How to Repaint or Restain a Wooden Bed Frame

A double bed with a wooden frame is placed in a loft

Abode/Getty Images

A wooden bed frame, especially one made from quality hardwood, is a significant investment when purchased new. As an alternative to buying a new one, it makes a good deal of sense to consider refurbishing an older bed frame which can be renewed to vintage condition at a fraction of the cost of buying a new one.

The term refurbishing can mean many things, from simple cleaning to complex disassembly, repair, and refinishing. How much of this process you take on will depend on the condition of the furniture piece and how dramatically you wish to change its appearance. 

Tools and Supplies Needed

The tools and materials you'll need to refurbish a wooden bed frame depend on how much refinishing you want to do. For a complete refurbish job that involves some wood repairs as well as sanding and refinishing, you will need:

  • Wrenches and screwdrivers for disassembly
  • Dust mask and work gloves
  • Respirator (if recommended)
  • Bucket
  • Household vinegar
  • Rags
  • Disinfectant
  • Wood putty or wood filler (if needed for repairs)
  • Wood glue (if needed for repairs)
  • Clamps (if needed for repairs)
  • Electric sander
  • Sandpaper (120- and 200-grit)
  • Sanding cord or string (for bed frames with spindles)
  • Tack cloths
  • Paint sprayer (optional)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Pre-stain conditioner or paint primer
  • Wood stain or paint
  • Polyurethane

Instructions

Prepare the Bed and Work Area

Before you begin refurbishing, remove all linens, the mattress, and the box spring, and put them aside, preferably in a space separate from where you'll be working. For best results and safety, disassemble the bed frame, then move the wooden pieces from the bedroom and place them in a well-ventilated area, such as a garage or covered patio. Make sure to collect all hardware so you'll have it when it comes time to reassemble the bed frame. 

Note: It is important that you work in a well-ventilated area when doing a project this size so that all chemical fumes and sanding dust can easily escape the area. Wear a dust mask or other nose and mouth protection to prevent you from breathing in any sanding dust. When using stains or polyurethane finishes, follow the manufacturer's recommendations for breathing protection. 

Clean the Wood

Dust, dirt, grease, and other contaminants accumulate on wood over time. It’s important that you remove them before you begin sanding. If you received your bed frame used, it is even more important that you clean it for sanitary reasons. For best results, use a solution of water and vinegar to clean wooden furniture. It not only helps remove odors, but it’s also a natural way to combat bacteria.

If you’re worried about bacteria, bed bugs, or other pests in the bed frame, spray it with a disinfectant spray and/or a safe indoor pesticide spray. If you do apply insect spray to the bed frame, wipe it down after it dries to remove any residue before sanding.

Make Major Repairs

If your frame is severely damaged, you may need to replace a part of the frame with a new piece of wood or use wood glue and clamps to reinforce any broken parts. Spindles and joints can be reglued if they are loose. Very loose joints may need to be reinforced with new wood screws: Drill countersunk pilot holes, drive in reinforcing screws, then hide the screw heads with wood plugs or wood filler. Let any repaired sections dry overnight or up to 24 hours, depending on the type of repairs you made.

Sand the Wood

Sand the entire bed frame with 120-grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface and remove any old surface finish to get down to bare wood. If you plan to restain the wood, considerable sanding may be necessary to remove the surface finish and existing stain. For best results, use an electric sander. Spindles can be sanded by hand using loose sandpaper or sanding cord. Don't worry about some blotchiness—some remaining stain color in the wood will even out once the new stain is applied.

Remove all sanding dust with a tack cloth, then sand again with the 220-grit sandpaper until the surface is smooth to the touch. Using a tack cloth, remove all sanding dust. 

Note: If the bed frame will be painted rather than stained, you can simplify the sanding process somewhat, since complete removal of the old finish will not be necessary. The final sanding pass should be aimed at smoothing the wood, but don't worry if considerable stain color is still evident, as the paint will cover it. 

Repair Minor Defects

Use wood filler or putty to fill in any cracks, dents, or chips in the frame. If you're staining the bed, choose a pre-tinted wood filler that matches the final stain color (as much as possible). If you're painting, any untinted filler will do, as long as it's paintable. Let the filler dry completely, then sand it flush and smooth with 220-grit sandpaper. 

Stain or Paint the Bed

Paint or stain your bed frame as you wish, depending on the finished look you want.

  • To paint your bed frame, begin by applying multiple thin coats of painting primer. For best results, use a sprayer to apply both the primer and paint coats, but if you are brushing, apply the primer and paint in several thin coats to prevent drips and runs. After the primer dries, apply multiple thin coats of paint, using either a sprayer or a paintbrush.
  • To stain your bed frame, begin by applying a pre-stain conditioner to the entire frame, following the manufacturer's instructions. Let the conditioner dry completely, then apply the stain. Stain application can be done by wiping with a rag, brushing, or spraying. Most DIYers find wiping to be the easiest method of application. 

Apply a Topcoat

After the stain has dried completely so it is no longer sticky or tacky to the touch, apply a polyurethane varnish to create a protective top layer. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the application, as this can vary by product. In most cases, applying two or even three coats provides the best results. Most instructions will suggest a very light sanding between coats of varnish. 

A topcoat of clear polyurethane varnish can also provide a great protective layer to painted wood surfaces, but this is optional. Follow the manufacturer's specific instructions for applying varnish over painted wood. 

Reassemble the Bed Frame

Allow the final coats of paint or polyurethane cure for as long as possible—at least 48 hours to ensure the best protection against abrasion. Bring the frame pieces back to the bedroom and reassemble the pieces. Any damaged or rusted hardware should be replaced rather than reused.