How To Distress Furniture With Chalk Paint? (2 Methods)

A distressed chalk paint finish is perfect for old fittings and outdoor furniture, especially if you want a perfect antique look. So, how to distress furniture with chalk paint?

To distress furniture with chalk paint, scuff the chalk paint using ultrafine-grit sandpaper or 0000-grade steel wool. This is known as dry distressing. Scuffing the chalk paint will wear and fade the chalk paint creating a rusting appearance on furniture. 

You can also wet distress chalk paint using water and a sponge. Optionally, you can seal the distressed chalk paint finish, but sealing will blur the distressing finish. 

Benefits of Distressing Chalk Paint

Distressing will hide imperfections, cracks, and holes in your furniture. A distressed finish makes the furniture look old, so no one notices imperfections. A distressed finish is a perfect disguise for old furniture.

Here are other reasons homeowners distress their furniture with chalk paint:

  1. To Increase The Resale Value – Vintage (distressed) furniture are sold for high prices because of their appearance and old feel. So, distress your furniture before you sell it to increase their value.
  2. To Give The Furniture A Different Look – Distressing will change the whole appearance of your space and furniture.
  3. Chalk Paint Is Easy To Distress – Chalk paint is easy to distress, so it’s a top choice when distressing. When dry, chalk paint has a matte and milky finish that is easy to sand and distress. 

Distressing Before Wax vs After Wax

You can distress furniture without sanding. You can use a sponge, brush, steel wool, or scrubbing pad instead of sandpaper.

Here’s a chart that shows the pros and cons of distressing furniture before or after waxing:

Distressing Before Wax:Distressing After Wax:
Less dust build-up.Less dust.
It’s easier to wear through the paint to the wood.Wax will prevent the sandpaper to wear (damage) the wood.
It's easier. It's harder.
You can wet-distress.You can't wet-distress.
Can be done anytimeYou must distress before the wax becomes hard.
The distressed finish won't be even. Some parts will be more textured than others. The finish will be even and consistent.

As you can see, distressing furniture after waxing the chalk paint gives you more control. The wax will prevent the sandpaper from wearing through the paint quickly. Also, distressing wax doesn’t cause a dust build-up. 

If you distress furniture before waxing, the sandpaper will produce a lot of dust. However, you can distress chalk paint before waxing at any time. But, if you apply wax over chalk paint, you must wait until the wax dries and become hard before distressing it. 

For unwaxed chalk paint, you can wet or dry sand the furniture to distress it. However, if the wax is applied, you can only dry sand. Overall, distressing after waxing is better and less dusty. 

How To Distress Furniture With Chalk Paint?

You can distress your furniture with any color. However, neutral colors like white, ash, black, and grey often give the best rustic appearance. Other colors that highlight a distressed finish include brown and blue.

To distress furniture, you can dry or wet sand the chalk paint. Here’s how to do it:

Method 1: Dry Sand Chalk Paint

Dry Sand Chalk Paint

The most common way to distress furniture is to dry-sand/dry-distress. Using a sanding block, brush, steel wool, or sandpaper, wear the chalk paint off the edges of the furniture. You must distress furniture to look natural; this makes the vintage look better.

For this method, you’ll need these supplies:

  • Ultrafine-grit sandpaper
  • Wax
  • Paintbrushes
  • Rags
  • A pair of gloves
  • A facemask

Here is a step-by-step guide for this method:

  1. Clean Furniture – First, clean the furniture from dust, stains, or grime. To clean furniture, use a solvent or warm soapy water. 
  2. Apply WaxAnnie Sloan recommends applying wax before distressing the chalk paint. Wax will give furniture extra protection and reduce dust build-up. 
  3. Distress Furniture – To distress chalk paint furniture, rub the sandpaper against random stress areas of the furniture. Use ultrafine-grit sandpaper to sand furniture. To create a perfect distressed finish, the furniture must naturally look like it got old. Stress areas are spots that take the most impact, such as table legs, door handles, etc.
  4. Inspect The Furniture – You must let some wood show on the stress areas of the furniture. It’s better to return to a spot and distress it than apply chalk paint, wait for it to dry, and then distress. Once in a while, clean the surface using a rag to see the distressed spots look.
  5. Clean the Furniture – After you distress the furniture, use a lint-free cloth to clean it and apply polish, wax, or a topcoat if needed. 

Tip: While distressing, use safety goggles. 

Method 2: Wet Sand Furniture

Wet Sand Furniture

Wet distressing is similar to dry distressing. The only difference between wet and dry distressing is that wet distressing uses water, and the chalk paint must be unwaxed.

To wet distress, use waterproof sandpaper (or sponge) to gradually wash the chalk paint off on random areas of the furniture. Once the furniture dries, it will have a distressed (antique) finish. 

For this method, you’ll need these:

  • A bowl/bucket of water
  • A soft sponge or waterproof sandpaper
  • A pair of gloves
  • Dry rags

Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Clean the furniture. 
  2. Dip a sponge or sandpaper in a bowl of water and squeeze. The sponge must be damp, not wet. 
  3. Use the dampened sandpaper (or sponge) to wash the chalk paint off random furniture parts.
  4. Wipe some off the water while sanding. Wet-distressing can be messy. 
  5. Keep sanding and wiping till you are satisfied.
  6. Wipe down the furniture and leave it to dry.
  7. Seal with wax if required.

The best sealer to use after distressing chalk paint is dark wax. That’s because it matches the rustic appearance of the distressed chalk paint. 

Alternative To Sanding

You can distress furniture without sanding. You can use a sponge, brush, steel wool, or scrubbing pad instead of sandpaper.

These items will wear off the chalk paint until you get a perfect antique finish. However, rubbing into the wood furniture with these items is more likely than using sandpaper. 

Sanding is recommended for distressing furniture because the ultrafine-grit sandpaper won’t wear off the finish of the wood. The ultrafine-grit sandpaper has small fine abrasives, so it’s difficult to wear through the paint to the wood. In comparison, a scrubbing pad or sponge can wear off the paint and wood.

Alternative Paints For Distressing Furniture:

The best paint for distressing furniture is chalk paint, but it’s not the only option. Here are some other paints you can use to distress furniture:

Milk Paint

You can use milk paint to distress furniture. Milk paint is gotten from limes and paint pigments. To apply milk paint, mix paint with water and stir to form the paint and then apply it. 

Milk paint is good for distressing because the paint is easy to sand, and the presence of lime (on its formula) gives the finish a perfect vintage look. Also, chalk paint and milk paint are similar. 

Eggshell Paint

Eggshell paints are also good for distressing furniture. The texture is not glossy but not matte, either. Eggshell paint gives a flat texture making it easy to sand. It also dries quickly and sticks to furniture well.

Latex/Acrylic Paints

You can use latex or acrylic paint to distress a finish. But, it’s harder to distress latex paint than to distress chalk paint. Latex and acrylic paints are water-based and have many paint pigments in their formula. This gives the perfect color contrast when distressed. Also, latex and acrylic paints are easy to sand.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t distress oil-based paint because they are glossy and hard when dry. As such, it’s hard to get a good distressed finish using oil-based paint. 

Final Words

You can distress chalk paint furniture by using sandpaper, steel wool, or a sponge. There are two ways to distress furniture; wet-distressing and dry distressing. 

A distressed finish gives the furniture an antique (or old) look and increases its value. However, distressed finishes aren’t durable, so you must seal them with dark wax. 

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