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The Art of Distressing Furniture: Techniques and Ideas for a Shabby Chic Look

Want to achieve the perfect shabby chic look without having to pay extra for distressed furniture? Distressing furniture you already have in your house is a simple and enjoyable DIY that anyone can do!

Keep reading to learn all about how you can distress your furniture with minimal effort and maximal success.

distressing furniture with teal paint

Wet Distressing Furniture

There are a few different ways to go about distressing furniture. The first method is wet distressing, which involves using a damp or wet object to wipe away paint, often while the paint itself is still wet.

Wet distressing can be an excellent solution for distressing furniture if you’re looking for a technique that’s a little more gentle and doesn’t require any power tools to get the job done.

Wet Paper

To successfully distress a piece of furniture using wet paper, take a piece of newspaper, printer paper, or construction paper and tear it into multiple uneven pieces based on how you want the sizes and shapes of your final distressing to appear.

Although the type of paper you use doesn’t matter as much when it comes to distressing furniture with wet paper, the amount of time you get the paper wet does matter.

Specifically, you want your paper to get wet enough that it’ll stick to whatever piece of furniture you’re painting, but you don’t want the paper to be so wet that it starts to disintegrate or break apart.

Once your paper is thoroughly soaked, apply it to the surface of the piece of furniture with the base coat. Now you can paint the furniture with a top coat.

After you’re finished painting, remove the pieces of paper, and you’re good to go!

Baby Wipes

Distressing furniture with the help of baby wipes utilizes moisture similarly to the wet paper technique, just in a slightly different order of events.

To distress a piece of furniture with the help of a baby wipe, first paint the entire piece of furniture with the paint color that you want to be distressed.

wooden drawers distressed in various colors

Let the paint dry just a bit so that it’s not completely wet and shiny anymore but still has much more drying left to do.

When the paint is at this point, all you need to do is take your baby wipe and apply a small amount of pressure to wipe away the wet paint in areas where you want to see some distressing.

Dry Distressing Furniture

Distressing furniture using the dry distressing method works just like it sounds! Dry distressing is basically the opposite of wet distressing and involves a process of allowing the paint to dry completely and then removing some of that paint by exerting pressure with a dry object.

This technique of achieving distressed furniture often requires tools of some sort and is likely to leave some dust behind once you’re finished.

However, it’s a great alternative to wet distressing because it allows you to control the final design of the distressing a bit more.

Steel Wool and Sandpaper

When you think about how to distress furniture, using steel wool and sandpaper is probably what comes to mind! Distressing furniture with the help of these two items is a classic, tried-and-true method that works pretty much every time.

To distress furniture with steel wool and sandpaper, paint the piece of furniture entirely and let it dry completely.

Whatever color is under this coat of paint will appear when you’re done distressing. Keep that in mind when choosing the colors you use to distress furniture.

small white distressed finish dresser

Finally, once the paint is totally dry, go at the piece of furniture with your steel wool first. The steel wool is the more powerful of these two tools, so it’ll determine where exactly you want the distressing to show up.

To increase the distress in these areas, go over it again with your sandpaper for maximum effect.

Remove any lingering dust or paint chips from the distressing process, and your project is finished!

Hammer and Nail

If you want that intensely distressed look for your furniture, a hammer and nail is definitely the solution for distressing furniture for you.

This technique will give you the most thoroughly distressed furniture because of how literally hard-hitting these tools are, which could be good or bad, depending on your style.

First, take your hammer and gently hit any areas you want to distress. This process works especially well on the edges and at the bottom of the furniture.

Next, you can follow up with a nail and use the hammer to gently apply pressure to the nail against the already distressed areas. If you want to use more than one nail at this point, you can also gather a handful of nails into a rag and hit them against the piece of furniture.

One instruction to keep in mind for distressing furniture with this technique is that you need to strike the perfect balance between distressed and damaged.

In other words, you want to ensure you’re applying enough pressure to make the paint come off in the areas you want. But you shouldn’t break or dent the base of the furniture itself.

Using the Resist Method to Distress Furniture

The resist method is slightly more unconventional for distressing furniture than wet or dry, but it produces remarkable results!

Simply put, the resist method involves applying a waxy material between two different coats of paint. The wax allows the top coat of paint to be removed more easily when it’s time to distress your painted furniture.

This is called the resist method because, with the help of the wax, the top coat of paint resists adhering to the piece of furniture, allowing the distressed effect to take place.

Although this technique can get a little sticky, it’s the only one that consistently and successfully produces two-toned distressed furniture, so it’s definitely worth the extra elbow grease.

Candle Wax

The first step to successfully distressing furniture with candle wax is painting your furniture with a base layer of paint. If the piece of furniture you’re working with is already painted a color you like and want to keep, you can skip this first step!

Before you move on to the second layer of paint, take your candle or block of candle wax and rub it over the furniture’s surface wherever you want a distressed feature to appear. Make sure to use a fair amount of force during application so that some of the wax transfers onto the surface of the furniture.

It’s also important to use candle wax that isn’t colored with any pigments. Dye or coloring can rub off onto the furniture, leaving you with unintended splotches.

Shabby chic coffee table with candles on top

Once you’re satisfied with the amount of wax you’ve applied to the furniture, go over the entire piece with the second coat of paint.

Let the second layer of paint dry completely. Once it’s dry, take a dry rag or cloth and rub off the candle wax. This last step will create the distressing you’re looking for!

If you’re not entirely satisfied with the amount or location of the distressing you did the first time, you can easily repeat this process as many times as you want to get the perfect look.


Distressing furniture with the help of Vaseline is pretty much the same process as distressing with candle wax.

All you need to do is apply your first coat of paint, apply the Vaseline wherever you want a two-toned distressed look, and paint your second coat over the entirety of the furniture piece, including over the Vaseline.

While you can wipe the Vaseline off the dried paint, as with candle wax, you may have greater success sanding it off. Try rubbing some sandpaper with a gentle amount of pressure on the Vaseline-covered areas, and it’ll come off as easily as it went on.

The only significant difference between these two resist method techniques is that because Vaseline is generally a thicker substance than candle wax, it may leave more of a residue behind.

If this happens, just be sure to thoroughly wipe down the surface in question after the paint has fully dried so that you don’t have a sticky piece of furniture!

Shabby chic distressed table in a white room

Distressing Furniture Like a Pro

Distressed furniture is a hallmark of the shabby chic aesthetic. Using one of our guide’s unique and easy methods, you’ll have your own DIY, shabby chic distressed furniture in no time!

Hopefully, our round-up of the best ways of distressing furniture has given you some inspiration to go out and try one of these techniques on your own. Want to learn more ways to paint your furniture yourself and revitalize your home? Check out our Painting Furniture page for lots more tips and tricks!