The Best Paint Strippers to Remove the Old Surface from Wood [2023]

best paint remover for wood furniture - tantrums and tools

If you’re looking for the best paint remover for wood furniture, you’ve come to the right place. Stripping wood furniture may seem like a daunting task, especially if this is your first time, because there are so many different types of wood strippers on the market.

I’m sharing everything you need to know about stripping furniture, including the best paint remover for wood furniture. Let’s get to the good stuff!

Disclaimer: Please remember that I love diy projects and I am a DIY enthusiast, not a professional. This article is for general information use and is not a substitute for professional advice. Before taking any actions, consult a professional! Additionally, this may contain affiliate links where I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using my link. All opinions and recommendations are my own. I appreciate you taking my suggestions and using my links. Thank you for being so supportive!

Things to Consider Before Stripping Wood

So, you have your furniture piece, now what?! The good news is that this process really is quite simple. The not-so-good news is that if this is your first time stripping, then there are a few things you need to know to ensure you’re happy with your results. 

First, what are you trying to strip? I’m most experienced stripping wood surfaces, so we’ll be talking about that here. The strippers I recommend can also be used on other surfaces (check their labels), but I haven’t had the opportunity to try this quite yet, so I can’t speak to doing this. 

Next, are you removing paint, stain, or mayor varnish? Or maybe a combination of the two, since odds are there is a varnish or protective coating over the surface. There are a few differences, mainly in the end goal, between stripping paint and stain so let’s talk about that.

furniture flipping freebie //

How to strip paint:

The goal of stripping paint from wood is to remove the paint. Mind-blowing information here, I know! Stripping paint may take a few applications of the stripper, so don’t be discouraged. There is no way to know what you’re working with until you get started, but don’t be surprised if there are multiple layers of paint covering your piece.

How to strip stain:

The goal of stripping stain from wood is to remove the varnish. Ha! Did that answer surprise you? When stripping a stained piece, you’re actually not trying to remove the stain; instead, you need to get the protective layer off so you can sand away the stain.

While stripping varnish off wood, you may end up removing some of the stain, which is ok, but don’t expect to remove all the stain with your stripper.

If you’re looking for more information about this, check out my complete guide on refinishing furniture.

Is the surface you are trying to strip veneer? If so, proceed with caution since veneer is essentially a very, very thin wooden covering. You can strip veneer, but again, this takes a little more finesse because you don’t want to go through this thin covering and expose what is underneath.

Lastly, when stripping wood, you should consider the condition of the original surface. Wood filler works wonders on dings and scratches, so don’t be scared away if the wood surface is imperfect. You’ll just need to add this step into your refinishing process, which certainly takes more time but is always worth it in the end to restore an old furniture piece.

How To Strip Wooden Furniture

best paint remover for wood furniture - tantrums and tools

I’m about to give you the best method to remove old paint and old stain from wood. Trust me; I know this because I’ve made all the mistakes and have refined my process over years of refinishing various wood pieces. The best thing about this method is it applies to furniture and cabinetry and its the easiest way to ensure the best results time and time again! 

  1. Degrease your surface: The first step in stripping wood is to decrease. So, now you’re probably wondering, what degreaser should I use? And you probably just want me to skip to the part where I tell you the BEST degreaser. Well, you’re in luck because I’ve also tried numerous degreasers and have complied the best options in my post on the best cleaning solutions.
  2. Apply the stripper: Depending on which degreaser you are using; you may be able to spray the striper directly onto your surface. If you’re using a gel, I suggest spreading the paint stripper with a putty knife or old paint brush.
  3. Remove the stripper: Once it is time to remove the paint stripper, using this game-changing paint scraper, applying light pressure and going with the wood grain, begin to scrape the top of your surface, removing the stripper and layers of paint or varnish along with it. This process is messy, so I keep damp towels to wipe my hands and scraping tool and place a drop cloth under my work area. I also try to scrape the larger chunks of scrapings into a paper bag. 
  4. Apply mineral spirits: Once you’ve stripped away all the layers of paint and varnish, you need to clean any remaining goo using mineral spirits. The mineral spirits will remove any remaining paint and layers of oil. For best results with sanding, you must use mineral spirits to prevent clogging up your sandpaper.
  5. Sand your surface: Lastly, start with coarse grit sandpaper and go with the grain of the wood, removing any remaining traces of the old finish by sanding. For a super smooth finish, I start with 60 grit sandpaper followed by 220 grit sandpaper. After sanding, be sure to remove any sanding dust using a tack cloth (or leaf blowing if you’re working outside!). 

