How to Clean Painted Furniture the Safe and Simple Way

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Painted furniture has surged in popularity over the past decade, with many DIYers using paint as a budget-friendly way to refresh their bedroom sets or kitchen tables. With proper prep and technique, painting furniture is a great way to update a tired piece with a more trendy and also durable finish. 

But like any other surface in a hardworking home, dirt, hand oils, or other stains can build up on your painted surfaces over time and they can start to look dirty. You may be wondering if you can give your pieces of painted furniture a good cleaning without damaging the finish . . . the answer is yes, you can!

Follow along with me below as I share my cleaning method for painted furniture, one I’ve used over and over again with good results. 

how to clean painted furniture

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Why You Need to Clean Your Painted Furniture

About a year ago I painted my bedroom dresser as part of a master bedroom makeover.  We had finally decided to switch from a queen to a king-size bed (why it took us so long, I have no idea!) so we purchased a new king bed frame.

To save money, I decided to keep my existing dresser and paint it a light neutral color to help it coordinate with our lighter wood bed.

white dresser in a bedroom

I used Fusion Mineral Paint for my dresser, which is my favorite type of paint for furniture makeover projects. Fusion is an acrylic paint that produces a lovely matte finish.

Because it’s acrylic, it doesn’t require any extra top coat to seal the paint (but you can use one if you like–a bit more on that later).  On its own Fusion is wipeable and even washable, if you use the right kind of mild soap.

Over the last year, the paint on my dresser has held up great–no chips or scratches at all.

But I did notice that on the edges of the cabinet doors and drawer tops, some spots just looked a little grimy.

Over time, the oils in my hand have rubbed off on those parts of the dresser that I frequently touch.

smudges from hand oils on a painted dresser

It’s hard to see in the photo, I know 🙂 But take my word for it! 

I’ve also been a bit lazy and sometimes use my shoe to push the bottom drawers back in, so a faint shoe print was also on on drawer front.

dirt on a dresser drawer front

On painted furniture pieces in your own home, you may notice the same types of things. It doesn’t take much time for oily spots to build up near cabinet handles or maybe a bit of coffee splashes out of your morning cup onto your nightstand–life just happens and furniture gets a bit dirty.

So it’s a good idea to clean off your heavily used furniture from time to time, to keep that painted finish looking nice and smudge-free. 

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How to Clean Painted Furniture

For mild cleanings like the hand oils and small stains on my dresser, there are just a few simple steps to clean your painted furniture pieces. 

supplies to clean painted furniture

The process is pretty easy and requires just the following:

  • Warm water
  • Dawn dish soap
  • Lint-free cloth to wet
  • A second dry cloth

To clean the oily smudges and footprints off my dresser, I filled a small plastic container with warm water, then added just a few drops of Dawn dish soap.

You only need this small amount of soap, a little Dawn goes a long way!

supplies for cleaning painted furniture

I wet my cloth in the soapy water and then rung it out so it was not sopping or dripping with water.

I took the damp cloth and gently rubbed the front of my drawers and cabinets, paying special attention to the areas where there was oily build-up or visible dirt. 

cleaning off a drawer front

It’s important not to rub too hard or use too much water.

Too much water or pressure could cause your paint to reactivate and you may wipe some of it off! So all it takes is a slightly damp cloth and light pressure.

After the area has been wiped clean, then take a dry rag and wipe off all the excess water to help dry off the paint.

how to clean painted furniture

You may notice a slight discoloration on the painted surface that was wet, it should dry out over the next few minutes and return to its normal color.

That was it! The pained finish on my dresser is back now to looking nice and crisp, just like the first day it was painted.

dirt on painted furniture

dirt on painted furniture

dirt on painted furniture

Frequently Asked Questions about Cleaning Painted Furniture

This is the best method I’ve found for cleaning your painted furniture pieces that have oil buildup or dirt. Dawn dish soap is very mild and should not damage the paint, as long as you are careful to not use too much water as you rub and wipe.

If you’re concerned at all though about your painted finish, for sure test this method first on a small area that is not visible or less noticeable.

Can this be used on furniture painted with chalk paint?

Chalk paint is not the same type of paint as Fusion Mineral Paint. It does not seal itself and generally requires a top coat of wax or hard poly product to seal the finish.

If you have a piece painted in chalk paint that has not been sealed, you can use this method however you should use as little water as possible.  Typically any wetness or water applied to chalk paint that has not been sealed with cause the paint to reactivate and wipe off.

If you have a chalk-painted piece that has been sealed with furniture wax, you can use this method as well and the furniture wax will help keep the water from reactivating the paint.  I would apply another light coat of clear wax to any area you clean to finish off your refresh.

What about sticky spots or deeper cleaning on my painted furniture?

You can try the mild Dawn for your sticky spots or tough stains first, as it may be enough to clean it. If it is not though, wiping those stubborn spots with mineral spirits will help remove any sticky residue or major grease buildup.  Then clean the area again with the Dawn/warm water mixture to remove the mineral spirits.

What products should I avoid using to clean my painted furniture?

Harsh chemicals or wood polishes should not be used on your painted furniture pieces. These products contain chemicals that will break down the finish of your paint, resulting in discoloration, chipping, or dullness in the finish.

Specific products to avoid include vinegar, bleach, Windex, cleaners with ammonia, Old English, and Pledge (or other furniture polish).

What can I do to make my painted furniture easier to clean?

The best way to keep your painted furniture clean and looking nice is to treat it gently.  Avoid setting dirty objects on your painted surfaces and wipe them down frequently with a dry microfiber cloth. Regular dusting of painted furniture with a clean cloth goes a long way in keeping dirt and grime from building up.

Furniture that has everyday use should have hardware installed on the drawers and cabinet doors. The less you can touch the actual painted surface the better, as over time your hand oils will build up on the surface leaving smudgy spots.  Use handles and knobs instead of grabbing drawer fronts and cabinet corners.

For painted areas that get a lot of wear and tear (think kitchen table tops or desktops), adding a high gloss finish after your final coat of furniture paint will help make the surface easier to clean.

A glossy finish is the best thing for high traffic or extra messy areas, as it can easily be wiped down and tends to show fewer dirt and grime spots. This is why wall trim and interior doors are often painted in a higher gloss finish–glossy means easy to clean 🙂

Final Thoughts on Cleaning Painted Furniture

white painted furniture

I do love using paint to refresh old wood furniture and think it’s a great, budget-friendly way to update furniture that you no longer love. Once the paint is dry though, it’s important to keep your hard work looking good. 

Life is lived on and around our furniture, so it will naturally need to be cleaned from time to time.

I hope I’ve been able to give you an easy way to keep your painted furniture looking good for years to come.  

Follow the steps above and avoid any harsh chemicals, and you can keep those painted pieces looking as fresh as the first day they were painted.

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