How To Refurbish Or Refinish A Dresser [10 Steps]

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Is there an old dresser in your basement or garage that you have been considering throwing in the dumpster but just haven’t got around to it yet? Have you ever considered simply refurbishing the dresser instead? If so, you’ve come to the right place! For this post, we’ve researched how to refurbish a dresser so that it has a completely new finish.

Here are the steps to refurbish your dresser:

  1. Inspect the dresser
  2. Remove hardware and personal items
  3. Remove the dresser drawers
  4. Clean the dresser
  5. Sand the dresser
  6. Repair damaged areas
  7. Strip the dresser
  8. Apply a paint primer
  9. Apply a paint finish
  10. Reattach the hardware

Refurbishing a dresser is a fairly straightforward process, and it can typically be completed within a day or two. It can also be a pretty DIY project if you are looking for something to take on at the start of the spring season. Continue reading to learn how you can easily refurbish your dresser all on your own.

Somewhat messy wood dresser with open and closed drawers, How To Refurbish Or Refinish A Dresser [10 Steps]

Steps To Refurbish Or Refinish A Dresser

Close up on the drawers of a dresser

Things you’ll need:

  • Screwdriver
  • Clean, lint-free cloths
  • 1-2 small paint rollers
  • Paintbrushes
  • Medium-grit sanding block
  • Oil or latex-based paint
  • Wax finishes (clear and dark)
  • Wood cleaner
  • Vinegar

1. Inspect the dresser

Before deciding to refurbish your dresser, it is necessary to determine whether it’s good to withstand a refinishing. Some older dressers might not be worth refinishing. If you have an antique dresser, open the drawers and look at the components and wood to determine if it’s in good shape, especially if kept in the garage or cold/damp climate.

2. Remove hardware & personal items

Once you have established that the dresser is in good working condition, remove any personal items from on top of the dresser or inside of its drawers. Next, remove all of the hardware and place it nearby. If the dresser has any handles, you may want to remove them or place painter’s tape on them if you don’t plan to paint over them. Do the same for any other hardware or ornamental decorations on the dresser.

3. Remove the dresser drawers

Carefully lift out all of the drawers and fix them side-by-side on the floor. If your dresser drawers need to be unscrewed, grab a screwdriver and slowly unscrew the screws from the drawers, placing screws in one area so that you don’t lose them.

See this screwdriver on Amazon.

4. Clean the dresser

Grab your all-purpose or wood cleaner and a microfiber cloth and wipe down the dresser from top to bottom. You could also use a sponge. Be sure to remove any layers of dirt on the top of the dresser or inside the drawers. Start by wiping off the top of the dresser and then the sides. Next, wipe down the front of the drawers and then the insides.

This is an important step to remember because you don’t want to accidentally paint over any dirt. Be sure not to scrub the wood while cleaning it, as you don’t want to damage the surface in the process. If there are any hard-to-reach nooks and crannies such as carvings or moldings, use a disposable toothbrush to get in between them.

5. Sand the dresser

Sanding the dresser is important if you aren’t keen on stripping the dresser. (See Step #7 for stripping.) This will help remove any previous finish or paint that the dresser contains, and it will create a more solid surface for the paint or stain to adhere to. Sand the dresser until the original layer of finish is removed from the exterior.

You can use a sanding block or an orbital sander for sanding the dresser. A medium-grit sandpaper quality is ideal, such as 150-grit or 200-grit. When sanding the dresser, be sure to wear goggles and a dust mask as the dust can get pretty thick during the process. If your dresser has a lot of small nooks and crannies, you may want to buy a few sandpaper sheets as well.

See this orbital sander on Amazon.

6. Repair damaged areas

Take this time to repair any dents, cracks, or holes in the dresser and fill them with wood putty or epoxy. After applying the epoxy with your thumb or a putty knife, be sure to level it out as much as possible so that you can quickly sand it down afterward. If using your finger to apply the putty to small areas, be sure to wear a pair of rubber gloves. Take a good look at the entire dresser, including the drawers, and make sure that there are no visible holes or areas where the wood is severely cracked or water damaged.

