Different Methods for Stripping Furniture

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Whether you’re looking to stain a piece of furniture or want to leave it natural, you will likely need to remove its finish. If you’re questioning how to strip furniture, this post is for you! Stripping furniture is a messy job, but there are several techniques that will allow you to refinish your beautiful furniture. Anyone can complete these projects with a bit of patience and I’m going to discuss which method is best for your furniture.

You can remove the finish by sanding a piece of furniture, but for stripping the finish, we’re going to discuss several chemicals like Citristrip and Easy-Off, yes, oven cleaner! Once you determine which type of wood you’re working with, you can decide which furniture stripper to use. I will be the first to admit… not every piece of furniture is the same. Some finishes can be removed easily with Citristrip and others might need something stronger. Let’s dive in and discuss the different solutions and methods used for stripping furniture.

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Natural wood cane bed.

Stripping Furniture

Stripping furniture is simply put, it’s removing the finish from wood furniture. Every piece of furniture is different and some might have a finish that’s difficult to remove. If you’re planning to leave a piece of furniture natural and refinish with stain, you will likely need to remove the original finish first. If you already have a natural piece of furniture but you would like to lighten or bleach it, skip to my methods for bleaching furniture.

When I first started working with furniture, I had a beautiful Pottery Barn dresser and two nightstands. I blindly purchased Citristrip and started removing the finish. Let me tell you, I was hooked. One of my favorite parts of my job is removing the finish to uncover a beautiful wood beneath. It is not always the case and I’ve uncovered a lot of particle board in my past, but when you find a beautiful wood grain, it’s like a reward after a long treasure hunt!

First things first – determine the type of wood furniture you’re dealing with. If the piece is fake, manufactured wood, for example, an Ikea piece, you’re not going to get good results from stripping the furniture. If it’s solid wood beneath, you should be fine.

Determine if the piece has veneer because some of the solutions will damage the veneer. You can strip veneer wood pieces, however, you’ll need to proceed with caution and use the correct stripping agents. Removing veneer is always an option, but keep in mind, veneer is often used to mask ugly, mismatched wood that makes a piece. You might not like what you uncover!

Different Methods for Stripping Furniture

There are several other methods for stripping furniture, but these are the most used methods in our household. I’m going to discuss the methods that I have used to remove the finish from furniture. I’m often asked, “what is your favorite method?” The truth is…I can’t really answer that because sometimes I’ll love a solution and then I’ll use it on another piece of furniture and it doesn’t work as well. It’s trial and error! I have to try several different methods before I find one I love.

Before you go any further, it’s imperative that you follow the safety instructions and inserts from each product. Some require specific safety precautions and you will need to make sure you have the proper protection when working with the following products.

Citristrip

Citristrip is one of the most popular products to use and for good reason, it works really well. There I said it, it’s a great option but sometimes it’s just not strong enough. It’s a great product to start with because it’s less harmful with less toxicity. Citristrip is easy to apply, you simply brush a layer on and let it sit for 15-30 minutes. You can cover it with Saran Wrap to let it soak in for longer without drying out.

Applying citristrip with project brush to remove paint.
Scrapping finish off dresser after applying citristrip.

Sometimes, you can simply remove the Saran Wrap and the finish will peel off with the Citristrip. You can scrap the remaining amount off with a scraper. You can reapply until you remove all of the finish. Citristrip is also available in the can and can be sprayed on a piece of furniture. I prefer using Citristrip with a piece of furniture that is solid wood and has a thick topcoat or paint to remove. If you’re looking to remove paint, this product is for you!

Minwax Furniture Refinisher

This method is great for removing old finishes, like shellac, lacquer, and different types of varnish. This method does not raise the wood grain. I’ve had great luck using this method on furniture that is dated with quality veneer. It’s gentle on the veneer without causing damage to this thin layer of outer wood. To use this method, you place the Minwax Furniture Refinisher in a bowl and use fine steel wool to apply it to the piece of furniture. You rub it on in small circles and the old finish will slowly dissolve in front of your eyes! I’ve found that as it dissolves, the finish tends to settle in other spaces so you need to keep moving and reapplying as you go. You can follow up with Mineral Spirits to clean up but I’ve had the best luck with lightly sanding the remaining finish.

Klean-Strip Paint + Varnish Stripper

This stripping method is very similar to Citristrip, only it has more chemicals and it is not as “clean” as the other method. According to Klean-Strip, it will remove five layers of paint in 15 minutes. When applying this product, much like Citristrip, you want to avoid letting it dry out. Adding Saran Wrap or plastic wrapping will help with this. So how do you use this product? Simply brush a layer of stripper on the furniture and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then use a scrapping tool and scrape the finish or paint off of the piece. Repeat as necessary and use Afterwash to clean the piece in the end.

Klean-Strip Afterwash

Afterwash is used as a final step, to clean up any remaining furniture stripper from a piece of furniture. But did you know that it will sometimes remove the finish without using a stripper solution? If the furniture has a thin layer of varnish or finish, this method might work for you! Pour the solution into a bowl and apply to furniture with a stripping pad, simply rubbing it in to remove the residue. Repeat as necessary.

