How to Refinish a Wood Dresser


One of the simplest and least expensive ways to give a room a new look is new furniture. It is not always possible to buy new furniture, but it is always possible to make old furniture look new. You can refinish a dresser in one day, or do several over a long weekend. Not only is refinishing wood dressers uncomplicated, it is a great project for an older child to help with. There are no hard-and-fast rules for colors to stain or repaint wood dressers, so go ahead and get creative.

Things You'll Need

  • Dropcloths
  • Screwdriver
  • Clean, lint-free shop cloths
  • Bucket
  • Water
  • Degreasing dish detergent
  • Chemical stripper
  • Paintbrushes
  • Plastic scraper
  • Sandpaper, 80- and 120-grit
  • Staining sponge
  • Stain or paint
  • Spray sealer (optional)
  • Cover your work area with dropcloths. Plastic tarps, old sheets and tablecloths will work.

  • Unscrew the drawer pulls and remove them. Set them in a safe place if you intend to reuse them.

  • Dust off the dresser with clean, lint-free shop cloths.

  • Fill a bucket with warm water, and add three to four healthy squirts of a degreasing dish detergent. Dip a clean, lint-free shop cloth into the solution and wring it out until it is wet, but not dripping. Give the dresser and drawers a good scrubbing and let them dry thoroughly.

  • Apply a chemical stripper to the dresser and drawer fronts according to the manufacturer's instructions. Most are painted on with a brush. Let the stripper work, and don't skimp on the time the label says you should wait.

  • Scrape off the old varnish or paint with a plastic scraper. Apply a second coat of chemical stripper and re-scrape if necessary.

  • Sand down the entire dresser and the drawer fronts with 80-grit sandpaper. Work with the grain of the wood, not against it. Wipe away the sanding dust with a clean, lint-free shop cloth.

  • Sand the dresser and drawers again with 120-grit sandpaper, working with the grain. The smoother the wood, the smoother the new finish will be. Wipe away any sanding dust with a clean, lint-free shop cloth.

  • Dip the corner of a staining sponge into your stain. These look like regular sponges sewn into a cotton cover, and they give you more control and a smoother finish than a brush. Apply the stain to the dresser and drawer fronts in thin, even coats; feather the edges where the stain overlaps, so that you don't get stripes of thicker stain. Use a brush if you are painting, but feather the edges and keep the coat thin and even. Let the stain or paint dry according to the manufacturer's recommendations.

  • Apply a second coat of stain or paint, if the color does not have the depth you wanted. Sand very lightly between coats with 120- or higher-grit sandpaper if you like, but it is not necessary. Let the second coat dry thoroughly.

  • Apply a spray-on sealer that is compatible with your stain or paint. This will add a light sheen and provide a little extra protection from wear and spills. Let the sealer dry.

  • Reattach or replace the hardware, and replace the drawers.

Tips & Warnings

  • Attach brand-new drawer pulls to give your dresser a fresh, new look to go with its new finish.
  • Always paint and stain in a well-ventilated area.

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  • Photo Credit Chest with drawers on a white background image by Dmitry Nikolaev from
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