enough to apply the second coat! A small hint is to paint in a room with a ceiling fan which will accelerate drying too!
I know that it’s tempting to cover furniture in one coat of paint, but you’ll get a better result if you do two thin coats of chalk paint! Lots of people have messaged me saying “Ashley, I tried chalk paint and the first coat looks awful- help!” Don’t expect it to look good after one coat. Chalk paint requires two, sometimes three coats for full coverage.
Another thing to remember is that each piece of furniture will take paint differently. When I redid my record player, it took two coats of primer and three coats of chalk paint. That’s because I was going over a richer brown wood and the darker the wood, the more coats you’ll probably need.
Because the finish was so smooth on this dresser and it was a light brown, the paint went on really quickly! It was so nice!
I also opted to not paint the top of the dresser. Why? The laminate is in perfect condition and it’s easier to clean than painted furniture. I like the two tone look and it definitely saved me time when painting. So keeping the top original was a win win situation!
By now you’ve painted a full dresser and you’re done! Right? Nope, you need some type of protective top coat.
Why do you need a top coat?
- to protect against chips
- to repeal dust and dirt
- chalk paint is porous which means it doesn’t clean well on its own. Because of that, it needs a buffer to keep it looking good over time.
- especially in high traffic areas, you want protection on your piece of furniture and that means you need a top coat
Which top coat to use? I suggest using this spray on wax. It’s easy to apply- you just spray it onto an applicator pad and rub the wax onto the entire piece of furniture. The wax maintains the matte finish so there’s no shine (a look I prefer).
The biggest benefit to this wax is that if you do get a chip, you can touch up the paint and you won’t be able to see where you had to re-paint! Not all top coats can do this! Believe me, I’ve tried!
There are SO many top coat options that’ll give you different looks- you can use brown or gray wax for an aged look. Maybe you want a shiny finish- there’s lots of products for that too! I go over all of the top coat options in this blog post about what products to get when chalk painting.
Finish up the dresser by re-installing the hardware. Or adding on new hardware if you’d like. I stuck with the original because I liked the look and they’re surprisingly big (4.5″) so finding 9 replacements was expensive. If your dresser is looking dated, changing out the hardware is a great way to update it and make it feel more modern!
Ta da! Here’s the finished dresser! I didn’t mind the original wood, but I do love the blue!!! I think it really pops against the white wall! I cleaned up a bunch of the clutter on top of the dresser and painted the little jewelry box (which is used to hold my son’s treasures- think sea shells and shark teeth and colorful rocks).
I bought three dinosaur planters from Target’s Dollar Spot and planted some small plants in them. I love how they look with the new poster on the wall! Aren’t all the colors over here so fun for a kid’s room?!
how long does it take to paint a dresser?
This was a quick project for the impact it adds! I prepped and primed for one hour. Then it dried over night. The next day, I painted and put on a top coat in 3 hours. For the hands on time with painting, this dresser took 4 hours to paint. But remember that you’ll need dry time if priming. Each project will vary, but planning 4-5 hours should be adequate.
did you paint the back of the dresser?
I didn’t paint the back of the dresser or the drawers. The dresser is so big and bulky, it never moves and the back of it never shows. I like to be efficient where I can be so that’s not something I felt was worth the time. I also didn’t paint the drawers (besides the face). This also saved time and I didn’t mind keeping them the natural wood.
While we were painting the dresser, I wanted to find a space for holding the books (they were cluttering up the room). We really love reading over here, so having bookshelves to display all of this dinosaur books sounded like a good idea. A few weeks ago, we made rainbow shelves to hold his dinosaurs so we replicated that idea over here!
The colors are so fun and they really help this room feel more complete! We’ve been slowly figuring out toy and book storage in here and it’s been fun customizing this room for my son. It’s really starting to function nicely and it’s the happiest place to be!
That is probably the most complete furniture painting tutorial I’ve ever written. I hope it’s helpful as you complete some of your own projects with chalk paint! Make sure to watch the video for some fun behind the scenes looks including my son’s reaction to the big reveal!
Do you have any questions on how to paint a dresser? Let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer!
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