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How to Distress Furniture

Distressing is a simple process that makes newer furniture look antique by manually adding wear and tear. You can distress wood, laminate, or metal easily by yourself to make your furniture unique. While the project does require paint with a chalky finish and sealing wax, you can finish the rest with tools and supplies around your own home. Once you’re finished distressing your furniture, you’ll have a brand new piece that looks like it’s been passed down for generations!


EditDistressing Wood and Laminate

  1. Use chalky paint for your furniture. Chalky paint has a matte finish, goes on with minimal prep work, and is easier to scrape off while you’re distressing your furniture. Choose a paint color that matches the aesthetic in the rest of your room.[1]
    Distress Furniture Step 1 Version 2.jpg
    • Chalky paint is not the same as chalkboard paint. Chalkboard paint is meant to be written on with chalk after it dries, while chalky paint just has an ultra-matte finish.
    • You can buy chalky paint from any painting supply store.
  2. Add dings and dents to the furniture surface for an extra-distressed look. Adding marks to a table surface or furniture legs can make it seem older than what it actually is. Lightly tap your furniture with the end of a chisel or hammer to make indents in the surface. Make the marks random so it doesn’t look like an intentional pattern.[2]
    Distress Furniture Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • Wear safety glasses in case any wood accidentally breaks off your furniture.
    • Experiment with different tools around your house to see what kind of marks they make.
  3. Sand the furniture if it has a finish on it. Use 120-grit sandpaper to roughen the surfaces on your piece of furniture. This helps the paint adhere better so it’s less likely to peel off or chip. Make sure to sand any surface you plan on painting so you get a nice even coat.[3]
    Distress Furniture Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • You do not need to sand unfinished wood furniture.
  4. Wipe the furniture with a damp cloth before painting. Wet a cleaning cloth with warm water and wring it out until it’s damp. Wipe all of the surfaces you plan on painting to get rid of any dust or dirt that’s on them. Use another cloth to dry any areas that are wet before you start.[4]
    Distress Furniture Step 4 Version 2.jpg
  5. Apply a coat of paint and let it dry. Dip the ends of the bristles in your paint so there’s only a small amount on your paintbrush. Start from the top of your piece of furniture and work toward the bottom. Apply a thin layer of paint on the surface so it can dry fast and even. When you’re finished with the first coat, leave it to dry overnight.[5]
    Distress Furniture Step 5 Version 2.jpg
    • It’s okay if you still see the wood or laminate underneath your first coat of paint. This can help add to the distressed look of the final piece.
  6. Paint a second coat onto your furniture and leave it to cure for 3-4 days. Once the first coat of paint has dried completely, put another coat of paint on your piece. Again, work from the top of the furniture down toward the bottom, and paint until it has a smooth matte finish. When you’re done, let it dry for 3-4 days so the paint has time to adhere to the furniture.[6]
    Distress Furniture Step 6 Version 2.jpg
  7. Sand edges and common places of wear and tear with 120-grit sandpaper. Corners and edges are usually the first parts that wear away over time, so start by distressing them. Use 120-grit sandpaper to rub the dry paint off of the surface to expose the wood or laminate underneath. Apply light pressure so you don’t accidentally remove more than you want.[7]
    Distress Furniture Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • Add more distress marks where your furniture touches the floor so it looks like it’s been scratched up after moving around a lot.
    • Wipe any dust away with a damp rag so you can easily see where you’ve already distressed the furniture.
    • If you accidentally rub off too much of the paint, you may paint over the area again and start over.
  8. Seal the wood and paint with finishing wax. Wax acts as a sealant to help protect your furniture from any damage. Dip the end of a cheesecloth in the wax and spread it across the surface of your furniture. Work the wax into the surface in a circular motion until it’s smooth. Continue waxing the entire piece of furniture so it’s sealed.[8]
    Distress Furniture Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • Furniture wax can be bought from your local hardware or paint supply stores.
    • Wax may take up to 30 days to completely cure, but you can use the furniture after one week.

EditAging Metal Furniture

  1. Wipe any dust and dirt off with a cleaning cloth. Get the end of a cleaning cloth damp with warm water and use it to clean off your metal. Make sure to clean off all of the surfaces that you’re painting so the paint can adhere well to them. Dry off any spots that are still wet.[9]
    Distress Furniture Step 9 Version 2.jpg
    • Avoid sanding your metal since it will leave noticeable scratches.
  2. Paint 1 coat of chalky paint onto your furniture and let it dry. Buy a container of chalky paint and soft-bristled paintbrush from your local paint supply store. Dip the end of your brush into the paint and apply a thin layer to your metal furniture. Work from the top of the piece down toward the bottom until it’s entirely covered in paint. Leave the paint to dry overnight so it has a chance to cure.[10]
    Distress Furniture Step 10 Version 2.jpg
    • Make sure not to use chalkboard paint instead of chalky paint. Chalky paint has a matte finish and is usually used for distressing, while chalkboard paint is meant to be written on once it’s dry.
    • It’s okay if the first coat doesn’t cover the metal evenly since it will make your piece look more distressed.
  3. Apply a second coat of paint and let it cure for 3-4 days. Once the first layer is completely dry, put on another coat of paint until your furniture has even color. Once all of the exposed metal is covered with paint, let it dry for 3-4 days so the paint has time to settle.[11]
    Distress Furniture Step 11 Version 2.jpg
    • Don’t try to distress the metal while it’s curing because the more paint may peel off of the metal than you want.
  4. Wipe areas with a damp cloth to distress them. Get the corner of a cleaning cloth wet and rub any areas where you want to expose the metal underneath the paint. Work around edges and corners since they’re areas where distress naturally happens first. Apply light pressure to lift up the paint.[12]
    Distress Furniture Step 12 Version 2.jpg
    • If you accidentally remove to much paint, pat the area dry and cover the spot with another coat.
  5. Seal the paint with finishing wax to protect it. Dip the end of a cheesecloth in the finishing wax and pick up a small amount from the container. Rub the wax onto the paint in circular or back and forth motions until it’s clear. Coat the entire piece of furniture so it’s protected and won’t get easily damaged.[13]
    Distress Furniture Step 13 Version 2.jpg
    • If your furniture feels waxy, keep buffing it out with a cloth until it doesn’t.


  • Wear safety glasses if you try to add your own wear and tear to your furniture.

EditThings You’ll Need

EditDistressing Wood and Laminate

  • Chisel or hammer
  • Safety glasses
  • Chalky paint
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Bristle paintbrush
  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • Finishing wax
  • Cheesecloth

EditAging Metal Furniture

  • Cleaning cloth
  • Bristle paintbrush
  • Chalky paint
  • Cheesecloth
  • Finishing wax

EditSources and Citations

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from How to of the Day