Green Ways To Give New Life To Recycled Furniture

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The following is a guest post by Caroline Smith of, where you can find a selection of bar stools made from recycled or sustainably-sourced materials.

Since I moved to my new house I’ve been concentrating on redecorating one room at a time, as my budget allows.  Furnishing a room from scratch can be expensive, but it’s remarkable how much furniture I’ve managed to recycle – enabling me to save money and stick to my green principles.

One of my favorite sources of secondhand furniture is the Freecycle website, which has local groups all over the world.  I’ve acquired several unique items from here, which were otherwise unwanted and could have ended up in landfill.  Recently I was even given an old dining table by a fellow “freecycler”, and I have amassed a set of dining chairs from various sources.

Trying to get my recycled furniture to look good wasn’t quite so easy, as I wanted to avoid using toxic chemicals to strip and finish the wood.  However, I did some research and found that it’s entirely possible and fairly straightforward to refurbish wooden furniture using eco-friendly products.  Here are my top tips:

Stripping The Old Finish

· Most conventional paint strippers contain the chemical methylene chloride, which in my opinion is best avoided due to the environmental and health risks associated with it.

· There are eco-friendly strippers available commercially, but as yet they aren’t commonly found in most hardware stores, so the internet seems the best place to buy one.

· My homemade alternative is made by mixing up a thick paste of washing soda crystals and water.  If you spread the paste over the surfaces to be stripped it should loosen the finish so it can be scraped off easily.  However, it does take several hours to get to this stage, so you may want to consider leaving it overnight.

· Once the finish has been removed, a good way to remove any dust and make sure the surfaces are completely clean is to wipe the wood with a mixture of 2 parts white vinegar to 1 part water.

· My kitchen bar stools didn’t need to be stripped at all as I found I could remove the old finish using sandpaper (and a lot ofelbow grease).  However, lead was common in wood paints years ago, so if you’re in any doubt, it’s advisable to buy a lead testing kit from a hardware store to check.  If the paint does have lead in, avoid sanding it altogether, as this would release the particles into the air where they could be breathed in.

Eco Paints & Stains

· Avoid chemical-based conventional products that release VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air, as these compromise indoor air quality and are harmful to your health.

· A safer, greener option is to use eco-friendly paints or stains, which are water-based and made from natural ingredients such as plant oils.

· To bring out the natural grain of the wood, an alternative to using a stain is to simply use beeswax or linseed oil, as I did recently when refinishing wood bar stools.

Recycle Anything That’s Leftover

· If you only need a small amount of paint or stain, buy only as much as you’ll need.

· Or, why not ask friends or family if they have any half-used tins in the garage?

· Consider using your local Freecycle group to give away any products you have leftover.

Tag(s): Green Furnishings, Kitchens And Baths, Recycling


One Response to “Green Ways To Give New Life To Recycled Furniture”

  1. John Pelley on March 10th, 2009 8:39 am

    Excellent advice, especially about releasing lead into the air.

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