7 Best Materials to Clean Furniture with Before Painting

It is extremely important to clean furniture before you paint it. Although you might not realize it, oils from your hands and grease in the air that settles on your furniture can lead to a build-up of grime on wood surfaces.

Whether it’s noticeable or not, any dirt, grease, or grime on your furniture can prevent paint from adhering effectively to wood surfaces. After all, filth essentially acts as a barrier between the wood and the paint. Once the paint has dried, it can be rubbed off relatively easily. Any hair or lint might even be noticeable under a thin layer of paint.

The question is what to clean furniture with before painting.

In this post, you will discover 7 of the best materials to clean furniture before painting.

White distilled vinegar

White vinegar is a powerful cleaner and disinfectant. Made from acetic acid, vinegar can dissolve dirt and grease. Because it doesn’t contain a coloring agent, you don’t need to worry about the solution staining your furniture.

Possibly the best part about vinegar is it’s a natural solution. Although vinegar has the same acidity as many household multipurpose cleaners, it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals that can be damaging to wood surfaces.

To clean furniture with white vinegar before painting, pour three tablespoons of vinegar and a cup of water into a bowl. Mix the solution a bit with a spoon. Soak a cloth in the solution, and wring it out slightly to get rid of excess solution and wipe down the wood.

To avoid making your furniture smell like vinegar, add a drop of scented dish soap.

Related: How to Clean Old Wood Furniture Naturally

Simple Green

Simple Green is an environmentally friendly, yet extremely powerful all-purpose cleaner. This biodegradable cleaning solution is praised by environmental safety enthusiasts. While it’s commonly used to clean floors, stove tops, counters, sinks, and toilets, it’s also a fantastic solution for cleaning furniture.

To apply simple green to furniture you can fill a pale with equal parts simple green and warm water. Soak a cloth in the solution and wipe down your furniture. Periodically wring out the cloth to release the dirt and grime that has been picked up before soaking it again in the solution for reapplication. 

You can find Simple Green in most hardware stores or here on Amazon

Denatured alcohol

For a heavy-duty cleaning solution, denatured alcohol is recommended. Not only can it remove grease and grime, but it’s also strong enough to remove finishes from wood.

If you have a layer of finish on your furniture, it’s best to remove the finish before painting. Paint doesn’t adhere well to finished wood and if you paint over finished wood, the paint is likely to peel off once it dries.

It’s best practice to sand down the wood, however, if you aren’t interested in sanding, denatured alcohol is a great alternative for removing the finish.

You can use a paintbrush to apply the denatured alcohol to the furniture. From there you can use steel wood to lightly scrub the solution into the finsih. The shine on the furniture will come off like magic.

Note that denatured alcohol is a relatively harsh solution and you should only work in a space with good ventilation. Always wear rubber gloves when working with the substance.


Degreaser is a common cleaning solution for the kitchen. As the name implies, it is powerful for removing stuck-on oil and grease from countertops and stovetops.

It’s also a great solution for cleaning furniture before painting. The buildup of oils from your hands and grease that has settled into wood furniture is no match for a degreaser.

Degreaser typically comes in a spray bottle. To apply the solution, spray a bit of the solution into a cloth and wipe down the furniture in its entirety. Reapply the solution to the cloth as needed.

Dish soap

Dish soap is one of the most popular solutions for cleaning furniture before painting. The best part is that practically every household has a bottle of dish soap.

Dish soap can be used to clean grease and grime off of wood furniture practically the same way that it is used to clean dishes. Fill a pale with warm water and apply a streak of dish soap. A little goes a long way. Mix the solution thoroughly and soak a sponge in the solution. Squeeze out the sponge to get rid of excess liquid and wipe down the furniture completely.

Periodically squeeze out the sponge to release any dirt, resoak the sponge in the solution, and apply again.

Mineral spirits

Similar to denatured alcohol, mineral spirits are a great way to remove the finish from wood as well as any dirt and grime that has built up over the years. Mineral spirits is a petroleum distillate that is used for prepping furniture before painting and cleaning metal as well. It can also be used as a paint thinner.

Before applying mineral spirits, be sure to locate your furniture in an area of good ventilation and wear rubber gloves as well. Dampen a lint-free cloth with the substance and wipe down the furniture. Reapply mineral spirits to the cloth as needed.


Aside from drinking, vodka has many practical uses. Given the anti-bacterial properties of alcohol, vodka can be a powerful cleaner for wood furniture. 

To use vodka as a furniture cleaner, pour a bit into a washcloth to dampen it. Wipe the vodka-soaked washcloth on the furniture. Alternatively, you can fill a spray bottle with vodka and mist the furniture before wiping it with a washcloth to cover more surface area.

Final words

Cleaning your furniture before painting is extremely important. However, keep in mind that cleaning with a solution such as Simple Green or vinegar is just one of the necessary steps for prepping your furniture.

Once you have cleaned your furniture, it is important to sand the furniture as well. Sanding your furniture will create a texture in your wood that paint or primer can adhere to.







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