How to Strip Painted Furniture

By Jan Soults Walker

You just know there's beautiful wood somewhere beneath all that paint. Here's how to safely get to the bottom of things and reveal your furniture's original look.

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Karen Watson

Chemical stripper

When using a chemical paint stripper, select one with low fumes and wear protective eyewear and butyl rubber or neoprene gloves (solvent-based strippers will dissolve ordinary rubber gloves). Read and follow the manufacturer's instructions and always work outdoors in the shade or in a very well-ventilated area (such as with windows open to create a cross breeze). Never use flammable strippers near sparks or an open flame, such near as a gas stove or furnace. Protect the work area from drips with drop cloths, cardboard, and/or several layers of newspaper, and cover portions of the furniture where you don't want to apply stripper. Remove any hardware that might be in the way.

Apply stripper gel, paste, spray, or liquid to a manageable section of the surface. When using a brush application, brush in one direction, applying a thick coat; don't go back over an application. For spray applications, point the nozzle away from you and keep the sprayer 10 to 12 inches above the wood surface.

Allow the stripper to set for the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer, usually about 30 minutes. A bubbling action means the stripper is lifting the painted finish away from the surface for easier removal.

Use a metal or plastic scraping blade (as recommended by the manufacturer) to remove the paint. For recesses, use a scouring pad, a stripping brush, or old toothbrush. (If stubborn bits of paint remain, you may need to do a second application of stripper and repeat scraping.) Depending on how much paint is left behind, wipe small amounts away with mineral spirits and/or follow with coarse steel wool (Grade 3 or 4) to remove the remainder. Finish the process by smoothing the surface with 120-grit sandpaper.

Heat gun

Another option for removing paint from wood furniture is an electric heat gun, which—you guessed it—uses heat to soften the paint for removal with a scraper. Follow the manufacturer's suggestions for using the gun, but use caution and don't direct the heat in one place too long or you could damage the wood.


A power sander can also remove paint from wood furniture. Avoid this strategy for good wood pieces because heavy sanding can remove layers of wood along with the paint.

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