Take a look at my nightmare — my dark secret that I’m mortified to show you.

Water Stain on Upholstery

Yes, it’s a water stain on the seat of a rather pricy antique chair. My scarlet letter of shame.

Below, we’re looking at a Victorian Renaissance Revival Chair with an Eastlake influence. Built of gorgeous walnut wood, this chair was manufactured around 1870-80.

Iris Abbey

Generally I’m cautious about painting antiques. If I do, I undergo a bit of intense self-examination:

  • Does it have sentimental value?
  • Is the piece tight, with no wobble?
  • What kind of wood was used?
  • How much structural repair is needed?
  • Does the wood have minimal scratches, dings, dents?
  • Does the fabric enhance the piece?
  • Will paint make the piece more appealing in a contemporary home?

My initial, and now silly, problems lay with the fabric and heavy feel to the wood. The fabric was OK but not great and my lackluster upholstery skills deterred me from tackling a project like this.

Victorian Renaissance Revival Chair

Other options? I could paint the entire chair using Annie Sloan’s Old Ochre.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Old Ochre

I stirred the paint, measured some out, and cut it with water. Then I grabbed my spray bottle and filled it with water. I’ve discovered that spraying the fabric will help the material absorb the paint instead of allowing it to just sit on top.

The chair looked much better with the fabric painted — and the texture still came through. The photo below shows only 1 coat; I painted 2 coats.

Victorian Renaissance Revival Chair

I worked outside in the shade of our 10×10 tent, noiselessly painting the wood Old Ochre. I can’t remember the reason now, but I had to run a errand. I debated lugging the chair into the house but it’s so heavy and unwieldy. Instead, I pushed it into the center of the tent and took off. I’d be quick.

Rain. A sudden afternoon downpour, so common in Florida summers, over as quickly as it began.

Sturm by Adolf Sätbli
Sturm (Storm). Adolf Stäbli, around 1895

Upon my return I leapt from the car and sprinted (actually more of a jog) to the tent. The damage was already done. Horrified, I stared down at the water stain on the chair’s seat. Towels. My first thought was towels. Maybe with enough towels I could blot the water and limit the damage. If only it were that easy.

Water Stain Damage

I paused to send photos of the stain to Pat Stone-Smith, my Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (ASCP) stockiest at Mid-Life Crisis by the Beach. She, in turn, carried my desperate questions to the national ASCP reps. They advised

  • setting the chair out in the sun to dry (this was the easy part);
  • buying a can of Kilz and spray it on the stained fabric.

As long as I’m sharing my mistakes, here’s another: Since I’d never heard of Kilz, I phoned those nice folks and asked which of their varieties I should purchase. “We don’t guarantee it will work on fabric, so we advise you not to use it.” Oh. Better listen to the experts.

The chair dried quickly but I didn’t touch it for weeks. David finally brushed shellac on the seat cushion, assuring me the paint wouldn’t penetrate. Still I waited, sorrowful.

One bright day I mobilized. I mixed a half-and-half solution of Old Ochre and water. After 2 coats I could still see the water stain. Argh.

Kilz Original Aerosol

As I became increasingly desperate and perhaps a bit unhinged, David bought a can of Kilz. We put plastic and newspaper all over the chair, everywhere except the seat cushion. Then we sprayed a white covering on the Old Ochre and, mercifully, the water stain disappeared. The Kilz created a a white hide but eliminated the stain. I waited several more days.

I put 2 coats of Old Ochre and water on the cushion (4:1 Old Ochre to water) and studied it closely.

I was back in business, as you can see:

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Old Ochre


Out came my stencil. I spooned out a little Louis Blue into a container; next to that I doled out some Aubusson Blue. I didn’t mix the paints. I simply dabbed my stencil brush into Louis Blue, followed by Aubusson Blue (or vice versa), offloaded the paint on a paper toweling, and stenciled.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Old Ochre

I waxed the entire chair with Annie Sloan Clear Wax. I lightly applied Dark Wax to the carved areas and, although I generally don’t distress, I gently took several swipes . Here it is in the dappled morning light; the sunlight’s causing a few uneven splotches.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Old Ochre

Originally I intended to put him in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery but we’ve both been through a lot, Chair and I. I am keeping this beautiful boy in my living room so I can watch how well the paint, wax, and Kilz interact together. So, all is well.