Best Paint Remover for Wood Furniture: Chemical Strippers

There are plenty of caustic strippers out there, but after years of refinishing furniture, I have learned the importance of prioritizing my health and safety and found the best options to strip a piece of furniture without using harsh chemicals. I’ve spent a lot of time working with different products and determined these three to be the best!

  • Sunny Side: This is the fastest working stripper, and it sticks well to vertical surfaces. Sunny Side comes in a convenient spray bottle; however, I’ve found it is too thick to spray. A minor inconvenience considering this is the most effective way to strip paint. This product does not have a strong smell, which is another benefit. Sunny side is the best paint remover for wood furniture without the active ingredient methylene chloride. Why should you care? Methylene chloride is a colorless chemical; a volatile liquid that can cause bodily injury and carries severe health risks such as cancer. By no means am I an expert on toxic chemicals; however, the nurse in me has to educate you on this type of stuff, so if you want more info on the health risks, you can go to the CDC’s website.
  • Green EZ Remover: A highly effective paint remover without harmful chemicals or toxic fumes. It’s environmentally friendly and made sustainably from green technology, and it removes multiple layers of paint or varnish in one application without damaging the wood surface. It does not contain any carcinogens, including methylene chloride. This product also has a delayed dry time, so the stripper has more time to work with just one thick application. The downfall of this wood stripper is it is only available directly through their site and is also somewhat expensive.
  • Citri-Strip Paint Stripper: Removes latex paint and varnish without a pungent smell. Citri Strip has all sorts of product variations- Smart strip, Max Strip, and so on. It also comes in a spray or gel form. The spray works well for intricate spaces, and the varnish stripping gel works best on flat surfaces. For even more effective results with Citri Strip, after applying the stripper, you can wrap your piece in plastic wrap and leave it overnight. Doing this allows the stripper to sit longer and eat away at all the layers of paint without drying out. The number one ingredient in Citri Strip is benzyl alcohol which has low toxicity, except when it comes to your eyes, which is why eye protection is a must when working with this product. I’ll be honest; this is not my first choice; however, it’s the best choice if you don’t have time to order Sunny-Side. When I started refinishing furniture, I only used this product simply because it was available at my local Hardware store. After a few projects, I finally put some time into researching other options, and I haven’t used Citri-Strip since.

Non-Chemical Method to Remove Old Finishes

best paint remover for wood furniture - tantrums and tools

Using chemicals is not the only way to remove paint or varnish from wood.

If you are looking for the best way to strip wood without using chemicals, here are two good options.

  • Heat Gun: Using heat and a paint scraper and going with the grain of the wood, you’ll be able to scrape away layers of old grossness. A heat gun is also a good idea if you’re trying to remove veneer from a wood surface. The heat gun heats the glue holding the panel to your wood, and then with your paint scraper, you can gently remove the veneer. I snagged an inexpensive heat gun from amazon and found it very useful for eliminating veneer from an old dresser. The most remarkable thing about using heat is it preserves the wood grain.
  • Steel Wool: While this is not the easiest way or by no means the fastest route, steel wool is a non-chemical way to attempt to remove paint or varnish from wood. This method works best if the layer you are trying to remove is thin. There are various grits of steel wool (who knew!), so my two tips for removing paint with steel wool are to go with something coarse like #000 and move in the direction of the wood grain. 

Best Paint Remover for Wood Furniture: Safety Precautions

I’ll admit that when I started refinishing furniture, I didn’t take safety precautions seriously. Then, the more often I was working on this sort of project, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized the products I was working with were harsh chemicals. I also realized when I’m stripping and sanding away old paint; these little particles are getting into the air and my lungs. Yikes! So, I get it. I’ll keep the protective equipment spiel to the point as possible.

Protective Gear: These items will protect you from the chemical products you are working with. First, wearing protective clothing will prevent any potential splashes from irritating your skin. Next, chemical-resistant gloves will keep your hands safe. The last two and possibly most essential protective gear are safety glasses to protect those eyes and a respirator to protect your lungs. 

Location: Another safety precaution to take while stripping wood is working outside. Some paint strippers will say for indoor use, which I have done, but it’s super important that your area is well ventilated. The more ventilation, the better. Regardless of your location, and even with all the ventilation, you should still wear all your protective gear!

