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

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

Benefits of Distressing Chalk Paint

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

Here are other benefits:

  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 – It will change the whole appearance of your space and furniture.
  3. Easy To Distress – Chalk paint is easy to distress because it has a matte and milky finish that is easy to sand.

Before Wax vs After Wax

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 gives you more control. The wax will prevent the sandpaper from wearing through the finish quickly. Also, it doesn’t cause a dust build-up.

If you distress before waxing, the sandpaper will produce a lot of dust. However, you can do it at any time. But, if you wax the finish, you must wait until the wax dries and become hard before sanding it.

For unwaxed chalk paint, you can wet or dry sand the furniture. 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.

Method 1: Dry Sand

Dry Sand Chalk Paint

Using a sanding block, brush, steel wool, or sandpaper, wear the finish off the edges of the furniture. The rustic finish must look natural; this makes the vintage look better and real.

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 it, use a solvent or warm soapy water.
  2. Apply WaxAnnie Sloan recommends applying wax before distressing the chalk paint. Wax will give the surface extra protection and reduce dust build-up.
  3. Distress Furniture – To distress, rub the sandpaper against random stress areas of the furniture. Use ultrafine-grit sandpaper to sand it. To create a perfect vintage 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 it. Once in a while, clean the surface using a rag to see the distressed spots look.
  5. Clean the Furniture – After you are done, 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

Wet Sand Furniture

Wet distressing is similar to dry distressing. The only difference between these two methods 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 finish 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 finish off random surface 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.

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

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 finish 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 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 To Use:

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

Milk Paint

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

This paint is good for distressing because it 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 because their texture is not glossy but not matte, either. It 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 them. They are water-based and have many pigments in their formula. This gives the perfect color contrast when distressed. Also, they 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 them.

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, these finishes aren’t durable, so you must seal them with dark wax.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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