How to clean furniture before painting.  Do you really need to?  Yes! Having clean furniture is a key to good paint adhesion.  So, before you put paint on the brush pull out some rags and give that piece of furniture a good cleaning.  Our instruction label on the paint can has as item 1.) Clean and dry object to be painted.  Yes, it is important.  So, as promised in The Prep Edition – Part 2: When to Prep, I am going to share with you how to clean a piece of furniture before you paint it.

The Prep Edition – Part 3: How to Clean Furniture Before Painting it


The first thing I like to do is give the piece a good dry cleaning.  A vacuum with attachments works well or a dust rag and a broom will do.  Start with the underneath of the piece.  Often you will find spider webs, spider eggs and sometimes even the host spider. Suck those creepy-crawlies up with the hose or knock them out with your broom.  Remove any drawers.  Vacuum or dust the drawer cavities and the insides of the drawers.  This is also a good time to inspect to make sure there are no hidden structural issues with the piece.  Once your piece is upright again, dust or vacuum off the piece.  An old toothbrush does a good job of cleaning the dust out of the detailed carvings.  (Don’t worry, you can put it right back, after you paint, by using our Aging Dust!)

clean furniture

Now that you have given it a good dry cleaning, it is the time to decide what cleaning solution you want to use for the wet cleaning. Let’s chat about your options before we get started.

First up is the one I hope you don’t use:  TSP.  TSP stands for Trisodium Phosphate.  It is a great cleaner; one of the very best.  But, it is more trouble than it is worth.  First of all, it is toxic and you need to wear PPE if you are going to use.  Eye, skin and respiratory protection is needed as well as good ventilation.  Also, you can’t let it enter any ground water runoff.  Bob Vila goes into the pros and cons of it on his website.  Aside from all of that, if you use it and do not rinse it off completely, it can cause paint adhesion problems.  Also, if you have to use shellac to prevent tannin bleed, it is not compatible.  Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac advises against it in their TDS for the product.  This is one of those times when there are so many alternatives to a toxic product that it is a no-brainer not to use it.

do not use to clean furniture

Now that we have what you don’t want to use out of the way, lets start with the light duty ones you may use.  Both denatured alcohol and distilled vinegar mixed 50/50 with water are good cleaners.  They both cut oils and grease that are not embedded.  They work fine for most pieces of furniture.

If you have a piece of furniture that you know has some embedded dirt or grease, that has had silicone based furniture polish used on it, that has been waxed a lot, or exposed to cigarette smoke you need something tougher.  My favorite is a homemade citrus cleaner.  You fill a glass jar with citrus peels, add distilled vinegar, steep in a dark place for at least 2 weeks and you have a great, natural cleaner.   Here is a link to a recipe from Apartment Therapy.  Use it full strength if your piece has the crud or half strength for most jobs.

If you’re the type that likes to buy your cleaners or don’t have a GirlBoss to eat a billion tiny tangerines, no worries, we have options for that as well. Again, I like the citrus cleaners that you can buy.  There are many on the retail market.  Just look for “biodegradable” and “degreaser” on the label.  Krud Kutter, Simple Green and TSP-substitute also work great.

Krud Kutter for clean furnituresimple green for clean furniture


tsp-sub for clean furniture






So, you have completed your dry cleaning on the piece of furniture.  Next up is the wet cleaning.  Using your choice of cleansers, wash the piece until you are certain it is clean.  Some people like a spray-on cleaner and others prefer a bucket full of water with cleaner mixed in.  They choices is yours; just be sure to clean your furniture. The best way I have found to assure that it is clean is to use a clean rag or sponge to rinse with and two buckets of clean water.  One bucket is what I call my rinse-off water and the other is my re-wet water. When I rinse each piece (even if the product directions say that rinsing is not required) I check my sponge when I put it in my rinse-off water bucket. If I am still seeing dirt coming off the piece into the rinse-off bucket, I continue to clean.  I then go into my clean re-wet water bucket to re-wet my sponge with fresh water.    Once my rag/sponge that I am rinsing with is not picking up grim, I know I my piece is clean.

Next you want to have a drying towel to remove any excess or standing water from your furniture.  Dry it off and then let it air dry completely.

Before we close let’s talk about a couple of other products that you don’t want to clean with.  Oil soaps, dish detergents that have silicones or anything with silicones as they can leave behind residues that interfere with paint adhesion.

Supplies needed to clean furniture:

  • Rags or sponges
  • Vacuum with attachments or broom
  • Old tooth brush (optional)
  • Buckets with water for rinsing
  • Cleanser (diluted in bucket or spray bottle)
  • Drying towel

I have one last post of this series that will address if you can over-prep.  Do you think you can?

Now that  you know how to clean furniture, get that paint brush handy, because you are ready to put paint on that piece of dated furniture.  What color are you going to use?  We love to see your pictures!