How to refinish a chest of drawers

Updated February 21, 2017

A chest of drawers, or dresser, is a piece of furniture with usually up to five drawers that are used to store clothing. Many people that have chestd of drawers often obtain them from a relative, such as a parent or grandparent. Some chests of drawers require refinishing because of age or a bad paint colour. To refinish a chest of drawers, first get the proper tools for the job.

Check and see what type of stripper is needed for your piece of furniture. Use a cotton swap to first apply a small amount of denatured alcohol and then lacquer thinner to see which one dissolves the finish. If the finish does not dissolve with either, you'll need a liquid paint stripper

Remove the hardware from the chest of drawers. Use a screwdriver to remove the screws that are securing the handles to each drawer.

Strip off the old paint and finish from the chest of drawers. Apply the stripper to the chest of drawers using a paintbrush or spray bottle.

Wait at least 10 to 20 minutes and then scrape the old finish off of the wood using a plastic scraper. Use a piece of steel wool to remove the old finish from corners or carved details.

Sand the surfaces to make them smooth and remove any left over patches of paint. Use a handheld sander with low-grit sandpaper and lightly go over the entire chest of drawers.

Clean off the chest of drawers to remove dust and other material using a vacuum.

Apply the new stain or finish to the chest of drawers with a paintbrush. Remove excess stain with a cloth or rag.

Apply polyurethane to the chest of drawers with a paintbrush to seal and protect the new finish.


The finish on the chest of drawers will begin to bubble after soon after the stripper has been applied Many applications of stripper may be needed to completely remove the old finish from the chest of drawers. Let the chemicals do all of the work to remove the finish. The longer the stain stays on the wood before it is removed the darker the final colour will be.


Always wear proper protection when working with chemical strippers, which includes gloves, safety goggles and a face mask. Scraping too hard to remove the old finish can damage the chest of drawers.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Paint stripper
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Denatured Alcohol
  • Paintbrush
  • Spray bottle
  • Plastic scraper
  • Steel wool
  • Handheld sander
  • Sand paper
  • Vacuum
  • Polyurethane sealer
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About the Author

Cameron Easey has over 15 years customer service experience, with eight of those years in the insurance industry. He has earned various designations from organizations like the Insurance Institute of America and LOMA. Easey earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and history from Western Michigan University.