Stripping Paint from Wood Surfaces

Stripping Paint from Wood Surfaces

Stripping old paint from wood surfaces with a commercial stripper can restore a piece to near-original condition, making way for a fresh new surface ready for an attractive finish.

Large, freely chipping and peeling paint should be removed to the best of your ability using a paint scraper. This gets excess paint out of the way, allowing strippers to work more effectively.

Before you begin stripping, be sure to read and follow all safety precautions included with the stripping chemical. Paint strippers are highly flammable, corrosive products. Work in a very well ventilated area, away from children and pets, and turn off all sources of flame and ignition. Wear skin and eye protection. A long sleeved shirt and rubber gloves for the skin and goggles or glasses with side shields should be used. Perhaps more importantly and to comply with EPA regulations, a NIOSH approved respirator should be worn to protect the lungs and central nervous system from damage.

Paint strippers are available in different formulations. Read stripper labels and consult store personnel for the best product for your application. Vertical walls and surfaces require a heavy paint stripper that can adhere to the surface long enough to work. Polyurethanes require long-acting strippers such as semi-paste strippers.


Step 1 – Prepare the Surface

Start your paint stripping project by removing all hardware from the surface. Clean paint-soiled hardware by soaking them in paint remover and wiping and scrubbing away softened paint. Some brass hardware has a polyurethane coating which you do not want to remove.

Step 2 – Apply the Stripper

Follow paint stripper directions for application instructions and wait times. Generally speaking, paint stripper should be applied in one direction (to avoid wiping off what has been applied) using a paint brush. Paint on a thick layer of paint stripper and wait the designated time as per the instructions (usually 15 minutes).

Step 3 – Scrape the Surface

As the stripper works, the paint on the surface will lift and bubble, creating a softened, rubbery sludge. Scrape the softened paint with a putty knife or blunt paint scraper (a wooden scraper may be used as well). Choose a tool with rounded corners so as not to scratch into and mar the surface of the wood. Paint can be removed from bevels, cracks and details using a very stiff toothbrush, steel wool, skewer or pointed stick. Depending on the thickness of the remaining paint on the wood, several applications of paint stripper may be necessary. Reapply as needed until all paint and dark areas are removed.
TIP: Doityourself’s painting consultant Edward Kimble, author of Interior House Painting Blog, suggests, “Give the chemical stripper time to work, don’t rush it.”

Step 4 – Clean the Surface

When all traces of paint have been removed, clean away the paint stripper residue. Wipe the wood with mineral spirits or paint thinner. Use a clean, lint-free cloth to remove the cleaner.
TIP: Edward reminds you, “Check the paint stripper label to determine what type of chemical to wipe the surface with, some ask for lacquer thinner or xylol.”

Step 5 – Refinish

Allow the surface to thoroughly dry for at least 24 hours before refinishing. After it has dried from the paint stripper and cleaners, sand the wood as desired for a smooth surface ready for a new finish.

Though not excessively difficult, stripping paint from painted wood can be a time-consuming project. However, the resulting beauty of the newly cleaned wood surface is well worth the time and effort taken to restore your walls or furniture to their original state and renew them with a clean, intact, fresh stain or paint finish.