How to Paint Over Oil Based Paint

Paint is a great way to update old furniture, but what do you do if the piece you want to paint is already coated in oil-based paint? Here’s how to paint over oil based paint.

Get more Painting Furniture Tips and Ideas here!

blue dresser before the makeover

Our neighbor gave us this old dresser that she said is from WW2, complete with a secret tin container that was screwed into the top of the dresser to hide things.

Of course, I snatched it up, even though I don’t love the style of it. Haha

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Supplies for Painting Over Oil Based Paint

How to Paint Over Oil Based Paint

  1. Prep For Paint
  2. Sand Before Painting Furniture
  3. Prime
  4. Paint with Water Based Paint

Not too complicated, right?

Let’s go into a little more detail about each step and what actually went down in each step for this dresser makeover.

Prep for Paint

Every furniture makeover starts with prepping furniture for paint.

And that’s exactly what we did for this dresser makeover.

Remove Hardware

My husband removed the old knobs.

removing knobs from the drawer

Most of them were easy to remove, but a couple of them took some extra elbow grease and tools before he could get them off.


Then he cleaned it with some Krud Kutter and a damp rag to get rid of the dust, and any grime on the surface and he even vacuumed inside of the dresser.

spraying krud kutter to clean furniture before painting

Learn how to clean furniture before painting.

Wood Fill

There were a few chips in the paint, so he filled those in with plastic wood filler and let that dry.

applying plastic wood filler to wood chips

Get all the tips and tricks for repairing old furniture here.

Sand Before Painting Furniture

The paint had A LOT of brush marks in it, so sanded all of the brush marks out….

And it took him a few hours to get it all sanded smooth. 

He used 100 grit sandpaper to do the bulk of the sanding, and then he went over everything with 150 and then 220 grit sandpaper to smooth it all out.

Learn more about sandpaper for furniture painting here.

sanding furniture to prepare for painting

It felt sooooooo smooth after all of that sanding and if you ask me, it was totally worth it. He might tell you a different story though! haha

Learn more about the importance of sanding before painting furniture here.

Wood Fill

After sanding everything down, he was able to see a lot more scratches and dings that needed to be filled in.

So he did another round of wood filler and let it dry overnight.

Learn more about the best wood filler for furniture here.

Sand Wood Filler

The next morning, bright and early, he sanded the wood filler down by hand so he wouldn’t wake up everyone.

Vacuum and Tack Cloth

And then he vacuumed up the dust and wiped everything down with a tack cloth.

vacuuming furniture to get rid of dust


One of the most important steps for painting over oil based paint is to prime it with the right primer before you paint.

A good primer will

  • Create a really good base for the water based paint to stick to the old oil based paint.
  • Since it was tinted a brownish grey, it helped create a solid deep base for our paint to go over. Which made it so we didn’t have to use as much paint to get full coverage. Because the color of the paint we used didn’t have very good coverage.

Read through this post for more information on the best bonding primers.

Prime with BIN Shellac Based Primer

So, I mixed up the primer and put it into a paint tray.

I rolled the grey tinted BIN shellac-based primer onto the dresser with my favorite Mohair roller and a Zibra paint brush.

applying grey tinted bin shellac-based primer with roller


We let the primer dry for about an hour, and then I could see some spots on the bottom drawer that needed filled in more, so I filled those in with regular wood filler.

How to Spray Paint Furniture Without Making a Mess

And then, I taped off the drawers with some plastic so I could spray the dresser and not get paint inside the drawers.

Learn out best tips for preventing overspray when painting furniture here.

Fixing a Broken Drawer Track

And this is when I noticed that a drawer track was broken.

So Taylor found a scrap piece of wood that we could use, we cut a notch into it with our Dremel Multi-tool, and glued and nailed it in place to replace the part that had broken off.

nailing piece of wood to fix drawer track

Sand The Primer

And then I sanded the dresser with 220 grit sandpaper and a sanding sponge. I didn’t use the electric sander here because I didn’t want to sand through the primer as much as possible.

Spot Prime

But, there were some areas that I went through the primer when I sanded, so I spot primed those sections while I waited for the wood filler to completely dry.

applying grey tinted bin shellac-based primer with brush

Sand Again

About an hour after that, I was able to sand the wood filler and primer down smooth again, and clean all of the dust off.

