Painting Over Varnish

Preparing a varnished wood surface properly before painting is important. This guide is about painting over varnish.
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September 11, 2011 Flag
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I have brown, I think varnished (it has a shiny coat on it, I assume it's varnish), trim in my bathroom. I want to paint it white and was hoping I wouldn't have to do any sanding before hand. Can I add Kilz or some type of primer to the area before I paint and avoid sanding?

By JS

September 13, 20111 found this helpful

Well, if you want another answer. Paint will not adhere to the shiny substrate. You need to scuff the surface for the paint to bond. You don't need to use sandpaper but you can buy a product from 3M called Scotchbrite. It is a nylon pad impregnated with either a silicone carbide or aluminum oxide mineral. Grey is the silicon and red is the aluminum product.

The difference is the silicone cuts finer. You can fine this product at auto part stores, big box stores and paint stores. I don't use Klix as I have found it difficult to cover with a top coat. I have used it a few times but found after several top coats the white still is visible through the top coat.

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September 13, 20112 found this helpful

A product called "gripper" (similar to kilz) actually allows paint to adhere to slick surfaces, even glass.

Yes, the obvious is sand to give a "tooth" to the wood. There are liquid sanders also.

Ask if the clerk is an experienced painter at your local big box store for advice.

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September 13, 20110 found this helpful

April 12, 2011 Flag
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What is the least intensive way to paint over varnish?

By Randi from Williamsburg, KY

April 14, 20110 found this helpful

I painted over a varnished piece of furniture very successfully by leaving it out in the hot sun. I have the advantage (?) of living in a country with very hot summers so that the sun would bleach out the varnish. After a few days, I painted over it with no problems at all. Hope this helps.

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April 17, 20110 found this helpful

I painted over every door in my condo, all were varnished, that's 9 doors on both sides, and 6 that are part of double sliding or bi-fold doors of which I only did the visible side, plus the interior surface of the two doors going outside.

I used a power sander just to scratch the surface, but not to remove all the varnish, then 1 coat of Zinsser's Bullseye 123 Primer, and then 3 coats of semi-gloss paint. I don't know how long ago that was, at least 10 or 12 years ago--and they still look great. There are just a few tiny nicks which I can touch up with leftover paint.

It's the best thing I did to this place, the doors were very dark and made the condo look very dreary. Now they're a creamy white and brighten every room. I left the trim the way it was a medium stain.

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April 17, 20110 found this helpful

July 31, 2010 Flag
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I've seen some older posts already about painting directly over varnished furniture, but it's not exactly the same problem that I have. I was just wondering, I have a small, mahogany corner shelf unit that someone forgot to move when we were oil-painting the door next to it.

It's full of white spatters, but I don't want to toss it if I can paint over it to hide the spatters. It's very hot here where I live, would it be a good idea to stick it outside in the hot sun so as to fade away the varnish before I paint it. Sanding it down is too difficult as it is full of carvings and swirls. Anybody have any suggestions?

By Cettina from Malta, Europe

August 7, 20100 found this helpful

Go to the hardware store and get liquid sandpaper, comes in a variety of names. It is a cleaner, slight stripper. I use this in my 100 year old house to clean woodwork without having to refinish anything. Cleans it up nice and shiny.

This is not tsp.

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August 10, 20100 found this helpful

Never heard of such a thing as liquid sandpaper but the concept seems exactly what I need. Thanks for the suggestion. I will go and see if such a thing is available in my country.

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Anonymous Flag
March 30, 20160 found this helpful

February 27, 2012 Flag
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I've already made the mistake of painting two coats of enamel over varnished cabinets. The yellow streaks still bleed through. What product can I use to correct this mistake without starting over?

By Jeff B.

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October 20, 20140 found this helpful

I have the same problem. I'm using Annie Sloan Chalk paint on wood and the varnish is bleeding through.

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June 9, 20160 found this helpful

Steps to paint over kitchen cabinets after varnish is stripped and sanded

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July 25, 2013 Flag
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Can I use water based varnish on previously petroleum based varnished floors? The drying time is the main factor in this regard.

By Lynn

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July 27, 20130 found this helpful

If you use a water based application on an oil based surface you will have bigger problems than just a prolonged drying time. First and most important of those problems is that the water based application will not be able to form a bond with the oil based application - this will lead to peeling/blistering and will look awful.

Prepare your surface properly before attempting the water based application for long-lasting, high quality results. A bit of elbow greased effort now will save you a lot of elbow greased effort to repair the horrid mess of applying any finish to an improperly prepared surface, not to mention the amount of money you will save doing it right the first time!

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May 6, 2013 Flag
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I have hardwood window frames (mahogany). I want to paint them gloss white to smarten them up. What is the best way of going about this?

By Alan from Liverpool

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December 25, 20140 found this helpful

Have you tried contact primer which according to SW does not need sanding and sticks to any smooth surface?

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January 13, 2012 Flag
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What is the best way to paint over varnished doors and doorways that are very dark?

By Shir from Sydney, Australia

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January 20, 20120 found this helpful

The very best way is to remove the doors and sand the varnish off. Then use a good primer, and paint the colour you want. The sanding removes the varnish that if left on could cause your paint job to peel and look nasty; the primer creates a paintable barrier-the paint goes on and stays on, but you don't have the paint soaking into the wood and causing you to need more than three coats to get good coverage.

Another, quicker way to paint a varnished surface, is to 'rough' the surface of the varnish with either a commercial product like TSP (labelled as a cleaner), or a homemade rougher like vinegar and water. Apply wearing protective gloves, and use a nylon scrubber pad.