See this wood putty on Amazon.

7. Strip the dresser

If you prefer to strip the dresser, have your solvent ready to go after cleaning the dresser. Be sure to don a pair of gloves before applying the stripping agent and apply it to the dresser’s top and sides and then the drawers. Use a small paintbrush to apply the stripper and allow it to sit for the recommended time before removing it. It’s important to know that some chemical strippers may be too strong for the finish on your dresser, so it’s always helpful to do a small spot test first before applying it to the entire dresser.

See this wood stripper on Amazon.

8. Apply a paint primer

If you plan on painting your dresser, it’s best to apply a coat of primer to help it last as long as possible. Applying primer using a 3-inch or 6-inch paintbrush and start at the top of the dresser. Next, apply the primer to the dresser’s side and then the front of the dresser drawers and their back edges.

Once the primer’s initial coat has dried, apply a second coat to the dresser and the drawers. You can typically tell that the primer has dried when it is no longer sticky, but it’s always best to look at the recommended drying time on the back of the can.

9. Apply a paint finish

After the additional coats of primer have dried, it’s time to apply your paint finish. Take a new paintbrush to apply paint to the dresser’s top and sides, and then to the dresser drawers. Most enamel or latex-based paints will need anywhere from two to four hours to dry, while oil-based paints may take a bit longer. After the first coat of paint has dried, take a fine-grit sandpaper block and gently sand the first layer of paint to remove any air bubbles. Next, apply additional layers of paint as needed.

If you use spray paint on your dresser to make the job a bit quicker, make sure to purchase a quality brand of paint. All spray paints are not created equal, and some will leave you with peeling paint within a matter of weeks. You can find quality spray paint online or at your local hardware store. When applying the spray paint, be sure to hold the can no closer than 8-inches from the surface to avoid dripping, which can cause peeling. Be sure to don a safety mask when applying the spray paint to avoid the fumes.

See this spray paint on Amazon.

10. Reattach the hardware

After you have applied your last coat of paint, allow the dresser to dry for 24 to 48 hours. Once the dresser has dried completely, re-attach any removed hardware and place the drawers back inside the dresser. If you have applied painter’s tape to the handles, be sure to remove it gently.

Can you just paint over a dresser?

Yes, you can paint over a dresser. However, it is best to prepare the dresser beforehand to ensure that the paint sticks. If you don’t properly prepare the dresser by sanding or stripping, any new paint applied can peel off the dresser within as little as a week. This is because the paint will not have a good bonding surface to adhere to. The ideal way to paint over a dresser is to buy a high-quality oil-based primer first and then a high-quality paint or chalk (or milk) paint.

See this chalk paint on Amazon.

Can you sand wood without stripping?

Blue wooden dresser drawer

Yes, you can sand a wood surface without stripping it. Stripping wood is actually a pretty abrasive way to remove paint or finish from the surface, and it’s not required for a good finish. You can achieve the same results by properly sanding wood using a medium-grit sanding block or orbital sander. The biggest benefit of stripping a wood surface is the brevity that it allows instead of sanding the wood. But if you want to be on the safer side, sanding the wood alone is a better and safer option.

Should you paint the inside of dresser drawers?

No, it’s generally not a good idea to paint the inside of dresser drawers. Not only can paint peel and chip eventually, creating a mess inside the drawers, but it can also cause any personal items stored in the drawers to smell like paint. However, it is typical to paint the inner back edges of the dresser’s drawers.

Can you paint veneer?

Yes, you can paint veneer surfaces. When doing so, make sure first to find a paint recommended for veneer before applying it to the surface. You’ll also want to apply a high-quality primer over the veneer before painting it, as this can create a stronger bond when you apply the paint.

Wrapping things up

We hope that this post has shown you an easy way to make your dresser look brand new by refurbishing it. Remember, a good prep job is important to achieving a good finish.

Before you go, be sure to check out our other post:

How Big Is A Typical Dresser?

Do Dressers Need Mirrors? Here’s What You Need To Know

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