The allure of waxed furniture lies in its timeless appeal, often adding a rustic, vintage touch to our more traditional living spaces.
However, there comes a time when change beckons and painting waxed furniture might seem daunting and I know the question on the forefront of your mind will be How to remove wax from furniture before painting. But fear not! In this blog, I will demystify the process and arm you with the furniture restorer’s insider know-how so that you can give your waxed furniture a refreshing makeover with ease.
As I go into the detail of how to remove furniture wax before painting, I’ll use a particular piece, as pictured at the top of the page, to illustrate the process. This was a commission and my brief was to paint it in a colour called Chateau by Fusion Mineral Paint: quite a fitting colour really as this beautiful antique pine dresser had originated from France. It was a piece my clients had owned and loved for many years and they certainly didn’t want to part with it. It had quite the history as fashions changed, going from rustic pine to white gloss to dipped, stripped and waxed, but now it was to be given a modern painted finish to match their sleek new kitchen.
Why Removing Wax is Essential Before Painting
Paint and wax are like oil and water: they don't mix well. That's why it's crucial to remove any wax from furniture before you paint it. The presence of wax creates a non-absorbent layer that acts as a resist and makes it difficult for the paint to adhere properly.
Skipping this step may lead to an uneven painted surface, the paint is likely to chip or peel, and stains will bleed through to the paint from accumulated dirt, wax and tannins in the wood.
All of these elements will result in a frustrating and unsatisfactory outcome after you have gone to all that hard work, effort and expense of painting it. Failing to remove the wax before painting is a false economy on your time and your pocket!
The Don'ts of Wax Removal: What to Avoid
Before we delve into how to tackle this task, let's clear up some misconceptions. You might think that sanding the furniture would help remove the wax, but this is a no-go.
Sanding can heat and soften the wax, causing it to soak into the wood and therefore making it even more difficult to remove. You’ll find it time-consuming, frustrating, and likely to achieve little more than having endless pieces of sandpaper clogged up with melted wax particles.
The Right Tools for the Job
Having the right tools can make all the difference. To effectively remove wax from furniture, you'll need the following:
- Methylated spirits (meths): the main cleaning agent
- Medium to coarse-grade wire wool: useful for agitating and scrubbing the wax
- Carbide scraper and sharp blades (optional): to remove excess wax from the surfaces and for getting into awkward corners
- Lint-free cloth: for wiping away the liquified wax and leftover residue; an old cotton bedsheet or a cotton T-shirt would be perfect
- Old bowl or similar container: to catch excess meths as you apply it to the wire wool so none is wasted
- Dust sheets or drop cloths: to protect your floor and surrounding areas (if working inside)
- Rubber gloves: to protect your skin
- Goggles: safety first, for your eyes
- Well-ventilated working space: a must for safe working conditions; working outside is preferable
How to Remove Furniture Wax Before Painting: The Step-by-Step Guide
Now that we've got the essentials out of the way, let's move on to the step-by-step guide.
Position the furniture in a well-ventilated area. Make sure to put on your rubber gloves and goggles for protection. If the furniture piece is large, consider doing this process in sections for better manageability.
Before you apply any liquid solutions, use a scraper to gently remove any excess wax from the surface of the furniture and small blades for reaching into corners and crevices where wax may have accumulated.
Work on one small area at a time. About a square foot works well. Too big, and you’ll not keep up with the methylated spirits from evaporating.
Preparing the wire wool
Once you've scraped away the excess wax, pour the methylated spirits onto your wire wool, making sure you have a bowl underneath to catch the excess liquid and to save it from being wasted.
Application of methylated spirits
When applying the methylated spirits, always work with the grain of the wood. This ensures that you maintain the wood's natural texture and aids in lifting the wax more efficiently from the wood’s natural patina.
After you've worked on the area with the meths and wire wool, use a lint-free cloth to quickly wipe off the remaining residue. Methylated spirits evaporate rather quickly, so it's important to act fast, otherwise you will end up with a sludgy mess on the surface of your wood.
Top Tip. Have your wire wool soaked with the methylated spirits in one hand and your cloth ready to wipe away the waxy residue in your other hand.
Repeat the process until you are confident all the wax has been removed.
Top tip. Sand a small area if you have any concerns that wax is still present. If you still see deposits of wax on the sandpaper, then you know to continue to work with the meths and wire wool.
Why Methylated Spirits Over White Spirits?
When it comes to removing wax, methylated spirits are the preferred choice. They cut through the wax much more quickly making them far more effective. White Spirits can often leave a greasy residue behind, especially the less-refined versions.
Preparing the Furniture for Paint
Once the wax is removed, the furniture should be prepared for painting. This step involves cleaning, sanding, sorting out any repair work, filling any cracks or holes and, optionally, priming.
Clean the furniture thoroughly using a degreasing cleaner such as Fusion TSP to remove any residual wax and dirt. Afterwards, you will need to let the piece dry thoroughly.
Sand the furniture using medium-grit sandpaper. This will key the surface and help the paint adhere better.
Clean again to remove any dust. A damp cloth will help to lift dust out of the wood grain. Again, you must then ensure that your furniture has dried completely to avoid moisture being trapped under the paint layer, as this will cause poor adhesion and may result in milky water marks appearing in dark colours.
Use a Shellac-based Stain-blocking Primer on Pine Furniture
If you're dealing with pine furniture, a wood known for its knots, tannins, and resinous nature, you'll need an extra step in the preparation process. Painting over pine, especially with light colours, can result in stains bleeding through. You often see evidence of this on pine skirting boards, doors and architraves.
This can be prevented by using a shellac-based stain-blocking primer like Zinsser Bin to achieve an even finish.
If you want a professional, durable painted finish to your furniture, you have to make sure that you start with a properly prepared surface.
As intimidating as it may seem, painting over previously waxed furniture is not as hard as you think. With these detailed steps, you're now equipped to give your beloved furniture a makeover.
So, roll up your sleeves, and let's breathe new life into your waxed furniture.
Feel free to describe your experiences or ask questions below. Or share before and after photos to social media (tag me with #godfreysear): I'd love to see your painted creations!