5 Ways to Distress Painted Furniture

The best part of painting furniture, in my opinion, is that final touch of distressing that gives all the character and charm to a project. How you go about distressing your furniture depends on the finished look you want to achieve. Here’s a quick run down on five ways to distress your projects:


This is probably the most widely used method of distressing. You have a lot of control and can distress even small details. I generally prefer using a sheet of medium grit sandpaper, but for larger projects or when I want more distressing I use an electric detail sander. Using sandpaper to distress will strip the old finish from your project as well, leaving bare wood to show through. Be sure to seal with wax after distressing to protect your work. If you want layers of colors to show through, use a fine grit sandpaper and work gently.

Wire Brush

This method requires quite a bit of elbow grease but gives a totally different finish than sandpaper. I use a small brush with medium stiffness (under $1 at Harbor Freight). A wire brush works best with chippy milk paints or when you want a less refined distressing job since it just sort of roughs up your paint.

Paint Scraper

This method is great for large areas and for textured finishes. Focusing on areas that would naturally receive a lot of wear and tear, rub your small paint scraper until paint starts to chip. Chip away as much or as little as you want, depending on how aged you want a piece to look.


Wet Distressing

This method removes some of the paint while still wet. It’s gentle on the furniture and fairly controlled. It creates a very clean, ordered distressed look. When your paint is tacky rub the areas you want distressed with a clean, lint-free cloth. You can use a little wax on a brush for a slightly more “naturally” distressed look. I don’t use this method for dramatic distressing, but you certainly could!


Yes, you read that right. Vaseline can be used to distress painted furniture. Apply a thin layer of Vaseline to the areas you want the existing finish to show through. Paint as normal then wipe at the Vaseline areas with a lint-free cloth until the paint rubs away. I used this method once and it isn’t my favorite. I find the Vaseline to be a little messy and I prefer to distress after the paint is on so I have a better idea of the finished look.



One thought on “5 Ways to Distress Painted Furniture

  1. I love the distressed look and have a high-back kitchen chair that was given to me when I stopped to buy something at a moving-out sale.

    The chair needs to be reinforced, repainted and distressed. I have nowhere to put it, but couldn’t resist bringing it home. Maybe one day

    I’ll roll up my sleeves and give it the care it needs.


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