Removing wood stain from furniture can be tricky if not done properly. In this blog post, we’ll provide step-by-step instructions on how to remove wood stain in a safe and effective way without damaging your furniture. We’ll discuss the best tools and techniques to use when quickly and effectively removing wood stain.
There’s nothing like revealing raw wood from underneath old wood stain, whether you’re looking to refinish your furniture or leave the furniture in a raw wood style finish. You might also be interested in repairing old furniture as well if you are working on refinishing your old furniture.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, removing wood stain from furniture is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes the wood stain comes off really easily, and it’s a pretty quick process. And other times, not so much.
If you want to remove one layer of wood stain from a flat surface, it should be a decently quick and painless project.
But if you want to take on stripping a piece of furniture down to raw wood, it can be a pretty long process. Especially if there are multiple layers of stain/paint!
Before you start your project, no matter how big or small though, here are the best tips and tricks for removing wood stain from furniture! And, of course, the step by step process on how to remove wood stain.
Supplies Used for Removing Wood Stain
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- Citristrip Stripping Gel: Amazon or Home Depot
- Cheap Paint Brush
- Gloves: Amazon or Home Depot
- Mineral Spirits: Amazon or Home Depot
- 0000 Steel Wool: Amazon or Home Depot
- Toothbrush / Wire Brush: Amazon or Home Depot
- Putty Knife (for flat surfaces!): Amazon or Home Depot
Here are some other great tools for removing paint (or stain) from wood.
How to Remove Wood Stain from Furniture
Let’s dive into how to remove stain from detailed wood like the legs on this mini buffet! This technique can be used on stain or paint.
Actually, this piece had a layer of paint and 2 layers of stain that we had to remove to get it down to bare wood. I’m sure it had some polyurethane topcoat on it as well.
Protect Yourself and Your Work Area
First, setup your area. Work in a well-ventilated area if possible. Citristrip doesn’t have a really harsh smell like most other strippers, but for your health, it’s still smart to work in a ventilated area.
I also like to wear my respirator to protect my lungs. Then lay down some cardboard under the project so you don’t get stripper and stain all over the floor.
Here are more great ideas to protect your furniture and floor (It was written to share about how to prevent overspray, but they are great ideas to protect furniture and area from the mess of the stripper.)
Brush on Citristrip Stripper
If you have a lot of stain to remove, work in small areas at a time. Trust me, you don’t want to put stripper all over the entire piece and try to work on it all at one time.
It’s a huge project to undertake! So only put stripper on a small area first. (Like one leg, or the top, or side of your furniture.) Once that area is stripped down to raw wood, move onto the next area.
I recently tried a new chemical stripper that I love even more than this method. Check out my Stripwell QCS review to see why I like it!
Check out our blog post about the best wood stain removers to learn more about the pros and cons of each product.
Here are more tips and tricks on how to remove stain from wood without sanding.
Cover and Let Citistrip Sit
Once you have the stripper all over, grab some plastic wrap and cover the stripper. The plastic wrap will help keep the stripper from drying out, making the stripper work longer.
Once the stripper dries out, it won’t be able to eat through the stain anymore.
Then, sit back relax, and let the stripper go to work! I like to let the stripper sit there for about 8-12 hours, but no more than 24 hours.
The bottle recommends waiting at least 30 minutes, but I haven’t ever seen the stripper work fast enough on stain to be ready after only 30 minutes.
You can check on it here and there by pulling off the plastic just a little bit to see if the stain is starting to lift off, bubble, or get really gooey.
If it’s gooey, bubbled up or lifting off with the plastic, you’re ready to start removing the stain! If you can’t see any of those things, and it hasn’t been 8 hours, leave it alone for a little while longer.
Remove Wood Stain
If you have a flat surface, you can remove most of the gunk first with a flat plastic scraper. But these legs didn’t leave me much room to use a scraper, so I dove in with the steel wool first.
Check out this other post on removing stain from detailed wood for more details.
Remove Citristrip Residue
The mineral spirits helps to remove the residue of the stripper and it also helps to soften any stain that the stripper didn’t lift up.
Once the steel wool is fully caked with gunk, grab a new piece of steel wool and dip it into more mineral spirits.
Removing Multiple Layers of Stain/Paint
Usually, if there is just one layer of stain, the stain comes off pretty easily, without much scrubbing.