Paint with Water-Based Paint

Once there is a layer of primer, you can paint!

BIN shellac-based primer works well with any paint, so you can use water-based or oil-based paint.

If you use a different primer, read the back of the can for instructions and to see what paint it works with.

Melange ONE Paint

We went bold again on this dresser, another color I’ve never used or really even had a desire to use until recently!

We used this Melange ONE paint in a rusty orange-redish color called Santeria Red.

stirring melange one paint with a stick

I poured it into my Wagner paint sprayer and added some water… maybe 15% to thin out the paint so it would spray smoother.


I tested out the spray on some cardboard. I set my power setting to 4 and dialed back the fluid setting so less paint would come out.

And then I sprayed it all over the dresser.

This color has terrible coverage. But I wasn’t too surprised by that because warm colors typically need more coats of paint…

spraying melange one paint on furniture

But it sure made me nervous because I only had a pint of paint for this whole dresser.

I’m so glad I used the tinted primer first!

This paint has a 2-4 hour recoat time, so I was able to get all of the painting done in a day, no topcoat required, and it has a little more sheen than a matte finish, so I didn’t feel the need to topcoat it.

It ended up taking 2 and a half coats of paint… and I had a few ounces of paint leftover when it was all done.

Then we left it to dry the rest of the weekend.

More Makeovers with Melange ONE paint:

Learn more about the Best All-in-One Paints for Furniture here.

Finishing Touches

After the paint was dry, I added a lock to the top drawer. It was actually pretty easy to install.

Then I added new hardware and some full peel and stick wallpaper inside of the drawer.

applying peel and stick wallpaper inside of the drawer

Check out this comparison post on the best ways to fill hardware holes.

Watch the full video of this makeover below…or scroll down for the after photos and additional tips on how to paint over oil based paint!


And here’s what it looks like now!

after photo of a dresser painted with a rusty reddish-orange color
showing inside of the drawer
after photo of a dresser painted with a rusty reddish-orange color on another angle

Man oh MAN, I love this piece now. Seriously, before I painted it, I hated its style of it. But the rusty red goes so well with this style, and I LOVE the drawer liners.

I really didn’t think I was going to like it very much haha so I’m glad it turned out better than I thought it would. Haha

What do you think of the new look? Would you paint your furniture rusty red!? Let me know in the comments!!

Can you paint over oil-based paint without sanding?

Yes, but you’ll get better results if you at least scuff sand before painting your oil based furniture.

How to paint over oil based paint without sanding?

If you use a really good BONDING primer, like we used, you can probably get away with not sanding.

But if you’re spending all of the time and money to paint your furniture, why not do it right so it will last a long time?

What kind of primer should I use over oil-based paint?

A shellac based or oil based primer is the best to use over oil-based paint.

These primers have the best adhesion, especially to glossy and slick surfaces like oil based paint.

BIN shellac based primer is my favorite option because it dries quickly, and I can sand it smooth an hour after application.

Oil based primer takes longer to dry and gums up the sandpaper if you try to sand it too soon.

Both primers have strong fumes.

Here are the best primers for painting furniture.

Can you paint directly over oil-based paint?

You can, but you won’t get great results.

Most likely, your paint will easily peel or scratch if you paint directly over oil-based paint without sanding or priming beforehand.

Instead, take a little extra time to prep the old oil based paint properly so that your new paint will stick properly.

What paint can I use over oil-based paint?

You can use any type of paint over oil based paint, as long as you use the right primer in between the oil-based paint and your new paint.

With a shellac primer like BIN shellac based primer, that works with any paint, your possibilities are endless.

Here is our list of the best paint for furniture.

How to tell if paint is oil-based?

Put some rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip or an old rag.

Rub the paint.

If paint comes off, onto the Q-tip or rag, then it’s waterbased paint.

If no paint comes off, then it’s oil-based paint.

Love bold colors? Here are more makeovers:

Follow us on YouTube to get more tips for painting furniture.

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oild based painted dresser before makeover

One Comment

  1. Linda Van Asveld says:

    I am not a fan of warm colors, BUT even though I am not sold on the rust personally, it does fit the style of the dresser. It looks like a brand new piece. You both did beautiful work on that dresser!

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