We love your comments. Do you have any tales of terror with your own projects? Please don’t hesitate to share!

Ann Marie and David
Featured at:
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16 Comments on Removing Water Stains From Painted Upholstery

  1. Sheila
    August 27, 2015 at 11:02 pm (6 years ago)

    Your chair is very pretty…despite the hard time you had with it. 🙂 I guess some projects test us a little more. Ha!
    Thanks for visiting My Kentucky Living. I hope you come back again soon.

    • irisabbey
      August 28, 2015 at 12:26 am (6 years ago)

      Thanks for stopping by, Sheila. I just signed up for your blog posts. My husband is from Kentucky, so he’s sure to appreciate any history and recipes.

  2. Marie@The Interior Frugalista
    August 28, 2015 at 4:57 am (6 years ago)

    Your chair looks fabulous – love the stencil and the colors you used. I’ve painted a few fabric pieces now with ASCP and had I had a similar situation, I would have gone straight to my can of shellac too. I know Kiltz is a fabulous primer and have used it often but would never have thought to use it on a fabric. I’m so glad you shared your saga because now we know what to do should we ever run into this situation. Gorgeous chair!

    • irisabbey
      August 28, 2015 at 4:46 pm (6 years ago)

      Marie, thanks so much. It was difficult writing about my foolish mistake, and your kind words have helped me. Enjoy the weekend.

  3. Tara @ Lehman lane
    August 29, 2015 at 11:53 am (6 years ago)

    Great job getting rid of that water stain Ann Marie! The chair looks fantastic too:)

    • irisabbey
      August 29, 2015 at 3:08 pm (6 years ago)

      Tara, thanks for your encouragement. This project was a struggle.

  4. Magali@TheLittleWhiteHouse
    August 29, 2015 at 7:51 pm (6 years ago)

    So much work and so many worries, but oh, so worth it! It’s absolutely beautiful now.

    • irisabbey
      August 30, 2015 at 2:19 am (6 years ago)

      Magli, I’m very pleased with how Chair turned out. But you are absolutely right: so much work and so many worries. Thanks for your comments.

  5. Mickie Ayer
    August 30, 2015 at 7:47 pm (6 years ago)

    Your perseverance paid off, what a lovely chair! I’m thinking of painting one I have as it no longer matches my color scheme, the only thing stopping me is that I paid almost 300.00 to have it re-upholstered several years ago. It’s a great candidate as it’s in perfect condition. You had wonderful tips on the painting process.

    • irisabbey
      August 30, 2015 at 10:13 pm (6 years ago)

      Mickie Ayer, thanks for the comment. I can understand your hesitation with your chair. Does the color go anywhere in your house? Where’s the chair now? If it truly doesn’t go anywhere– and it’s beautiful, you may have already made your decision. Let me know. Good luck.

  6. Pili
    September 7, 2015 at 6:21 am (6 years ago)

    That chair is gorgeous in spite of all the challenges you had, I understand why you want to keep it with you.

    • irisabbey
      September 7, 2015 at 1:08 pm (6 years ago)

      Pili, thanks for your generous comment. I just signed up for your blog posts. Looking forward to reading about your work.

  7. Thelma Lopez
    September 28, 2015 at 1:08 pm (6 years ago)

    Fantastic chair. I always wanted chair like this. You did a great job with a stain. I used once Kilz. It worked. Best regards!

    • irisabbey
      September 29, 2015 at 1:43 am (6 years ago)

      Thanks for your kind words, Thelma. I do love how this turned out despite the frustrations I experienced.


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