Roughing the surface should break the chemical bond the varnish has with the wood, and makes it easier to paint over without having to worry about the new paint peeling. It doesn't always work, though, so the best thing to do really is to sand the varnish off and start with bare wood.

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October 14, 2011 Flag
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I've heard that it's possible to paint over varnish without sanding by using Zinsser BIN primer. Has anyone tried this?

By Janis T.

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October 14, 20110 found this helpful

Yes I have done this. But I still think it is better to go over it with some rough sandpaper first. You don't have to sand that much and it makes the primer adhere better in my opinion. If you absolutely don't want to sand, they make a liquid sand that works very well. It is sold anywhere where they sell paint.

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April 12, 2011 Flag
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Our home was built in the early 70s. The wood was finished with high gloss varnish and now we want to paint over it. What is the least labor intensive way to prepare the high gloss surface? Thanks.

By Bert from Frederick, MD

Answers:

Painting Over Varnish

There is a petroleum based product (lots of fumes, you have to work with every window open) called Liquid Sandpaper which is supposed to "cut" the gloss so one can paint over shiny finishes, but I've tried it and didn't find it very good. I only mention it because someone is bound to suggest it. If you do try it, get the small container first and try it on one small area. If you are talking about cabinets you can have the fronts stripped relatively inexpensively at a stripping facility.

It would help to know if the varnish was traditional or polyurethane. I don't know how you remove polyurethane. There must be products out there.

The problem is people used to use oil based paints and I think you can paint over oil based paints with an oil based enamel, but most enamels are latex now, which are much cheaper, but can peel off oil paint surfaces. I am referring to old varnishes as well.

I would consult a paint store. Not the small department in a large store that sells groceries. A paint only store will have your answers and tell you what your range of choices are. (03/22/2010)

By PIKKA

Painting Over Varnish

Take the time to do the job right the first time. We tried to do it a quick way and are now having to strip everything off to do it right. It's going to take more time, energy, and money than initially doing the project correctly. (03/23/2010)

By susanmajp

Painting Over Varnish

One time I simply painted over the varnish with a quality semi gloss paint and it looked really cool because it had a crackly appearance after it dried, so maybe you could do a test section and see if you like the look before going all out with varnish removal. (03/23/2010)

By Deeli

Painting Over Varnish

Wash it down with TSP (Home Depot) and sand all over so paint will adhere. BTW, there is no "easy" way to repaint cabinets and have the job look good or have the paint stay on. Take your time, do it right and you'll be happy with the results. Take shortcuts and you'll be sorry. Varnish (several coats) after painting. (03/23/2010)

By ahastings7878

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July 31, 2010 Flag
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I want to paint my old varnished wood cabinets with white enamel. I don't want to strip and sand. Can it be done?

By Miss Ida Mae from Bridgeport, CT

Answers:

Painting Over Varnish Without Sanding

You can buy TSP at Home Depot or Lowe's to wash wood table top or cabinet surfaces and then rinse off; allow to dry and it's best if you use a primer on the wood before painting. We had to prime wood paneling after using TSP because the wood surface kept bleeding through. It worked and only needed to coat a couple of times with paint. (06/06/2010)

By Lorelei

Painting Over Varnish Without Sanding

My husband is a retired cabinet maker, and I just did exactly what you're attempting. He had me get a product called TSP. My box is called TSP-PF (phosphate free - no real difference in the outcome). Worked great, inexpensive, easily found at Home Depot, Lowe's, etc. (Even Wal-mart has it - look in paint dept.)

You wash down the cabinets with it (mixed in water), rinse, and prime. Then you're good to go! Hubby says the paint will last quite a long time. He has much experience with this product.
By the way, get a small box. It won't take much! (06/08/2010)

By Seppwats

Painting Over Varnish Without Sanding

I once painted some varnished paneling in a guest bedroom without doing any prepping and it turned out looking really cool with a "crackle" effect so if that sounds interesting to you maybe give it a try, but just do one small portion first to make sure you like it ;-) (06/08/2010)

By Deeli

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June 6, 2010 Flag
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I want to repaint my kitchen table that has varnish on it. I do not want the hassle of sanding and stripping. Does anyone know how I can do that or what kind of paint I could use? I am hoping something is out there nowadays. Thanks.

By Dee

Answers:

Painting Over Varnish Without Sanding

Taking the steps out of stripping the finish and sanding are going to result in poor quality. They may not show up immediately, but they will. Paint is a finicky product to use which means the furniture you are working with needs to be treated correctly before painting.

A kitchen table that is used a lot should be properly stripped, sanded, and primed before painting. I've seen it in many home decor blogs where people have tried to cheat the steps only to be very unsatisfied with the end result. Peeling paint, bubbles, etc. So all that hard work to make it look nice results in more work or a ruined piece of furniture. (01/31/2010)

By COflower

Painting Over Varnish Without Sanding

Sherwin Williams has something, I don't know what is called. You can use it to do just what you are trying to do. My girlfriend used it over tile in the kitchen, and it looks great. Good luck. (02/28/2010)

By Fancy2253

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March 21, 2010 Flag
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How do I paint over a varnished and marked table?

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February 11, 2010 Flag
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Can I paint over varnished wood?

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January 12, 2010 Flag
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I am wanting to paint over a banister around the stairs with a cream gloss. It is varnished brown at the moment. Is that possible without sanding?

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