But, once I started getting into this project, I could tell that someone had painted the whole piece with a cream color paint and then put a gel stain on top of it.
So, instead of just one layer of stain to get through, I had 2 layers of stain and one layer of paint to get through.
Which made the project take a bit more elbow grease than I planned on.
**But, that’s why I recommend to only apply Citristrip to a small area at a time!**
If you end up finding multiple layers of paint, it will take longer to strip than if there are one or two different layers of paint.
So, I just kept scrubbing away with the steel wool and mineral spirits until I could tell that I was down to raw wood.
It was also easier to scrub all of the layers off when the mineral spirits had sat there for a little bit. It took an hour to scrub one leg down completely.
Let the Wood Dry
After they were both completely stripped, I let them dry for a day or two.
The wood was really saturated and wet, so I let it dry completely.
Sand Places You Missed When Scrubbing
Here’s what they looked like a couple of days later.
Learn more on how to sand down wood here.
I also sanded the rest of the legs down to get any leftover stripper residue off. Check out this post to learn about the best sandpaper for furniture painting.
If you’re a visual learner, check out our full video tutorial on how to remove wood stain here!
Now they’re ready to refinish with some stain, dark wax or even paint! Here are the best wood stains for refinishing furniture.
Learn more about how to refinish wood furniture here.
If you don’t have the time to remove old stain, check out my guide for painting over oil based stain.
Projects That Used This Wood Stain Removal Process
Check out this Behr chalk paint review to see the rest of this buffet makeover! But here are some other projects where we used Citristrip and this whole process to remove stain.
- How To Strip A Kitchen Table
- Painting A Dresser White
- Black Painted Antique Buffet
- Refinishing An Old Dresser
- Painting Furniture Gold
How Much Citristrip Do I Need?
I used about half of a 1/2 gallon size of Citristrip stripping gel for these legs. Obviously, if you have a lot more to remove, you’ll want more stripper.
For a small 3 drawer dresser, I have used about 1 and a half 1/2 gallons of Citristrip stripping gel.
What Happens if Citristrip is Left on Too Long?
Honestly, the only thing I have really noticed is that the stripper just dries out. You can use a putty knife to remove the dried out Citristrip.
If you’re lucky, you’ll remove the stain with the dried Citristrip. If not, just brush more Citristrip on the entire area you were working on and repeat the above steps.
I really don’t recommend letting it sit too long, but it shouldn’t be the end of the world if you do let it sit too long. 🙂
Best Wood Stain Remover
Citristrip stripper is my favorite to use because it isn’t harsh like other strippers, and you can use it indoors!
I also love that the smell isn’t super strong. But, I still like to wear a mask to protect my lungs from the smaller amount of fumes.
Plus, it really does work! But, you have to let it sit for a while so it can eat through the stain. Seriously, 30 minutes is not enough time to let it work.
How to Restain Wood Without Removing the Stain
If you don’t want to go through this whole process, you might be able to get away with using a gel stain instead. Gel stain sits on top of old stain finishes, so you can leave your old finish on there.
And this desk makeover we stained the wood darker without removing the stain.
- Protect yourself and your work area. Work in a well-ventilated area and lay down some cardboard under the furniture so you don’t get stripper and stain all over the floor.
- Put on your gloves then brush on the stripper as thickly as you can. If you have a lot of stain to remove, work in small areas at a time.
- Once you have the stripper all over, grab some plastic wrap and cover the stripper. The plastic wrap will help keep the stripper from drying out, making the stripper work longer. Let the stripper on the furniture sit for about 8-12 hours.
- When it’s ready to strip, put on your gloves, and remove the plastic from a small area. Dip your steel wool or scrubbing pad into the mineral spirits and start scrubbing the stripper and stain away. Once the steel wool is fully caked with gunk, grab a new piece of steel wool and dip it into more mineral spirits to remove stripper residue.
- After the wood's been completely stripped, let it dry for a day or two.
- Sand the spots you missed when scrubbing with some sandpaper.
- Now you can refinish with some stain, dark wax, or even paint!
More Refinishing Furniture Resources
- How to Strip Paint from Wood Furniture
- Staining a Dresser Darker
- How to Paint a Stained Dresser
- Furniture Refinishing Tools
- How to Refinish a Dresser
Follow us on YouTube to get more tips for painting furniture.
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