Project Guide

How to Remove Paint From Wood

Chemical Paint Strippers - Apply Paint Stripper
Person applying a chemical stripper onto wood furniture.

Chemical paint strippers prove quite effective with wood in complex shapes such as moldings.

  • Pour a small amount of the paint stripper into a glass or metal container and apply it as specified on the label. Many chemical strippers need a few minutes to set before removal.
  • Use a gel or paste when stripping paint from vertical surfaces such as wooden doorframes.
  • It's best to start at the top of your project and work your way down. Take the time to work it into hard-to-reach places.
Remove Stripper
Person using a scraper to remove paint from wood.

Tip: Sprinkle a light coating of sawdust over the stripper just before you remove it. The sawdust thickens the stripper, making it easier to remove.

  • Gently using a paint scraper or putty knife, remove as indicated on manufacturer’s instructions. 
Retreat Problem Areas
Person uses a specialty scraper to remove paint from a problem area.
  • Reapply the paint stripper to detailed or problem areas and use specialty scrapers to remove the softened material.
  • Use light pressure on the scrapers to keep from tearing or gouging the wood.
  • If you can’t find a contoured scraper, use the corner of a putty knife.
Scrub to Remove Old Finish and Leftover Chemical Stripper
Person scrubs the surface to remove the last traces of paint.
  • Scrub the entire project with nylon brushes or abrasive pads to remove all traces of the old finish and the stripper sludge.  
Heat Guns - Use Heat Gun on Surface
Person points the heat gun at the painted surface.

Heat guns are especially effective at taking off varnish and other finishes. 

  • With the heat gun running, point the nozzle at the work surface, keeping it about 2 inches away.
  • Move the gun back and forth across the surface until the paint begins to bubble and blister. Stop if the finish begins to smoke.

Safety: Because heat guns generate high temperatures, keep a fire extinguisher nearby, wear long sleeves to keep hot paint from skin and turn off the heat gun when not in use.

Scrape Off All the Paint
Person using a putty knife to gently remove the softened paint.

Tip: Special paint scrapers with angled blades work better than most ordinary scrapers.

  • Hold the putty knife at about a 30-degree angle and use it like a plow to push the old paint away. Avoid gouging the wood.
Address Problem Areas
Person uses a specialty scraper to remove the paint from a problem area.
  • Go back over detailed areas with the heat gun, using a contoured scraper to remove the paint from narrow crevices.
Wipe Down the Surface
Person wipes down the surface after removing paint.
  • Any stubborn flecks that remain can usually be removed by using just the scraper.
  • When the paint is all gone, wash the surface with denatured alcohol or mineral spirits.
Sanding - Prepare the Surface
Person cleans the wooden surface before removing paint.

Sanding off old finishes is efficient, but must be done carefully to avoid wood damage.

  • Thoroughly clean the painted surface with degreasing cleaner, dish soap or household cleaner. If necessary, remove any knobs, hinges or other metal hardware from the wood.
Sand the Finish
Person applies sandpaper to the wooden surface, using enough pressure to remove the paint.

Safety: Wear safety goggles and a face mask. Avoid using sanders indoors.

  • Apply sandpaper with a hand sander or sanding block to the surface, using enough pressure to remove the paint but not so much that it damages the wood.
  • Use 180-grain sandpaper on most coats, but switch to a coarser, 80-grain paper when removing thick globs of old paint.
Remove the Dust
Person wipes the sanded surface free of dust.
  • Wipe the entire surface clean of dust with a cloth. 

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