Preparing a varnished wood surface properly before painting is important. This guide is about painting over varnish.
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?
September 13, 2011
Any finish should be prepared before painting. Find some "liquid sandpaper" at your paint store, and follow the instructions exactly. 'Paso' is the best I've ever used, but it can be hard to find. Only one store in our city carries it. I haven't looked online.
By randi 1
What is the least intensive way to paint over varnish?
By Randi from Williamsburg, KY
April 17, 2011
What is TSP? I live in Europe and might be able to get it if I know the full chemical name.
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 10, 2010
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.
Can I use water based varnish on previously petroleum based varnished floors? The drying time is the main factor in this regard.
July 27, 2013
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!
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
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.
What is the best way to paint over varnished doors and doorways that are very dark?
By Shir from Sydney, Australia
January 20, 2012
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.
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.
October 14, 2011
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.
I am painting some chairs which are either varnished or stained. The coating is really light and goes back to the wood in most places easily, but some areas are harder to sand back. Do I have to take the entire varnish off or can it just be heavily sanded so it is rough?
By bcp.it 1
My question is, should I paint the door first or varnish it first? Please offer suggestions, because the sun's rays are reflecting directly on our front door.
I want to paint my bathroom vanity and door. It is varnished and I want to paint over it. Since it is in the bathroom will the paint peel off because of the moisture in the bathroom?
Pat from Ohio
I don't know if this will work in your situation, but check out a product called Kiltz. We have used it to cover things before painting them. You will find it in the paint dept. at Home Depot or Lowe's and you would paint it on the cabinets as a primer. Ask someone working in the paint dept. about using it for your cabinets. (06/29/2004)
No need to use Kiltz, it isn't designed to adhere to slick surfaces. Zinsser makes a primer called Cover Stain. Valspar makes one called Glossy Surface Primer. They should both work on the varnish and the laminate. With either of these, it is still best to slightly rough up the surface with 60 or 100 grit sandpaper (wear a dust mask). There is also a product called Liquid Sandpaper that claims you don't have to use sand paper, but save your money and time and just use sandpaper. Clean with a solution of TSP, rinse very well to make sure you don't leave a residue (Jomax makes a TSP that you shouldn't have to rinse). Allow the surface to dry, fill any scratches or holes with spackle or wood putty. Once the putty is dry, sand it smooth, then prime. Both of these primers are oil based so they smell very strong, make sure you have the windows open and a fan pulling air out of the room.
Once the primer is dry, top coat with a quality high gloss or cabinet paint. High gloss paint will last longer and be more chip resistant than other sheen levels. You can top coat oil based primers with latex or acrylic paint. Always make sure that the primer is totally dry before applying the top coat. Use a low nap or foam roller to avoid brush marks where possible (high gloss paint is very thick and may leave brush marks if it dries too quickly). It is best if you can take the cabinet doors off and lay them out in a garage to do all this. This gives you the opportunity to really clean all the hardware. (06/29/2004)
If you strip the cabinets, you will still need to sand, clean and prime them before you can paint, and the chemicals in the stripper may cause the plywood to de-laminate (it may dissolve the glue holding the layers together). You could use a hand stripper or a sander (palm, orbital, or belt) to remove the layers of varnish, but that will take a lot of time and is really only recommended for slab doors (doors without any decoration). If the doors have decoration or detail, you will need something like a Dremel to remove the varnish from the decoration. Or use a product called Peel Away 7 (check your local hardware store, Ace stores in some areas of the US can get it). With the Peel Away, you apply the stripper, then lay a special kind of paper on top. When the stripper is done reacting with the varnish, you "peel away" the paper and the varnish together. Once the varnish is all removed, fill any holes and scratches and allow the filler to dry. Sand the dried filler and surfaces smooth, clean the surfaces and allow to dry. Then prime with an enamel undercoat (or any interior primer that will work on wood) and paint with a quality high gloss or cabinet paint. (06/29/2004)
My suggestion is to go to the paint store, where you can get a professional opinion, and ask what should be done. I don't think you can beat a professional opinion! (06/29/2004)
Does it make a difference if you use an oil base or water base Kiltz primer to paint oil, or water base paint over it? Can you use any kind of Kiltz primer to use water base or waster base paint over it? Please help. Thank you, Harry. (01/12/2005)
Just for your info- I painted wood dressers, that had been previously varnished, after sanding them and putting a coat of Kiltz primer on- the varnish still bled through. (05/19/2005)
We bought Bullseye 123 primer at Wal-mart. It is water based and you just clean the varnished surfaces with ammonia and water and make sure you clean them well. Put on the Bullseye Primer and wait about one hour. Then paint. Have had great success. (05/24/2005)
I would think that after you paint it, as long as you put on a sealant it should be all right. The sealants work for wood that is left outside in the rain and snow. Vicki in SC. (07/05/2005)
All of my bedroom furniture was varnished wood but I wanted white! I just cleaned it really good with an ammonia & water solution. Then painted with Wal-Mart white enamel paint. No bleeding, no chipping. That was 5 years ago and it still looks great. (07/06/2005)
I paint over varnish, you may have to do it twice if you use an inexpensive paint. (07/06/2005)
Kilz is usually water and methanol based, which may mobilize softer varnishes, rather than coating them. I've had good luck with TSP, light sandpapering, wipe, and then a good primer layer. Get something for high wear surfaces.
I am putting my house on the market shortly and all the doors to the bedrooms, bathrooms and closet doors look worn. I got a few quotes to replace them and it was much too expensive. How could I paint them so that they look good. I was thinking of either white or off white paint. (04/09/2006)
Behr (can be purchased at any Home Depot) has a primer that works over laminates, glass, and any other slick surface. It's in a purple can. Just apply this, then your paint color. Depending on the surface you are painting, you may want to finish with a few coats of poly (water based poly will not change the color painted, while oil based will change color to look amber-if using a white finish coat). (04/20/2006)
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?
We used TSP mixed in water and applied with rubber gloves and a rag. Rinse it off too before using primer or paint. (12/25/2008)
In my experience, paint can't (and won't) adhere to the banister if the varnish is not "roughed up." (12/28/2008)
I painted all my dark, varnished interior doors (18 of them. I have a 2 bedroom condo), including the interior side of each of the exterior doors. One of the best things I ever did. It sure brightened up my condo. I lightly sanded with an electric sander, then applied 1-2-3 Primer, followed by 2 (maybe 3, can't remember) coats of semi-gloss paint. They have held up very well over 10 years' time. Just a few nicks on a couple of them, which I can easily cover up with paint. Go for it! (01/06/2009)
Can I paint over varnished wood?
By Sandy from Buffalo, NY
Yes, wash the area to be painted to remove old dirt and grime. Then scuff up the surface with fine sandpaper so the paint will be able to adhere to the old surface. Not scuffing the surface can have the new top coat peel off. (01/12/2010)
How do I paint over a varnished and marked table?
By Mellie from UK
There's a product called TSP that is found at Lowe's or Home Depot. Add to water, wear gloves, and scrub and rinse; let dry. This helps to dull the finish and you can then use a primer before painting over. May need to repeat TSP usage before priming. (02/12/2010)
There is a product called "Liquid Sand" found in the paint department that dulls the shine on varnished walls or furniture so paint will adhere to the surface. It should work for the table and/or cupboard doors. Sanding them down and wiping well to remove dust would be another alternative method. Good luck. (02/16/2010)
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.
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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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)
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)