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Dealing with Bleed Through


When I bought this piece, I thought I might have some trouble with the stain bleeding through.   Unfortunately, I was right.

The piece looked like this…

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 …I sanded it to give the surface some tooth…

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…painted it in MMSMP Trophy

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…which is supposed to look like the color shown above – a tarnished silver sort of color.  I left it to dry, came back and it was gray-ish purple.  Not exactly what I had in mind.

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If you’ve painted even a little bit of vintage furniture, I’m sure you’ve come across it.  You paint the piece, go make some dinner, come back an hour later and the color is not what you painted it.  It’s turned more red or pink or yellow or orange.  That is known not-so-affectionately as “the dreaded bleed through.”   (This quirk that sometimes rears it’s ugly head when painting pre-finished pieces can happen with any type of paint, by the way.)

This is the place where people freak out.  It looks ugly.  You’ve just “ruined” Aunt Maude’s bedroom set and your husband is shaking his head for treating wood that way.  It seems easier to take it to the thrift store than finish it.  Don’t lose heart at this stage.  You haven’t ruined anything.  If you have bleed through, there is a remedy!  The remedy is to seal it, so the stain can’t penetrate the paint.

There are a lot of products you can use to do this…a sealing primer, polyurethane, shellac, etc.  I have never tried wax before, so I thought I would try it to see how it worked.


I rubbed it on in a very thin layer, massaging it into the pores of the paint.  I think most of the issues people have with waxes involve applying too much.  Wax shouldn’t be smeary, gloppy, sticky or smudgy.  If it is, you most likely applied too much.

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I then applied a second coat of paint and you can see how much better it looks…

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Don’t freak out at the uneven appearance.  It’s still not done!

  Now, I don’t think I would use wax if I was dealing with red stain bleeding through white paint.  That calls for one of the other products I mentioned above.  Since I’m working with a darker color, the wax provided just enough of a seal to keep the stain from seeping through to the second layer.

Now that I’ve dealt with the bleeding, it’s time to bring this piece to life.  The vertical trim pieces on some of the drawers bug me, so next I’ll show how I made those work for me.


Speaking of waxes, we’re going to be coming out with some new wax, paint and oil brushes in just a few weeks.  This is a peek at one of them…

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Lastly, I found a new home for the wood French cane chair I bought at an antique mall a couple of weeks ago…

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I needed something to stand out against the white dresser, pale blue walls and the soon-to-be cream drapes in the family room.   This chair was the perfect solution.  So, I’ll sell another one and keep this one instead.

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I still need to deal with the saggy seat and a reader gave me some good tips on getting that tight, so I’ll give it a try and let you know how it works.

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  1. Just beautiful!

  2. Lynne says:

    How do I get a chippy look where I see the wood underneath the milk paint, when my piece is bleeding? Is clear shellac conducive to chipping? I could use zinnser stain block, but that’s white and then one won’t see the wood. I want to use my favorite linen MMS. Pointers?

  3. Kristy says:

    Thank you for sharing!! I came searching for help and I found your site!! I have just painted my MIL 100 year old Queen Anne chair….terrible meltdown because the stain keeps bleeding through but easy fix now

  4. Tara Orezzoli says:

    So, I’ve been painting furniture for years now and have seen the bleed through a few times before, but it has always been manageable. However, I currently have a reproduction Duncan Phyfe drop leaf table that I wanted to paint a lovely farmhouse green, and when I prepped it with TWO coats of sealing primer, it STILL bled through terribly! I even did an experiment where I primed a portion that I sanded and a portion that I did not. Both looked like the elevator scene from The Shining! I’ve never seen it this bad before and I’m wondering at this point if my only recourse is to go with a darker color instead of the pale green. I’ve considered waxing it, but, to be brutally honest, I do not want to waste time on another step that I’m afraid will not work. Your thoughts? BTW, love what you do, MMS! Very inspiring.

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