What is bleed-through, and how do I avoid it?

Bleed-through is caused by tannins which are basically water or solvent that has been trapped within the wood at some point. This is more common with older pieces, but it doesn’t happen often. Unfortunately, there is no way to know ahead of time if tannins are present. 

No amount of paint, regardless of brand, will cover it. Solutions include:

  • Sand through to just below the original surface. This can be done on just the areas where you see bleed-through—the whole piece doesn’t have to be sanded.

  • Use a product like Kilz over the area where you see the bleeding. This solution is much easier, but if you want to distress your finished work, you won’t be able to distress through to see the underlying wood.

  • Prior to painting, use a product like shellac or polyurethane over your piece. This solution is more of a preventative measure that many refinishers automatically use on antiques. It allows you to distress and see the underlying wood, but be sure to use water-based, not oil-based, or yellowing can occur.


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