Can You Paint Over Varnish? – The In-Depth Guide

November 26, 2020

Ready to start your painting project? Have a read through this article to find out if you can paint over varnish, as well as some top tips to keep in mind when painting over varnish!

Varnish is a thick, transparent coat that is used to protect and give shine to surfaces. Varnishes are usually made of three components: a resin, a drying oil and a solvent or thinner. Different varnishes are a mixture of the same three components but can have slight variations in them.

Painter and decorators commonly use varnish on wooden surfaces, like those that are part of tables, doors, staircases, and flooring. Now you may want to re-paint your wooden furniture to give it a new look, and the question thus arises - can you paint over varnish?

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Can You Paint Over Varnish?

The quick answer to that question is – yes, you can paint over varnish. That is, given that both the varnish and wood are in good condition. Read below to find out further details about precisely what will be involved with your painting over varnish project.

Fix Damaged Wood First

If you are planning a painting project that involves coating varnish it’s important to take a look at the condition of the varnish and wood first. Does the varnish have damages or cracks? If so, a professional may need to strip the varnish completely before beginning the project.

Next look to the wood. Does the wood have splinters or damages? Has it begun to rot? If any of these issues appear then a carpenter will need to fix this first.

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If you would like to preserve the piece and keep it in its best condition then it is essential to fix the wooden structure of your furniture first. This will provide the painter and decorator with a solid structure and protect your furniture from becoming further damaged in the long run.

Cleaning is a Must

In addition to ensuring that the furniture itself is in top shape, you’ll need to clean it as well. If you don’t have a need to repair your furniture then you may choose to clean it on your own before your painting professional arrives. Don’t have time? Simply let your expert know ahead of time so they can bring the proper cleaning supplies.

No matter whether you DIY the cleaning step or a professional tackles it, cleaning is nonetheless a must. Cleaning your wooden furniture ensures that no dust bunnies or cobwebs are left clinging to the piece, which could get trapped in the paint.

In many cases, some dishwashing liquid mixed with water and lightly used with a soft cloth to remove dust should be sufficient. In other cases, if the furniture is especially stained a professional may choose to use a stronger cleaning agent to ensure your piece is pristine before they begin the painting process.

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Before Painting, Sand First

Paint does not generally stick well to varnish without treating the varnish ahead of time. So to get a smooth professional look if you plan to paint over varnish it will need to be expertly sanded first. This should be done by a furniture refinishing professional.

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It is important that the varnish is sanded well enough to create a surface which the paint will stick to, yet isn’t sanded so firmly that it ruins the furniture itself. So, it is best to let a professional take care of this job.

Or, De-Gloss it

If you have a large surface to work with, your professional may choose to use a de-glosser instead of sanding. Then again, depending on the project it may need a combination of both!

A de-glosser is essentially a chemical that will remove the finishing. Similar to paint, you can apply de-glosser with a paint-brush. After painting the de-glosser on then leave it to set for the allotted period of time. After the de-glosser has set for the right amount of time, then a professional will wipe your piece clean so they can then apply the paint.

Prime The Surface

Once the surface has been prepped then your professional will next prime the surface. Similar to de-glosser and paint, the primer will be applied to the surface with a paint brush. This ensures a smooth application in all areas of the piece, even around corners.

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Priming is a critical step as it will help to ensure that the paint sticks completely and evenly to the surface. Keep in mind that after your painter has applied the primer that they will need to let it dry before they begin painting, so be sure to account for this when considering the length of the project.

Now, You Can Paint Over Varnish

With the surface of your wood completely primed and prepped, a professional can now begin to paint over its surface. You can choose from a wide variety of options for your paint colours. If you aren’t sure which option to choose, look to the rest of your decor for inspiration. To create a cohesive look, match your paint to the colour of your other furniture. Alternatively, for something a bit bolder opt for a bright colour to really make your piece stand out!


Overall in response to your question – can you paint over varnish, the answer is yes! It’s simply important that when you do, you approach it in the right way. By following the steps above, your professional will be able to smoothly paint over varnish to create an ideal piece for your home.

Ready to hire a painter and decorator and get your project underway? Simply submit a free request and get bids from local painter and decorators in your area! 

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