4 Safe Green Ways to Refinish Reclaimed Furniture

Ginny Figlar Colón by Ginny Figlar Colón | June 8th, 2009 | 24 Comments
topic: Eco Decorating, Green Living

Carbon-neutral consumption at its best!

Carbon-neutral consumption at its best!

Wood is a renewable resource, especially when it comes from responsibly managed forests. And there’s another way to help the planet when purchasing wood furniture — one that can also help your budget: buying used!

If you think about it, flea markets are green markets, and I can’t help but get that pat-myself-on-the-back feeling of satisfaction when I give a piece of furniture a second chance at life.

I had one of these flea market shopping highs a few weeks ago, when I found a solid wood cabinet that would work perfectly as a TV stand. (We had been hunting for a toddler-proof one for months!) It’s not going to win any design awards, but it has a classic look that makes it easy to match our other furniture, plus a phenomenal price tag: $40. Much cheaper than anything I was looking at new, and with a lot more character. All it needed was a few hours of elbow grease and some white paint.

With garage sale season now in full swing, here’s how to take wood furniture from trash to treasure while stepping lightly on the planet.

  1. Strip it down to the wood the non-toxic way. With soybeans?! Yup. SOYGel removes paints, urethanes and enamels and it appears to really work. Better than sanding since no hazardous airborne particles are released.
  2. Remove stickers and other adhesives with a natural alternative to paint thinner. Citrus Solvent is an eco-friendly, health-friendly alternative to paint thinner, turpentine and mineral spirits.
  3. Enhance the antique look with organic milk paint. Milk paint is completely biodegradable and is as safe to drink as whole milk (but probably won’t make a very yummy latte). Since it was the paint of choice in Colonial America, it gives a more authentic look to older pieces of furniture.
  4. Stain wooden furniture without releasing VOCs. Conventional wood stains release about 500 grams per liter of volatile organic compounds. BioShield wood stains come in 8 finishes and are solvent-free and VOC-free. White stain is very popular here in Scandinavia, so it’s good to know there’s an eco-safe way to get the look.

Flea market finds are an open invitation to be creative, so have fun shopping!

Related Links

Buying Guide to Nontoxic Paint + DIY Milk Paint Recipe

Get Your Home Mojo Working: Tips & Inspiration to Use Bold Color

Eco-Decor and Design articles, blogs and videos on Gaiam Life


  1. Great info! I love finding pieces I can re-finish! Someone’s trash, my treasure! :)

    Karla | June 8th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. Buying a second hand furniture could help you save a lot. Practically, we do not have to use expensive products just to say we have one. It is not the price that counts but the use of it. There are many ideas how you could enhance those second products you have bought. Just think wisely., you could definitely help save the earth.

  3. I just saved your post for when I get another piece of furniture. Thanks for the ecofriendly supplies! I didn’t know about most of them.

    Nikki | June 12th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  4. [...] Milk paint and whitewash are free of VOCs,  biocides and fungicides, and both allow the material being painted to breathe, reducing the growth of mold and mildew. Milk paint is made with milk protein casein and lime; whitewash is made with lime and water (and sometimes casein). Natural earth pigments are used for coloring, as they are in natural plaster. [...]

  5. Hotel X, owned by, La Bergère, announced back in April that they’re looking to buy used furniture from consumer to be used as part of the interior design scheme. Can you imagine how much the hotel will save on refurnishing the building? There are lots of ways to work on used furniture, and restoring it to a like-new state.

    (We do not allow links in comments)

    Nicolette | July 23rd, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  6. This is such a great article. I never realized that stains released VOC’s. Thanks for the education.

    outdoor living: patio | August 21st, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  7. Thanks for the info! I recently got some pieces from someone’s ‘trash’. I can now start refinishing them!

    solid wood furniture | September 4th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  8. I think that being able to refinish and restore wood furniture is what makes it so great. Wood furniture can last a long time because of the ability to make it look brand new. Thanks for sharing.

    England Furniture | June 10th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  9. My husband and I own online furniture stores and we are really into helping our clients be eco friendly. I just saved your post for a few of our clients. Thanks for the ecofriendly supplies! I didn’t know about most of them.


  10. Your so right! You can find some great bargains at flea markets, garage sale and even estates sales. I build custom tiger maple furniture and also build furniture out of old reclaimed lumber. To be honest people prefer the reclaimed lumber, such as old pine. I can’t say that I blame them, it is beautiful lumber!

    Thanks for this post!

  11. Another avenue to preserve mother earth. Use used products. You do not only save some money, you also give relief to our environment.

    fathers day gifts | July 26th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  12. I agree with “Workstation Furniture” comments, “Buying a second hand furniture could help you save a lot.” Remember also that buying second hand furniture is not only can it be ultra-stylish, but you’ll be helping the planet as well. It doesn’t really matter how old and “used” the items are but it’s how you will refinish them later on.

    Hampshire Furniture | July 26th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  13. I just love this site. I have been trying to finish some items in my house. I was so thankful to find this site, and see all of the green options I have. I went with milk paint which I ordered from http://www.mistermilkpaint.com (great prices) and am so pleased with the outcome. I was concerned about the coverage and how authentic the look would be and couldn’t be happier! I will def. be back to this site in the future :)

    gail | September 22nd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  14. Great info on this site. Thanks for such a great article!

    Mike | October 5th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  15. I had heard of citrus solvent but the soybean gel is new to me. Thanks for enlightening me on your green refinishing ways!

    I Can Fix This | November 8th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  16. Yes, I also agree to reuse furniture. That is helpful for poor people to buy good furniture at low price.

    Anonymous | January 18th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  17. Hey nice information on using trash with new look, i will also do that.

    Agnes | January 19th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  18. Thank you for sharing this it has a very informative content.. I hope more of this comes..

    God bless and more power..

    Nyle Dizon | January 27th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  19. A soybean product for stripping furniture, huh? Pretty cool … I’ll have to give it a try.

    Anonymous | February 21st, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  20. As someone with a skin allergy ( and internal allergy) to casein ( the milk protein milk paint is made out of), milk paint isn’t an option. Are there other eco friendly paints that aren’t made of milk???

    Lolli S | April 1st, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  21. There are numerous ways to work on used furniture and restoring it to new one. Restoring and refinishing furniture is so great and its Eco-friendly. Thanks for sharing the information, I saved your post and will come again for more updates.

  22. I just moved from Arizona to Utah, and on the move a lot of my furniture got scratched and damaged. I’ve been wanting to redo my paint in a non-toxic, eco-friendly way, but I don’t know how. I love your suggestion of stripping the wood down with soybeans, I had no idea that was possible! The awesome thing about this, is that not only is this method non-toxic, soybeans are also fairly cheap to buy.

    Angela Downer | February 24th, 2015 | Comment Permalink
  23. I’m so impressed and just found your site.Thank you for sharing some of your tips.Great short and to the point tutorial, definitely has me ready to take on some of my painting projects!!!!

    Peggy | July 19th, 2015 | Comment Permalink
  24. It is very interesting information. I have never known that you can drink the milk paint. LOL Next time when I am using it I am going to try just a little bit. I love to repaint my furniture. I did it last year and it was the best spent time from my holiday. Thank you for sharing your tips!

    Lorene Walters | August 12th, 2015 | Comment Permalink

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