Share on ThriftyFunThis guide contains the following solutions. Have something to add? Please share your solution!
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.
Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.
What is the least intensive way to paint over varnish?
By Randi from Williamsburg, KY
My sister bought a really nice house but for some reason the kitchen cupboards are made of plywood. In an attempt to make them look good, they've been varnished too many times-and each coat is THICK. She wants me to help paint them-I think they should be stripped first, she doesn't. Does anyone have any experience with painting over varnish? What kind of paint did you use? If you stripped it, did you put on a sealer and then paint?
Also, there is one cabinet that is laminated-how does one paint over that? Please help!!
Elisabeth from Milwaukee
TSP bought at Lowe's or Home Depot should be used first. Just mix specified amount in water and scrub surface. Do this a few more times to make sure it's gone over well. Make sure you rinse it off well and follow the directions using rubber gloves. When dry, apply Kilz primer which comes in a few choices. You will need to apply extra coats before you can paint. This will cover up the wood nicely. We used this process on old panel walls before painting over it and had no bleed through.
You do not have to strip the cabinets BUT, you do need to sand them well and as Lorelei said, use TSP to clean them. You could also use a liquid sander. Then I would use the best primer there is which is made by Zinser. (not sure if I spelled that right) but any home store has it and will know what you mean. Then paint it after all that is dried.
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.
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.
What is TSP? I live in Europe and might be able to get it if I know the full chemical name.
Zinsser cover stain is an oil base primer sealer and "bond" coat and is my go to product for all questionable substrates on interior painting also as a rule can not paint latex over oil thats where the zinsser comes in as it is oil base and an exellent base coat for latex even though it breaks the rule (latex over oil) it is made for that
Tri sodium phosphate
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?
Why not ask the pros at your local paint store. They deal with these questions all the time.
Thanks for the most obvious fox. But I would rather take advice from others who have done it first hand than go to my paint store and end up with products that will end up being as much as trim after it's all said and done, and FYI: I don't post on here very much but when I do, this is what you will see. I'm asking for friendly hands on advice. What do you use it for?
I guess I would rather ask pros than get advice from people that probably were using a trial and error method, and got a finish that they liked, but you might not like. From what I have seen on some of the home decorating shows on TV you either have to sand or use a primer.
Just because you ask for advice at a paint store doesn't mean you have to buy the recommended products. Just say you have to consult your significant other and thank them for the advice. Then you can go purchase similar items at a discount store.
All in all you will have to buy some products, if you sand, you will need to buy the paint, if you use a primer, you have to buy the primer and paint. With sanding you have to buy the sanding equipment(paper and some kind of block to put it on, to make the sanding easier). Sanding is harder and more time consuming than using primer.
If you don't want to ask anyone, just go look at a can of Kilz and see what it says about sanding and priming. From what I remember you don't have to do either, but I haven't used it in a few years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have the same problem. I'm using Annie Sloan Chalk paint on wood and the varnish is bleeding through.
Steps to paint over kitchen cabinets after varnish is stripped and sanded
Can I use Valspar high hiding primer on slightly sanded, varnished stair spindles before I paint?
Can I use water based varnish on previously petroleum based varnished floors? The drying time is the main factor in this regard.
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
Have you tried contact primer which according to SW does not need sanding and sticks to any smooth surface?
What is the best way to paint over varnished doors and doorways that are very dark?
By Shir from Sydney, Australia
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 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?
ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)