How to paint a dresser

Well-meaning experiments taught do-it-yourselfer Jessica Belteau how to paint a dresser and how not to do it. His most memorable misadventure? Trying to cover an IKEA dresser in white laminate without sanding the surface first. “The paint was rolling off, it wasn’t sticking at all,” she says of the nearly sloppy job. Luckily, she was able to recuperate her efforts by rolling back and missing the finish. To save you similar close calls, we talked to Belteau about all things dresser painting, including mistakes to avoid, then tried it ourselves to create a comprehensive step-by-step guide.

Tackle your next DIY paint job with these Domino-approved paints:

Are all dressers worth painting?

It’s a matter of personal opinion, but Belteau considers that no chest of drawers can be painted. The main factor to consider is the finish, she says. (Is it raw wood, varnish, or something else entirely?) Some, like laminate, are more difficult to paint than others; adjusting the technique (use fewer or more layers or go a little heavier on the priming) is key.

Common Dresser Painting Mistakes You Can Totally Avoid

Do not allow diapers to dry out completely

This blunder comes just after Belteau’s attempt to paint without sanding. Skipping a drying period could result in a tacky, tacky paint job (which you and your dresser deserve). Belteau recommends waiting at least 24 hours after priming before applying your paint color, and then another six to 12 hours between coats.

forget to prime

Primer gives you a smooth, even finish, creates a nice base for paint to adhere to, and minimizes brush marks, says Belteau.

Using a matte or gloss paint finish

Eggshell is Belteau’s finish of choice as it gives a velvety finish that is easier to clean, compared to a more textured matte option, which has a rougher feel. You can simply wipe the dust directly on the surface with a cloth or use Windex to remove stubborn stains. With a high gloss finish, you’ll be able to spot dirt and nicks all too easily, and it’s very prone to chipping (meaning more frequent touch-ups).

How to paint a dresser


paint tray paintbrushes green paint, painter's tape, screwdriver, sanding brushes

Step 1: Remove non-permanent material

using a screwdriver to remove the hardware from the wooden dresser drawer

After clearing a work space and laying down a drop cloth, pull out all the dresser drawers. Use a screwdriver to carefully loosen and detach the screws, knobs and handles. Keep materials organized by type (they’ll be easier to track that way) and set them aside in clear bags or containers until you’re ready to reattach them.

Step 2: Sand the Dresser

sanding a wooden dresser surface

Use the 220 grit sponge to lightly scuff the surface of the dresser and drawers (feel free to use a rougher sandpaper on more damaged areas). Apply even pressure, moving with the grain, and be sure to get over every spot (don’t forget the drawer edges!). Avoid scrubbing too hard, however, advises Belteau, or the primer won’t have anything to adhere to. When you’re done, wipe off the wood dust with the microfiber cloth.

Step 3: tape the drawers, then it’s rush hour

using a brush to apply primer to a wooden dresser frame

add primer to a wooden dresser with a roller

Line the edges of the drawer with painter’s tape to protect the sides from accidental stains. Then coat the drawer frames and all the little nooks and crannies with your upholstery brush. Then cover larger areas with the short nap roller. Allow a minimum of 24 hours for the primer to dry, although Belteau says it could take longer depending on humidity or sunlight that day.

Step 4: Add the first coat of paint and let dry

paint a wooden dresser with drawer frames green

paint chest of drawers green

Once the primer is dry, apply the paint all over the dresser, using the short nap roller for the first coat (quick and easy coverage) and the paintbrush on the drawers (to get in all those tight spaces). Give the first coat at least six hours to dry, suggests Belteau.

Step 5: Sand off any dried paint drips

Sand dried paint stains on a green chest of drawers

Belteau’s primer of choice saves him another round of sanding, but if that’s not the case for you, go ahead and sand off any clumps of paint (you can use a finer sand sponge here to get through on smaller spots) that may have formed until smooth. Wipe off the dust with the cloth.

Step 6: Comb…and dry a bit more

paint a wooden dresser green

Apply an extra coat (or two, if you prefer), going over any places you may have missed or gone a little too light in your paint application, like the corners. (FYI: Our styling team liked the texture the regular paintbrush gave to the final coat.) Coats extend the job, help bring out the paint’s true color, and ensure an even finish, explains Belteau. Just be sure to allow plenty of drying time between coats.

Step 7: paint the hardware (optional)

dresser paint material green

Here’s a handy tip from our Style Team: When painting wood hardware, keep the screw in place for easy handling. Use the trim brush to apply two coats to each piece and set them aside to dry for four to six hours in between (hang in there, you’re almost done).

Step 8: Reattach Hardware

chest of drawers in green painted wood

Use the screwdriver to install all handles and knobs, as well as any other nails or screws you previously removed. Over time, you’ll need to give your dresser a minor touch-up or two. Refitting those nails can also chip the finish, Belteau points out. Meanwhile, her paint job is still holding up a year later. “I wonder if using an electric sander with fine sandpaper would have been faster than sanding by hand,” she admits. “But when I followed those exact steps, it was a game-changer.”

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