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How To Strip Paint from Wood – The 7 Best Methods

The best part about painting wood is that it’s never permanent. You can always change your mind or change your style and paint the same wall or piece of furniture again with a different color. Whenever you’re making a change that way, you need to decide if you’re going to just paint on top of what you’ve done, or if you need to strip the paint from the wood before you start.

How To Strip Paint from Wood
How To Strip Paint from Wood

Whether you’re stripping paint to change up a paint color or to go more natural with simple, stained wood, by the end of this article, you’ll have plenty of options for next steps! You can strip paint as naturally or as harshly as you want. We’re going to talk through the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed decision as to what works best for your project.

Why Strip Paint from Wood?

The biggest, most universal reason to strip paint from wood is to start with a fresh, blank canvas. Instead of painting over multiple layers of paint, putting a fresh coat on a fresh piece of wood lends itself to much better results.

Another reason for stripping paint off of wood is to fix a poor previous paint job. If it’s chipping off already, faded over some time, or applied unevenly, your new paint will not look as good as it could if you stripped the paint.

Lastly, it’s important to strip old paint off if it’s lead-based paint. If what you are painting has been around since the 1970s, there’s a chance one of the layers of paint on it could contain lead and it can be harmful to your health. Before 1978, it wasn’t known that lead paint is dangerous and it was used regularly. If you’re painting something from before 1978, make sure to have a lead paint test handy so that you can take the extra steps of precaution if necessary.

The 7 Best Methods for How To Strip Paint from Wood

1. Using Sandpaper To Strip Paint from Wood

The simplest method of paint removal is sanding off the existing paint. A handheld sander, a dust mask, heavy grit sandpaper, and some elbow grease will get that paint off. Remember, sand with the grain of the wood and keep the sander moving or else you may create a dip or gouge in the wood. Once all of the paint is off, use a damp cloth to completely clean off the fresh surface.

Stripping paint from wood with sandpaper
Stripping paint from wood with sandpaper

Sanding paint off of wood is going to make a big mess, so this is best done outside or in a space like a workshop or a garage. This method is best for small pieces since the time it would take to sand layers of paint on something like a kitchen full of cabinets would be longer than anyone would want it to be.

The one exception to that rule would be hardwood floors. I’ve you’ve got painted hardwood floors, renting a giant sander to get the paint, dirt, and grime off of them before repainting or staining them is a great option!

Stripping paint from wood with a hand-held sander
Stripping paint from wood with a hand-held sander

2. Using Vinegar To Strip Paint from Wood

When it comes to how to strip paint from wood, Vinegar is another good natural option to try if you’re trying to avoid a harsh chemical paint stripper. While vinegar doesn’t completely remove the paint, it softens it up and makes scraping it off much quicker and easier. Simply boil some vinegar in a pot on your stove and then use a paintbrush to apply it to whatever paint you’re working to remove.

Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes and then test the paint. You may need to repeat this step if it’s not soft enough yet. Once the paint has softened, use a putty knife or a plastic scraper to start working the paint off.

There may be some stubborn bits of paint you’ve got to go back and sand down, but the vinegar will absolutely get the job started. When you’re finished, wipe the surface down with a damp cloth to remove any bits of leftover paint and the vinegar smell. If there’s still an aroma lingering, don’t worry. It will dissipate quickly!

3. Using a Pressure Washer To Strip Paint from Wood

If you’ve got a big paint removal project, like a deck or the sides of your house, a pressure washer is a fantastic method for how to strip paint from wood! You’ll need a pressure washer with a PSI rating of at least 2500 to get the job done, but a psi rating of 3000 is even better.

Stripping paint from wood with a pressure washer
Stripping paint from wood with a pressure washer

Before getting started, make sure you prep all of your doors and windows to keep water from getting inside your house. Then simply move the water jet with the grain of the wood to remove the paint.

4. Using a Heat Gun To Strip Paint from Wood

If you’ve got something with layers and layers of paint you’re trying to remove, the heat gun is a good method to try out. It takes some preparation, practice, and precautions, but it can get multiple layers of paint off at one time. On top of a paint gun, make sure you have a ventilator, a pair of heat-resistant gloves, a metal paint scraper, and a big trash can to put the old paint in.

Stripping paint from wood with a heat gun and scraper
Stripping paint from wood with a heat gun and scraper

Leave the heat gun on a lower setting (higher settings could burn the wood if not careful), hold it about an inch from the painted surface, and move it around a small section until the paint begins to bubble. Then use your paint scraper and scrape the paint off and into the trash. You may try to keep the heat gun in one hand and the scraper in the other and carefully do it at the same time in order to keep the paint from cooling down when scraping. Then continue until all of the paint is removed.

5. Using a Wire Brush To Strip Paint from Wood

A wire brush to remove paint require a lot of elbow grease and hard work, but it’s a great option for very detailed pieces or hard-to-reach corners. It can help you get the initial chipping coat off of what you’re stripping or it can be used in conjunction with another one of these methods, like vinegar or a chemical stripper. It’s an important tool to have on hand if you’re working to remove paint from tricky places.

Stripping paint from wood with a wire brush
Stripping paint from wood with a wire brush

6. Using a Soy-Based Paint Remover To Strip Paint from Wood

Soy-based paint removers contain a methyl ester, methyl soyate, distilled from soybean oil. This solvent is much more environmentally friendly and sustainable than other petroleum-based products. It’s low VOCs, has no ozone-depleting chemicals, and low flammability.

These gels work well, but they take a little longer to remove paint from surfaces. Simply apply it with a paintbrush and then leave it for up to several hours. It doesn’t drip or evaporate, so it will not go anywhere and it will stay effective. The longer the soy-based stripper remains on the paint, the easier the removal will be.

7. Using a Chemical Paint Stripper To Strip Paint from Wood

If natural methods aren’t your cup of tea, a chemical paint stripper is sure to do the job well. There are several options, so do some research to figure out which one you’re most comfortable with, but the general method is all the same.

The first step is to apply a nice, thick layer of stripper with an old paintbrush that you can toss out when you’re done. Take your time and make sure to get the product deep into any intricate details.

Then, walk away. Let the paint stripper do its work on the paint. Look at the instructions and leave it alone until the recommended time has passed.

Once the time has passed and the paint has softened, get to scraping. Use a plastic or metal scraper for flat surfaces and some steel wool or an old toothbrush on stubborn bits or in corners. Be careful using metal to you can avoid scratching or gouging the wood.

Scraping paint off wood after using a chemical paint stripper
Scraping paint off wood after using a chemical paint stripper

If there’s still paint left you can’t get off, go ahead and re-apply the stripper and start from the beginning. Repeat as necessary.

Make sure to read the instructions thoroughly as sometimes you’ve got to wash off the stripper to neutralize the chemicals.

Wrapping Up How To Strip Paint from Wood

Now that you’ve got seven methods for how to strip paint from wood, ranging from completely natural with some elbow work to efficient chemicals, what project are you about to start? An heirloom piece you want to breathe new life into? An old bed frame you want to make new? A kitchen full of cabinets that need an upgrade? If you’re looking for some inspiration, make sure to check out 21 Painted Kitchen Cabinet Ideas to Inspire You!

Let us know in the comments which one of these methods you try!