Easy-Off Oven Cleaner

Yes, you’re reading this correctly. Easy-off is oven cleaner and it will strip furniture. I have not had luck using Easy-Off to remove paint, but it has worked really well to remove the stain or varnish from a piece of furniture. This method is a quick and easier way to provide a natural, bleached look to a solid piece of furniture. Avoid using this technique with veneer because oven cleaner is strong and it will likely eat through manufactured wood. How to remove finish with Easy-Off oven cleaner? The blue “Fume-Free Easy-Off” works the best. Spray heavy amounts of oven cleaner on the furniture and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Next, using water and a brush, scrub the oven cleaner and wash it off. Spray and wash until the water runs clear. Then, place it in the sun and let it dry completely (this will be a slow process). Repeat as necessary.

Easy-Off oven cleaner in a can to spray on furniture.

Heat

Heat can be used to strip furniture in the form of a heat gun. How does this work? The heat gun produces really hot temperates (definitely follow safety instructions) and causes the top layers of varnish to peel away. You’ll need to constantly apply heat and scrap to remove the finish. While this method is effective, you can only peel away the stain and varnish while it’s hot. As it dries, you will need to continue the process. Also, you will need to avoid using the heat gun in one spot for too long, because it can burn the wood. I’ve used this method to try and remove veneer and had pieces of veneer spark and catch fire. When you’re using this method with old wood and varnishes, safety is a must!

Soda-Blasting

This method has been popular with DIY enthusiasts as of late and with good reason, it’s a very effective way to strip furniture. Sodium bicarbonate aka Baking Soda is applied at high pressure to remove the finish. First, you will need a soda blaster machine, which can retail anywhere from $30 and upwards of $200. Ask yourself if you’re ready for this investment or if this is a one-time only kind of thing. This is a great way to get in detail and crevices. However, you can quickly damage the wood. This method is preferred over chemicals because it can be done without all of the harsh chemicals.

Sanding Furniture

Sanding furniture is a guaranteed way to remove the finish and honestly, it’s one of my favorites. An orbital sander is a great place to start to achieve the natural look of wood. Understanding the different grits of sandpaper will help you excel. The lower the grit of sandpaper, the more coarse it is, meaning it will remove more finish. However, this is not always key with removing finish because lower grit sandpaper might scratch precious wood and it will blast through veneer. Higher grit sandpaper is great for buffing out imperfections and when working with veneer. I like to start with 120-grit sandpaper and test a spot. If I need more removal, I’ll go lower in grit if it’s not veneer.

Sanding furniture with orbital sander to remove finish.

Helpful Tools for Stripping Furniture

Having the right tools for stripping furniture will help to speed up the process and ensure better results. I like to make sure I have all of these items on hand in the event they’re needed. Having everything you need will decrease the amount of times you have to run to the hardware store, because that’s never fun in the middle of a project!

First things first, make sure you have all items needed for safety like gloves, goggles, and a mask. Read the back of the container carefully to ensure you select the right safety items for your project. You will need a project brush to apply some of the products. This does not need to be high quality, a simple project brush will be sufficient. Having a few metal or glass bowls is helpful. Avoid plastic bowls, as the chemicals will react with the plastic. Keep Saran Wrap on hand, as it’s helpful for products like citristrip and keeping it from drying out. You will need a variety of scrapers and brushes. I prefer a plastic scraper because metal scrapers can scratch the wood. Also, a stiff brush to use in areas with detail. Finally, before getting started, make sure you have the area protected with plastic or a drop cloth. This is messy work!

Using a brush to clean wood furniture after stripping with refinishing product.

Determining the Kind of Furniture You’re Refinishing

One of the hardest things about determining which method to use on a piece of furniture is determining what kind of furniture you’re working with. Solid wood and quality veneer are the easiest to strip, giving the best results. A few tips for determining if a piece of furniture can be stripped:

  • Check for any peeling and bubbling on the top. If it’s peeling back in areas, it’s likely veneer.
  • If it does have peeling, I like to see what’s under that peeling or damaged area. This is the quickest way to determine if it’s manufactured or particle board beneath a cheap veneer. These are not great candidates for stripping.
  • Look inside a drawer, underneath, or behind for branding. You can then do a quick Google search with the brand and description of the piece to get a better idea of it’s makeup.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the easiest way to strip furniture? Depending on your project, I’ve found the quickest way to remove finish is by using oven cleaner. However, this leaves you with a distinct, dried out and bleached look. If you’re looking to preserve a piece of furniture, use a mild stripper like Citristrip and make your way up to the products with harsher chemicals.

Is it better to sand or strip furniture? It really depends on your piece of furniture, if you’ll sand or strip the piece. Often, it’s necessary to sand following stripping to create a nice and clean surface for refinishing. Some stain and varnish are super thick, so sanding that off will require a lot of effort, so stripping the piece first makes the most sense.

Can you strip paint from furniture? Removing paint from furniture can be a daunting task but it can be done. Some paint can be removed using paint strippers like Citristrip and Klean-Strip Paint and Varnish Remover.

Are you inspired to go thrifting or strip a piece of furniture you already own? I would love to hear more about your furniture ventures in my exclusive Facebook Group. Come with your questions and make some new friends that love a natural furniture look!

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2 Comments

  1. What was the most effective method for stripping your Pottery Barn furniture? I have the Benchwright coffee table/end table in a mahogony stain and would like to make it close to their seadrift color. It says the furniture is a mix of poplar wood and veneer. Also, is it safe to use these methods indoors?

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