My favorite method for stripping furniture with less work and sanding! These tips along with my fail-proof guide and the best products make furniture refinishing easy and rewarding.
Lately, I’ve been drawn to the natural warmth of wood tones. I feel like I’m forever painting furniture white. But if I’m lucky enough to happen upon a piece with great bones and beautiful wood, I’d rather showcase it than hide it under layers of paint.
Enter: the dining room table I scored off Craigslist.
I’d been toying with refinishing this table for a very long time. The deep, red tones really didn’t match the rest of our home. And the stunning diagonal inlay is oddly overshadowed by the dark stain.
I’ve been stripping paint off of furniture for years. To be honest, it’s not my favorite thing to do. It’s smelly, time consuming and sometimes seems never ending to get through all the layers.
But I’ve got secrets to make this process so much easier!
Materials Needed for Stripping
- A good paint stripper – brand preference is your choice. I generally like a thick stripper that gets the job done. This one from Klean Strip strips paint and most polyurethanes. If you’re worried about fumes, I recommend one like this. It’s better on paint than hard varnishes in my opinion, but it can be used indoors.
- Safety gear – gloves, face mask for fumes, eye protection
- Plastic drop cloths
- Saran/plastic wrap, or garbage bags
- Empty metal cans
- Paint scraper
- Steel wool (I used a few bags of 000 or 00 for this whole table)
- Sandpaper – I use 120 and then 220
- Electric sander
- Paper towels
- Mineral spirits – to clean up paint stripper residue
How To Strip Paint or Stain From Wood
I’ve tried many different processes. This is the method that works best for me. This works with both stain and old layers of paint on wood.
Step 1: Put on your safety gear. Work outdoors with any stripper or, in a garage with the doors all the way open. Citristrip is safe indoors, but I still recommend working outdoors.
Step 2: Brush the furniture piece with paint stripper. Apply coat generously but not gloppy. Stripper works best when the temperature is at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
Spread the stripper on rather thickly. I use Kwik-strip which works quickly and doesn’t require wrapping with saran wrap. *Read Saran wrap technique below.
Step 3: Scrape off the gooey varnish. I use a putty knife scraper on flat surfaces and steel wool in crevices. Expect a lot of residue. Keep paper towels and a trash can handy for waste. If the varnish is particularly hard, you may need a second coat.
After nearly all the residue is removed, spray a paper towel or lint free cloth with mineral spirits and wipe away any excess residue.
Step 4: There shouldn’t be much sanding left, but it’s helpful to sand to remove the last remnants of stain or paint! The table below is half done.
Tips to Get the Best Results
The biggest takeaway here is that the stripper stops working when it dries. If you need to leave the stripper on for a while, I recommend wrapping the furniture with saran wrap. This will allow the stripper to stay active and makes it easier to scrape off.
- To tackle the crevices in the table legs and on the sides, I covered them in plastic wrap and left them for about 4-6 hours. Leaving it this way made the stripper work very well in ONE COAT.
- Pour the stripper into a separate metal can – I find it much easier to work with by pouring the stripper into a small, clean paint can. You can buy quart paint cans at any local hardware store. Then you can easily dip your brush in the can.
- For detailed areas, use a toothbrush or steel wool wrapped bamboo skewer. To get into tight crevices, I use all kinds of tools from toothpicks, bamboo skewers, nails. Use a light hand so you don’t gouge the wood.
- Wait 24 hours after the piece is cleaned. Now that the piece is stripped, I would recommend waiting at least 24 hours or more before adding any stain, sealer, or finish.
I’ve included a few “after” shots. Can you believe this beautiful grain and pattern was hidden under all that dark stain?!
I gave this table a raw wood style staining, which you can see in the post How to Bleach Wood Furniture. It’s a trend that’s gaining popularity. The look is light and looks naturally aged rather than turning yellow or orange like traditional staining.
Ready to tackle refinishing a piece of furniture in your home?
- How To Protect Painted Furniture for Durability
- My Favorite Paints for Furniture
- How To Spray Paint Outdoor Furniture like a Pro
Wood Stripping FAQs
I removed the upholstery from the chairs but disassembling the rest of the furniture isn’t necessary in order to strip it.
I used a wood bleaching kit and topcoat to complete the process. You’ll find all the steps to recreate this look in my post How to Bleach Wood Furniture.
Stripping is messy and has fumes, but stripping is much faster and less work than sanding.
Wait 24 hours after the piece is cleaned and stripped before adding any stain, sealer, or finish. This will allow any and all fumes to dissipate and make sure the surface is free of any residue.
PS I love seeing your creations! Be sure to take a photo and tag #cravingcreative on Instagram! You can also stay in touch with me through following me on Instagram, Pinterest, and subscribing to the newsletter!
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More Painting Tutorials
How To Strip Furniture With Less Work
- Quality Paint Stripper
- Safety Gear: Gloves, face mask, protective eyewear
- Plastic Drop Cloths
- Paper Towels
- #000 Steel Wool
- Mineral Spirits
- Saran or Plastic Wrap cut garbage bags also work well
- Paint Scraper or Putty knife plastic or metal (use gently to not gouge)
- Sand Paper 120 and 220 grit
- Empty Metal Cans for dipping your brush
- Put on proper safety gear. Refinish furniture outdoors or in a garage if possible for better ventilation.
- Brush furniture generously with paint stripper. For best results, strip furniture when temperature is above 50.
- Remove the varnish using a paint scraper on flat surfaces. Steel wool can be used for crevices and any hard to reach areas. You may need a second coat for hard varnishes. Once most of the varnish has been removed, apply mineral spirits to a paper towel or lint free cloth and wipe away any excess residue.
- Sand the surface until you've reached your desired finish. An orbital sander makes quick work of flat surfaces, but delicate surfaces may need to be hand sanded.
- Wipe with a lightly damp cloth and vacuum to remove dust. Wait 24 hours before adding any finishes.