The “Dirty Cowboy” Treatment

How to give your furniture the dirty cowboy treatment (distressing with stain) - Domestic Imperfection

Ahh, the Dirty Cowboy…a great way to give your furniture some personality. That’s right… furniture. Is that not what you were expecting? What kind of blog do you think I’m running over here?

So I didn’t entirely make this technique up, it is really just dry brushing… or antiquing, or distressing with stain, or a variety of  other names. I’ve tried to dry brush furniture a few different ways and this is the way I found worked the best, was the easiest  and gave me the best result.

First your going to need a painted piece of furniture. (This is the side of a “mystery table” that I haven’t shown you yet.)

turquoise table before the dirty cowboy treatment

Then you’ll need some stain and the crappiest paint brush you can find. Remember that brush that you accidentally left sitting in paint thinner, then you tried to rescue it but couldn’t, then your toddler found it and used it as a shovel? Yeah, that one…well now you have a use for it.

Tools used to distress furniture with stain

This is a really simple process and it would be hard to mess up. The goal is just to make it look dirty and used, so don’t take yourself to seriously :)

First dip the brush in your stain.

distress furniture with stain

Then “paint” your dropcloth (or old towel or whatever you use to clean up project messes) until hardly any stain is left on it.

distressing furniture with stain

Next, brush it onto your surface. Just brush it on real quick, the side of this table took me about five seconds to do (not counting the picture taking, of course).

The Dirty Cowboy Treatment (distressing furniture with stain) from Domestic Imperfection

 I like to add a lot of stain to any corners or grooves.

The Dirty Cowboy Treatment (distressing furniture with stain)

Then grab a rag and wipe it all down until your happy with the way it looks.

The Dirty Cowboy Treatment (distressing furniture with stain)

If you need more stain just repeat the process, or if you used too much then do the same thing with your paint color.

The Dirty Cowboy Treatment (distressing furniture with stain)

Lastly, seal it (I use polycrylic) and your done!

Also, it is hard for stain to dry over paint and it may be tacky for awhile. You can wait it tout, or you can just poly over the tacky stain. I didn’t wait :)

The Dirty Cowboy Treatment (dry brushing)

And that’s that! I think my dirty looking table matches my dirtfest of a front yard quite nicely, wouldn’t you agree?

(Special note – using a flat paint will make this harder, I used eggshell and it worked well.)

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  1. So easy! This looks great. I’m dying to see the front of this mystery table :)
    Becca recently posted..Inspiration and a JarMy Profile

  2. This is kinda neat. But as a sister of a real cowboy, I gotta say the dirty cowboys I’ve seen never look quite this good. LOL! I did this treatment years ago on the top of a painted table. Because I’d painted it with a roller it gave an orange peel effect. So with the stain on top, it looks quite nice…no brush strokes. :-) It’s fun what you can do with stain over paint.

  3. Looks awesome. Can’t wait to see the whole table. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ill have to try this sometime! Also, I really love the first few sentences of this post, definitely had me laughing!

  5. “Dirtfest”, haha, love it! Looking forward to seeing the final product.

  6. mary anne says:

    Love your site and this project. I’ve never tried stenciling, but may have to try this paisley!

    I do have a question though: Just painted a headboard gray with latex paint after sanding previous finish off. Did three coats and waited several weeks. Then stained using minwax wood finish (dark walnut). Waited 24 hours. All looked good. Then I applied Johnson paste finishing wax in neutral. It took off the stain! What did I do wrong?

  7. maggie b. says:

    You rock. Plain and simple, girlfriend.

  8. Cottage By The Sea says:

    Brilliant, I love it. And I love that you call it “The Dirty Cowboy Treatment”. Yee haw!

  9. Love this, thanks for the idea!
    margo recently posted..Tie Dye CupcakesMy Profile

  10. Super Cute.

  11. Thanks! I love this method and hope to be using it soon. I appreciate the share!

  12. This looks great–I love playing with different finishes. Thanks for sharing.
    Becky recently posted..Under $100 Linky PartyMy Profile

  13. Can’t wait to see the front =) Love the way the stain makes such an awesome impact!

    Visiting from House of Hepworths
    Kristin C. recently posted..Easy Kindle case coverMy Profile

  14. I love the name of your treatment! :) Dirty Cowboy! Hehe! Anywho, I love the way it came out and I’ll definitely be giving it a try.

