Cleaning Furniture & Cabinets Before Painting

I think we all scavenge Craigslist for incredible finds and sometimes we find the most gorgeous piece- minus all the crud covering it. Or- it is just a piece that needs to be cleaned prior to painting. And I always recommend cleaning down cabinetry in the kitchen, bath, or laundry room prior to painting. No matter the painting occasion, this is what I do at The Purple Painted Lady:

First clean with Mineral Spirits…THEN…wipe it down with a rag that is moistened with clean fresh water!

Using old towels or t-shirts cut up- I apply a little odorless mineral spirits on it and then wipe down the piece.

The rag should be slightly damp, but not dripping! I like to use “real” Mineral Spirits..meaning not the “green” Mineral Spirits that have that milky white appearance. I personally feel it does not work as well as the original Mineral Spirits.

Take your rag and place it on the opening of the Mineral Spirits. Flip the container a couple of times in different areas of the rag. (Think like how you would put nail polish remover onto a cotton swab or ball)

With a tiny bit of Mineral Spirits on your rag, rub the piece in the direction of the grain of the wood. The mineral spirits on the rag will remove grease or dirt. Again, I always do this prior to painting a cabinet job. In the bath- I wipe off residual toothpaste and in kitchens- the cabinets near the dog’s food dish or garbage can are the dirtiest. Such as life though- and we all live in our homes versus using them as a show room.

After wiping down your piece with Mineral Spirits, give it a bit of time to allow the Mineral Spirits to totally evaporate prior to painting. (If you are doing a few pieces- by the time you finish cleaning the last piece- the first will be ready.)

THEN- finish with a clean water rinse!  

The washing with Mineral Spirits will remove any residual oil or grease from the wood if there is any. Mineral spirits will evaporate from the wood completely without leaving any residue. This is the purpose in waiting some time – up to a day after cleaning with mineral spirits… for the mineral spirits to evaporate.

Some people recommend using TSP to clean your furniture- and that is fine too. I personally- have had many customers have issues with this method since they do not thoroughly rinse the furniture or cabinets with water or denatured alcohol after using TSP. I get emails asking, “what did I do wrong? The paint is peeling.” 9 times out of 10- it is because of this!

So I prefer to just use odorless Mineral Spirits. With that said- DO NOT USE THE “Environmentally Green” brand of Mineral Spirits!

Mineral Spirits are a staple in my painting closet and I always have it on hand. Also- if you make a glaze out of your wax using Mineral Spirits- I recommend staying away from the “Green” Mineral Spirits – which has a milky white look to it.

TSP was commonly used prior to the 1970’s to clean walls prior to painting them. The reason for cleaning with TSP was because it etched the gloss of oil based paint, making it rougher so that the next coat of paint would stick better. If you have an oil based paint on your wood, then I’d clean them with TSP if you intend to repaint that wood. But, there is no point whatever in cleaning bare wood with TSP, or latex painted wood with TSP.

If you do use TSP, then I would also clean the residual TSP off the piece of furniture with a clear water wash or denatured alcohol.

Another option:

Use Denatured alcohol. Create a ratio of 60/40 = alcohol to water. Then as stated above, moisten a rag (not soak it.) Wipe down the piece of furniture or cabinets, and then let dry.


Personally- I stay true to using Mineral Spirits again. It is ideal to clean a surface free of any waxy or oily/greasing substances. But Chalk Paint® in general has great bonding capabilities.

But if you cannot purchase Mineral Spirits where you live, or have personal reasons not to use it~ here are some additional options:

Cleaning with one of the following (they are all biodegradable and grease cutters) … Motsenbocher’s TSP Substitute, Dirtex, or Krud Kutter.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW = is that it is extremely important to rinse away any cleaning material to neutralize the Ph after you have cleaned the furniture. That is because you do not want any residual cleaning product left behind. You also want to furniture to be dry when you start to paint.

Hope this little post was interesting and helpful!