Best Paint Remover for Wood Furniture

FAQ’s About Stripping Wood Furniture

I receive countless questions about stripping wood each day, so to better serve you, I’ve compiled a list and given you all the answers in one place. If you have a question that is not listed here or need more information, I’d be more than happy to help; contact me!

Here are the most frequently asked questions about stripping wood:

What is the best paint remover?

I’m currently obsessed with Sunny-Side! I love this product because it works. Sunny-Side Hi-Speed Citrus Paint Remover doesn’t drip and stays wet longer, so the stripper has more time to work before drying out. Sunny-Side reports it can remove three layers with one application, and I believe it!

What is the best stain stripper?

Again, Sunny-side! For the same reasons I love this as a paint stripper, I love this as a stain and varnish remover. Here’s a little bonus tip about stripping stain and varnish:

When removing old stain, I’ve found that tops (i.e., a tabletop or buffet top) will be much harder to strip than, say, the doors or another portion of the piece. This makes sense since the top is most likely to get wet or chip due to high usage. A thicker protection coating on these surfaces is more likely than the base, which is less likely to get as beat up.

Knowing this, I will often start with the doors or drawers and then move to the top. Beginning with these allows me to see what the natural wood looks like before I spend a ton of time on the top. Also, if the top is a larger area, I may skip the stripping and paint it instead.

Do I have to strip if I’m going to paint?

Nope! I bet you’re happy to read that answer, huh?! If you’re planning to paint, you don’t need to remove the original surface before you paint. Hold on, though; this doesn’t mean you can jump right to painting. Check out my post on refinishing furniture for all the steps to painting.

How do I know when to strip versus when to sand?

The more you work on this type of project, the easier it becomes, and you just kind of “know” when to strip and when to sand. Also, the approach to this varies depending on your tools. If you have the fancy Surf Prep Pro sander, you can start with sanding, versus myself, who has a janky old orbital sander that is not nearly as effective as the Surf Prep. And, lastly, it really boils down to personal preference! 

  • If I’m going to re-paint the surface; then, I do not strip, just sand. 
  • If I want to keep natural wood, I strip followed by sanding.
  • If the piece appears to have a thicker layer of paint or stain, I strip and sand.
  • If the layer of paint or stain seems thin, I jump straight to sanding. 
  • If there is lacquer or a shiny protective coating, I’ll start with stripping before sanding.
  • If I’m working with a veneer, I’ll start with a stripper and then sanding to prevent sanding through the veneer.

How do I know if the surface is wood or veneer?

Step one is checking to see how heavy the item is. Solid wood is much heavier than a furniture piece that uses a veneer. Look at the grain of the wood; if it is a continuous or uniform grain, it’s a veneer because solid wood doesn’t have a perfect flawless grain pattern. Look at the edging and ask yourself, is the grain continuous with the grain on top? A clue that it is not solid wood is if the border does not match the top. Lastly, check all sides of the piece to determine if there are any joints or if it is a solid continuous slab. Veneer tends to have a uniform finish, whereas a solid wood piece will have joints on the hidden side of furniture.

How long should I leave the paint stripper on?

Leave the paint stripper on for at least 30 minutes. My trick is to put on the paint stripper and then walk away. I’ll set a time and find something else to work on because if I don’t, my curiosity kicks in, and temptation tells me to start scraping too soon.

For best results, give the stripper enough time to work. The trick is to let the stripper do the work, not you! The longer it has to soak and sink in, the easier it is for you to remove all those layers of paint and shellac. Just don’t let it dry completely. You’ll want the stripper to be still wet when you start scraping.

When you are close to having removed all the old layers, you’ll need to be careful about how long the stripper is on since it will not only remove the current finish, but it can eat away at natural wood. At this point, you can apply your stripper in thin layers or switch to using a power sander.

What is veneer?

A veneer is a thin layer of wood glued to a surface. A veneer makes furniture lighter, cheaper, and is often used to make unique patterns and designs.

Is veneer bad?

No, it’s not, but it is generally viewed as lower quality than hardwood, especially if most of the piece is composed of veneer. Since veneer is incredibly thin, it is more prone to scratching and water damage.  

Can I strip plastic?

No. You cannot achieve a raw wood finish by stripping plastic.

You asked for the best paint remover for wood furniture, and I delivered! I hope you feel more confident about stripping wood now that I’ve covered all the essentials. I’d love to celebrate your success with this diy project, leave a comment with your before and after pics!


PS. Want more ideas and inspiration?

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