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How to Distress Furniture

Updated on February 3, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Knowing how to distress furniture can be a great way to decorate your home for very little money. It is eco friendly because you can use the technique to update furniture that might otherwise be thrown away, and best of all it looks great if you like a cottage, casual, country, or rustic look. You can buy furniture in catalogs and local boutiques that has been distressed but the cost can be quite high. It is a simple thing to custom paint your own furniture to get the look you want at a much more affordable price.

When you know what to look for, and how to create the distressed look you want you can easily fill your home with beautiful custom pieces. You can make designer gifts for your family and friends and you may even consider selling your creations for a little extra money. It just takes a little knowledge, some creativity, and some practice.


Finding Furniture to Distress

The easiest way to find furniture to paint and distress is to check your local Salvation Army, Goodwill, or other thrift store. These stores are usually a treasure trove of inexpensive wood furniture. Remember, you are planning to paint over the existing finish so you don’t need to worry about discolorations, chipped paint, or a finish you really hate. What you are looking for is simply good design and a sturdy frame.

Tips for Choosing Furniture to Distress

  • Check the joints and make sure that they are tight.
  • Look underneath the piece to double check for weaknesses
  • Furniture with carved areas works extremely well with this technique
  • For your first piece or two keep it simple.

Choosing the Color for Painted Furniture

Choosing color may be one of the most difficult aspects of distressing the furniture. White or cream is classic and soothing but you may want to try a brighter color for some pop. Depending on the type of décor you have and the colors in your room consider any of the following colors:

  • Yellow
  • White
  • Cream
  • Robins Egg Blue
  • Pink
  • Red
  • Green
  • Black

Once you have decided on a main color you will still need to choose a color or two for the undercoat color. The process of distressing will allow the undercoat to show through the topcoat of paint in some areas. Again this depends a lot on the look that you want.

Supplies Needed for Distressing Painted Furniture

Once you have your furniture and colors chosen you just need to collect a few items and you will be ready to go.

  • Screwdriver
  • Rag and gentle household cleaner
  • Paint brush
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Steel wool
  • Scraper
  • Chain
  • Chisel
  • Flat paint in at least two colors
  • Paste Wax

How to Distress Furniture Easily

  1. Take off any loose paint of extra dirt with a light sanding.
  2. Wash the piece and allow it to dry thoroughly
  3. Paint the undercoat and allow it to cry completely
  4. If you are using a second undercoat color paint it and allow it to dry completely
  5. Paint the top coat over all and allow it to dry until it is set but still tacky
  6. Using the sandpaper, steel wool, or scraper begin to remove a layer of the topcoat in areas that would naturally wear like the edges and corners, raised carvings, and around knobs and pulls. Don’t make the distressing even, it needs to be random.
  7. You can use the chain to hit the furniture piece to cause dents and chips.
  8. Sand over carved areas lightly.
  9. Allow that to dry completely and then use the paste wax to seal the whole thing.
  10. Allow the paste wax to dry for two hours and then buff it off.

A New Hobby

Your new distressed furniture is ready to be used and enjoyed. Knowing how to distress furniture may turn into a fun hobby or a side business that allows you to be creative and make a little extra money as well. As you get better at it you can take on bigger projects and experiment with different methods, materials, and techniques.

Whether you want to live in a cottage or a farmhouse having one eye-catching piece of furniture can make a huge impact on your decorating scheme.


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    • dagny roth profile image

      dagny roth 

      6 years ago from Neverland

      I love distressed furniture. I visited a few high end furniture stores in NYC last year and couldn't believe the amount of money people paid for that old, falling apart look. It's a huge trend. Nice hub! Voted up.

    • pinkyvette profile image


      6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      wow! this is great! thanks!

    • profile image

      Pat Gale Vancouver, Washington 

      6 years ago

      I just refinished an old chest using your distress furniture instructions. The finished product looks like a Pottery Barn chest. Love, love the results. I did not use chains to make dents but rubbed off the top coat in areas that would show natural wear.

      I used a medium brown base coat and only (1) thinned-down top coat in a robbin egg blue. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Excellent article with many useful tips on distressing. Will be trying this out this weekend on some kitchen chairs. Thanks

    • ournote2self profile image


      7 years ago

      I've always wanted to try this but was too afraid I'd mess it up. Thanks for the tips!

    • dusy7969 profile image


      7 years ago from San Diego, California

      Nice hub.I agree, fun furniture like this is great for a kid's room or guest room.It is a great way to let out some pent up aggression too.The ideas given here to distress furniture seems to be good.So thanks a lot for this sharing.

    • mysisters profile image


      7 years ago

      Great Hub. Very useful and informative. I love the look of distressed furniture.

    • werebear profile image


      7 years ago from UK

      Distressed and shabby chic furniture is very popular in the uk furniture market right now.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The ideas given here to distress furniture seems to be good and I am going to try this for sure.

    • angelaglancy profile image


      8 years ago from Seattle

      Great article on distressed furniture. Quite handy when decorating a room in the shabby chic style. Nice hub.

    • profile image

      Tracy Monroy 

      8 years ago

      What a cool article. I have to say its almost just like a niche for distressing jeans. I love the vintage furniture look. Thanks Marye!

    • profile image

      What's News 

      8 years ago

      Distressed furniture is nice. I have a couple of pieces of my own.

    • Jennifer Bennett profile image

      Jennifer Bennett 

      8 years ago

      I always want to own distressed furniture but hate to spend much on it, now I can do it on my own. Thanks!

    • lovelypaper profile image

      Renee S 

      8 years ago from Virginia

      This is so cool. I love the distressed look. Very nice.

    • RosWebbART profile image

      Ros Webb 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Great hub I love the distressed look ; great hub.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I love the robin's egg colored drawer you've included. What were the colors you used?

    • hossamreffat profile image


      8 years ago

      I like distressed furniture .thanks,Great Hub..keep writing

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      I seem to forget about the local thrift stores when looking for things. I've gotten some good pieces there in the past. As you said, the piece needs to be investigated for issues. I had a relative that always bought us things from the thrift store and never checked it. When it fell apart or broke, she always blamed us. When we bought it, it lasted.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      So glad I read this. I love distressed furniture and have an old wooden toy box that's big enough to be a coffee table that I want to distress. Only I didn't know how. Thanks!

    • dusanotes profile image


      8 years ago from Windermere, FL

      Hi Mary. I've got to bookmark this for a future day when I will want to stress my pieces. Thanks for the information.

      Don White

    • Jeanne Grunert profile image

      Jeanne Grunert 

      8 years ago from Virginia

      Great Hub, Mayre! My furniture is distressed enough thanks to it being just plain OLD lol!

    • Katrina Ariel profile image

      Katrina Ariel 

      8 years ago from The Highlands of British Columbia, Canada

      Finding ways to re-use furniture is wonderful. Rather than a throw away society, I love finding people who are creative in ways like this. Great hub.

    • kartika damon profile image

      kartika damon 

      8 years ago from Fairfield, Iowa

      I love distressed furniture - old is definitely a plus when it comes to furniture!

    • Green Lotus profile image


      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Hi there and Happy New Year. Great advice and so easy to follow. I agree, fun furniture like this is great for a kid's room or guest room. What a great way to let out some pent up aggression too :)

    • Lily Rose profile image

      Lily Rose 

      8 years ago from A Coast

      Very well written and explained. This is something I've always wanted to do but with 2 little ones I barely have any free time....maybe someday! I do love the look and the way you explain it it sounds pretty easy to do.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Very useful advice and very well laid out hub. Thank you for being my fan


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