How to Dull a Glossy Finish

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Sometimes as homeowners, handypersons, or do-it-yourselfers we need to learn a few tips and tricks in order to help us achieve our decoration goals. One of the easiest things to do is to learn how to dull a glossy finish. You’ll need to know this if you ever plan on painting trim, baseboard, doors, or cabinets.

Why Get Rid of the Glossy Finish?

When refinishing woodwork or that kitchen table that you found at the yard sale, this skill will come quite in handy. Stains, paints, and primers don’t typically like to stick to a glossy finish and as such don’t adhere properly when applied.

There are a few different ways that you can go about making that gloss finish dull and all of them require just a little patience. Don’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up and get dirty on this one, there’s nothing that could go wrong that would prevent you from starting over.

There are a few methods available to help dull that finish. Some are mechanical, others chemically, but any route you go will put you on the path of success.

Before attempting to remove the finish make sure that the piece you’re working with is secure and stable. Otherwise, injuries can occur. Below are three options that will help you along the way!

Mechanical (Electric)

One of the quickest ways to prep your wood project for paint, stain, or primer is by using an electric sander. Not all sanders are the same, so you need to make sure that you pick the proper one. For most projects, we look at using 2 or 3 different types of sanders depending on the level of detail required per piece.

Orbit Sander

An orbital sander rotates in a circular fashion, while moving the pad with the grain of the piece simultaneously. These work great for larger projects like doors and furniture, but will start to lose their effectiveness unless properly braced and supported.

If the piece is too small, it can get caught inside the orbit of the sander and break. Splinters aren’t good for woodworking.

Square Pad Sander

A square pad sander will give you nice directional control and also allow you to control the pressure of the sanding. Depending on the grit of the sandpaper being used, it’s very possible to damage the woodwork. A square pad sander will do amazing wonders and work best on smaller pieces.

Additionally, you can use a square pad sander to run along large edges of the piece in order to blend in the work that was performed by the orbital sander.

An Oscillating MultiTool with Sander Pad

This type of sander has a little triangle-shaped pad that’s great for reaching the corners of pieces both large and small. Although more flexible than an orbital or square sander, the Multitool does take its toll on your hands. This is best used for very thin pieces or to get in crevices and corners of the project.

Mechanical (Physical)

All you need for this step is some sandpaper, a sanding block, and some good old fashioned elbow grease. This is the most physical of all of the methods but one that’s guaranteed not to cause issues with the piece.

What Type of Sandpaper Do I Need?

Most gloss finishes are an oil-based varnish that goes on wet and protects the wood from scratches and dents once hardened. For any project, no matter large or small, we recommend starting with an 80 grit wet or dry sandpaper. After a few strokes over the entire piece, move up to a 120 grit to smooth out any imperfections.

For most applications, 120 grit is the smallest we need to go, but if you’re working on tabletops, doors, or anything that receives a large portion of traffic, you may want to go even smaller and end with a 180. At this level of grit, it’s recommended to use a wet sand technique as it will be sure to cover all the imperfections!

Another option for the 80 grit sandpaper is an 80 grit drywall sanding block. The sponge will fit the contours of the piece and get the job done in no time. The sanding sponge can be used dry or wet.

The last technique that we’ll talk about for dulling a gloss finish is the use of chemicals designed to remove a gloss finish. One of them is called deglosser and can be found at any respectable local hardware store. Liquid sandpaper will also help transform a gloss finish into a dull finish.

Once the piece has been scuffed, the next step is to clean the piece and get it ready for use. Maybe you’re just going to leave it dull, in that case, we recommend using mineral spirits on a rag to even out any scuff marks.

After the mineral spirits have done their job, all you need to do is clean the piece. We recommend that you use a solution of 91% isopropyl alcohol to clean all the oils and debris that might be left on the surface. This will evaporate in the air and will pose no harm to the finish.

What If My Piece Is Metal?

The first step in dulling a gloss finish on metal is to thoroughly clean the piece that you’ll be working on. First, get a small bucket full of as-hot-as-you-can-stand water and add some blue dishwashing liquid.

The dishwashing liquid is an amazing grease remover and, when used properly, will rid your piece of anything that will cause imperfections. After cleaning, allow it to dry. If you’re in a hurry you can use the isopropyl alcohol to dry any remaining water that’s left on your piece.

Next, you’ll want to use one of the mechanical methods to sand the finish off of the piece. If it’s too overwhelming you can always have the piece sandblasted and that will dull the gloss finish!


We hope that this article has helped you learn how to dull a glossy finish! There’s nothing better than taking something that someone once thought was trash and turning it into something beautiful. Now, go get to work!