To Prep or Not to Prep? That is the question on everyones lips.

Prep and how to prep is a constant and ongoing argument amongst the painting community. Everyone preps differently, and at some point misconceptions regarding prep and chalk style paints have come to life and continue to haunt to this day. 

Today I am talking about how I prep. This is the methods and techniques I use when it comes to prep. I have used these methods with a huge variety of paints and I swear by them. Although I exclusively use L'essentiel Botanics these days, these basic concepts lay down a solid foundation for any type or brand of paint.

There is one rule I never ever break and you shouldn't either!! 

Clean! Scrub that piece until it sparkles! 

Heres the deal - dirt, grime, remaining cleaning products can all impact on your piece once it's painted. You don't want to go to all the hard work of painting only to have you paint start to flake, chip, scratch off or have old oil and cleaning products bleed through leaving ugly patches. Yes, it happens, Yes it has happened to me and when it does after all your hard work all you want to do is cry and eat chocolate. 

Everyone uses different products when cleaning, find one you love and use it! I have used several products over the years. 

My favourite to date is L'essentiel Botanics Brush & Surface Cleaner, I love that it doesn't leave a soapy residue or require any further steps, it's just easy! Like all of L'essentials products it is also eco-friendly certified, VOC Free and Aussie made and Owned. Either wipe it straight over your piece from the jar with a damp cloth or dilute some into some hot water. 

If you don't have any Brush & Surface Cleaner handy I also recommend

- Vinegar - you can purchase this in bottles from any supermarket, it's a cheap cost-effective cleaning product! Just dilute a little into hot water. 

- Sugar Soap - again you can purchase this from any supermarket or hardware store fairly cheap.  Just dilute a little into hot water.  Sugar soap can leave a residue on your piece so make sure you wipe down again with a clean damp cloth to remove any. 

- Dishwashing detergent - I use dishwashing detergent when my piece is particularly grimy, dishwashing detergents are designed to cut through grease so they are the perfect cleaning option.  Just dilute a little into hot water. Again some detergents may leave a residue so make sure you wipe over your piece with a clean damp cloth. I recommend Aldi's cheap 99c detergent. 

As I said this isn't an exhaustive list of products you could use but they are what I recommend. I don't use any heavy chemicals when cleaning my furniture and I have never needed to.

When cleaning make sure you're pulling out drawers, removing and cleaning hardware ect. You'll be surprised how much dust and grime hide internally as well. If your doors have gruby hinges you can remove them as well and clean.  

To sand or not to sand? 

There are pros & cons for sanding but this is what I do and what I personally recommend. 

I give 75% of my pieces light scuff sand. Scuff sanding is scratching the surface but not breaking through the original finish - I use 80g sandpaper.S sand scratches the surface allowing for your paint to grab onto something. Scuff sanding on the medium-size piece should take no longer then 10 minutes. It's important not to sand any futher then you have to, you don't want to break through that original finish unless you actually need to. That original finish is sealing in the timber and its tannins, breaking through will release these and may cause futher issues. 

The remaining 25% of my pieces either need extra repair work and sanding or they don't need a scruff sand at all.

A little homework for you - take a look at any modern timber piece of furniture and how it is finished. They may or may not be shiny, the majority are all super smooth and sleek even the rustic style pieces. Paint - regardless of type will have trouble sticking to a surface like this. This is why we scruff sand. 

Now take a look at a vintage piece of timber furniture. The majority will be quite rough or at the very least have some texture to them. The finishes are often thinner and keep with the grain of the timber. This texture and roughness will allow your paint to adhere much better than a smooth modern finish. 


If your furniture has a flakey finish then you do need to remove that. A flakey finish is an unstable surface so it is important to remove it as painting over it will result in your paint also flaking off. If your piece has a flakey finish and you think it might have tannin bleed through once the finish is removed you can use All in One Base Blocker & Primer.


What is Tannin Bleed? 

Tannin Bleed is when the oils in the timber migrate out of the timber and through your painted surface. Tannin bleed can show as an orange, yellows, and reds, some times you will see bleed quickly and other times you won't see any bleed until you seal. Not every piece will bleed, and sometimes a piece will surprise you. 


I use L'essentiel Botanics All in One Base Blocker and Primer to stop tannin bleed and prime my pieces. This is a SAFE, eco friendly certified, VOC free option of tannin blocking. It does not contain Shellac (an animal by-product). It is an effective option for tannin blocking and it works! One coat is all you need, to block tannins. 

All in One will also block oil and ink stains, along with smells. 

When deciding whether or not to tannin block you can do one of two things. Do a test patch of your chosen paint and see if there is bleed, or take the gamble and paint your entire piece. If you do paint your entire piece - even if you weren't expecting bleed - you can patch paint and apply All in One anywhere you have a bleed. 


In all of my pieces, I have had 3 pieces bleed. Bleedthrough isn't as common as it may look, but every painter has experienced it at least once. It's part and parcel of furniture painting and isn't something to be scared of...though it is devastating when it happens. 


This isn't an exhaustive list of everything prep related but this is a starting point and key information that you should know when your just starting out. 




1 comment

  • Annie

    Great advice Elise. Thanks!

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