    Found you over at I Should Be Mopping the Floor.

    I would love for you to link up to my party:

    Hope you have a fantastic week!
    Melissa @ Loving this crazy life! recently posted..IT’S A PIECE O’ CAKE LINKY PARTY #7!My Profile

  15. Haha! Way to grab our attention with the tagline! Worked on me :) Your project turned out fAbUlOus!

    Tanya :)
    Tanya recently posted..Shabby White TableMy Profile

  16. Dirty or clean, I love it. :D Thanks for sharing on BeColorful this week.

  17. Shannon says:

    LOVE the turquoise color! What brand/color paint is it??

  18. Christine says:

    Whoah. I tried this, and it was SO easy and it came out SOOOO good! Thank you for posting. My husband was amazed at the final product, commenting that it looked “Way beyond my skill level”. I think that was a compliment…?

  19. Okay, here is my take on the Dirty Cowboy treatment!

  20. I just redid my master bedroom and used this treatment on almost everything! I did a pale green on an antique door for the headboard and an old 6 pane window for use as a picture frame, and cream on some shelves, a bench and the dresser. This technique really ties them together without them having to be all matchy-matchy.

  21. Do you think you could use the technique on metal?

  22. ha this is hysterical! I love using the drybrush technique [actually just used it in my painted summer series] but never knew it came with this awesome name :-)
    thanks for sharing this wonderful project
    Cynthia @ her lovely nest recently posted..painted summer series – part 1My Profile

  23. What type of polycrylic finish did you use? satin?

    • I wrote this post so long ago that I don’t remember…but what’s in my paint closet now is gloss and I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ve always used. The gloss isn’t actually that shiny though, it looks more like a satin finish (to me).

  24. Do you use a dry rag or a wet rag when wiping the stain??

  25. going to try this on a sign

  26. Cheyenne says:

    Hi there,

    one questions- I’m super new to the whole DIY thing. Is the stain a colour that you picked or do you just go to a paint place and ask for a generic stain?

    Thanks so much!

    • There are a limited number of stain colors from each brand, and they are all pre-mixed (unlike paint). You just pick one off the shelf! The one I use most frequently is “provincial” by Minwax.

  27. Juliana says:

    I love the way this looks! When I put the stain on it isn’t even close to that dark And when I wipe the stain off my project I wipe it all off. I’m using the same brand of stain you are in an interview ebony. Help please!! :)

    • What kind of paint are you cowboy-ing over? If you used a glossy paint that is likely that all the stain will all wipe off, and if you use flat then not much if it will wipe off at all. I usually use eggshell/satin. Also, recently I have been doing the dirty cowboy a little differently. I get stain on a crappy brush, get almost all of it off on a towel (it basically needs to be dry), then brush really quickly and lightly over the furniture and don’t wipe it at all. This looks great too and is super fast and easy.

  28. Loving the cabinet in the background as well as the project!!!

  29. Have you ever used artist acrylics for this technique? I’ve never done it was stain, but I usually get the big tubes a cheap acrylic at the craft store when it goes on sale for about three dollars a tube. I originally started mixing it with glaze to do a faux antiquing but then started doing the Drybrush technique for what you call the Dirty Cowboy. It dries pretty quickly and then I poly over that. And I absolutely LOVE having a use for those beat up gnarly paintbrushes! Love your site :-)

  30. Linda Holley says:

    I’m doing my basement in an old saloon style, I need to tone down the white walls, would this work on the walls, the walls are painted wood, not plaster or sheetrock.

  31. Julie Maisel says:

    Would this process work if I used paint rather than a stain to distress the piece?

  32. Mary barber says:

    You a girll after my own heart

  33. Mary barber says:

    You are a girl after my own heart

  34. Do you use a dry cloth to wipe the stain off?


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