How to restore an old dresser

Updated February 21, 2017

Don't waste money on purchasing a brand new dresser when restoring your old one is a much simpler and more cost-effective solution. Over time, old dressers will start to show some wear and tear with everyday use. People sometimes make the mistake of throwing out old dressers, thinking they are past their prime. With a little bit of time and work, anyone can turn an old, drab dresser into a beautiful piece of furniture.

Cover the floor of a well-ventilated work area with layers of newspaper or a dust sheet. Wear a thick pair of gloves and a set of safety goggles. Get another person to help carry the old dresser out to the work area. Pull out all dresser drawers and lay on the newspaper or dust sheet. Unscrew and remove all the hardware on the old dresser with a screwdriver.

Use a paintbrush to apply a thick coat of semi-paste chemical stripper, found at many hardware and home improvement stores. This thick paste stripper works well on the vertical surfaces of old dressers, since it reduces the chance of the stripper running. Refer to the semi-paste chemical stripper instructions, located on the back or inside the package. Let the stripper sit on the dresser surface for a few minutes--regularly check to see if the finish is coming off after every two to three minutes. Remove the chemical stripper with a putty knife to scrape the wood finish off. Scrape the putty knife in the direction of the wood grain, not against the grain. Repeat this same process with the dresser drawers.

Wipe off the excess chemical stripper paste with a cloth rag dampened with water. Pour a little lacquer thinner onto a cloth rag to remove any waxy haze left by the paste stripper. Repeat this process on the dresser, section by section, including all drawers.

Apply a layer of oxalic acid---found at hardware stores---over the entire surface of the old dresser and drawers, according to label directions. Oxalic acid works to remove water stains or discolouration marks on the wood surface. If the old dresser does not have these stains or marks, skip this step.

Sand the dresser and drawer surfaces with 100-grit sandpaper over the entire surface. Switch to 150-grit sandpaper for the final sanding of the dresser. Wipe off sanding dust with a lint-free or tack cloth.

Use a paintbrush to apply a layer of wood stain in your desired colour, making sure to brush it into the detail crevices. Apply the stain on the dresser one section and drawer at a time in the direction of the wood grain. Use a cloth rag to wipe the stain off after it has soaked into the wood--in two to three minutes. Drying time will depend on brand and manufacturer's suggestions, but usually is within 24 hours.

Select a polyurethane finish to apply to the dresser. Use a paintbrush to apply at least two coats---allowing one coat to dry before proceeding with the other---of the polyurethane finish. Allow the finish to completely dry.

Screw the dresser hardware back on after the finish coats have dried, and bring the newly restored dresser back inside.


For areas of the old dresser with wood finish not coming off with the chemical stripper, use a steel wool pad to gently remove the remaining finish.

Things You'll Need

  • Newspaper or dust sheet
  • Gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Screwdriver
  • Paintbrush
  • Cloth rags
  • Semi-paste chemical stripper
  • Putty knife
  • Lacquer finish
  • Oxalic acid
  • 100- and 150-grit sandpaper
  • Lint-free or tack cloth
  • Wood stain
  • Polyurethane finish
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About the Author

Rachel Turner has been writing professionally since 2000, focusing on gardening and home improvement topics. Her articles have appeared online at SlowTravel and in publications such as the "Arkansas Gardeners," "One Step Ahead" and "Writers Now." Turner holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Arkansas State University.