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Painting Over Varnish Without Sanding

Category Painting
It is often recommend that you sand any surface thoroughly prior to painting it. Painting over varnish without sanding is not a best practice but it can be done.


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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, 20101 found this helpful
Best Answer

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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October 14, 2011

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, 20110 found this helpful
Best Answer

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 sandpaper that works very well. It is sold anywhere where they sell paint.

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ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

July 31, 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 a wood table top or cabinet surfaces and then rinse off; allow to dry. 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 I only needed to coat a couple of times with paint.

By Myrna


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.

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!

By Angie

Crackle Effect

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.

By Deeli

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June 6, 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.


By dee


Strip, Sand, Prime, and Paint

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.

By LizO

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