How to Strip Paint from Wood Furniture

Stripping paint from wood furniture doesn’t need to be hard! We’re breaking down the steps so it isn’t overwhelming. Here’s the step by step process of how to strip paint from wood furniture.

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Whether you’re stripping paint from basic wood, or wood furniture with more details, the process of stripping paint with a chemical stripper is the same.

And if you have lead-based paint on your furniture, this is the best way to remove lead paint from your furniture.

Check out this post for step-by-step info on how to use a lead paint test kit to see if your furniture has lead paint on it.

We’ve used this exact process multiple times with great results every time.

It also works on multiple layers of paint and/or stain.

I picked this painted dresser up at the thrift store to demonstrate how to strip paint from wood furniture.

red painted dresser before removing the paint

So let’s dive into the step-by-step process!

How to Strip Paint from Wood Furniture

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Supplies Used:

dresser after. a raw wood dresser with a few spots of primer remaining

How to Strip Paint from Wood

  1. Brush a Thick Layer of Citristrip on in a Manageable Area
  2. Cover with Plastic Wrap
  3. Wait
  4. Scrape off the Paint and Citristrip
  5. Repeat If Needed
  6. Remove the Citristrip Residue
  7. Let Dry
  8. Sand Smooth

Step 1: Brush a Thick Layer of Citristrip on in a Manageable Area

First, lay down some cardboard under the piece so you don’t get stripper and paint all over the floor.

Then grab some gloves, a cheap paintbrush, a paper plate, and the Citristrip stripper.

Pour some stripper onto the paper plate and then use the brush to brush the stripper all over.

Brush it on as thick as you can!!

brushing a thick layer of citristrip onto the side of the dresser

But don’t put stripper on the entire dresser. You’ll want to work in smaller areas.

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 big project to undertake!

So only put stripper on a small area first.

Once that area is stripped down, move on to the next area.

See how we stripped an entire dining table here!

Step 2: Cover with Plastic Wrap

Once you have stripper all over one area, grab some plastic wrap and cover the stripper.

top of dresser with citristrip and plastic wrap
dresser and drawers with citristrip and plastic on

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 or paint.

And no, the stripper won’t eat through the plastic wrap. 🙂

Step 3: Wait

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.

Click here for the paint removal checklist and guide

The bottle recommends waiting at least 30 minutes, but I haven’t ever seen the stripper work fast enough 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 paint 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 paint!

first layer of paint coming off with the plastic wrap

If you can’t see any of those things, leave it alone for a little while longer.

The paint on this dresser started to bubble and lift off after only a few hours.

Step 4: Scrape off the Paint and Citristrip

When it’s ready to strip off, put on your gloves, and remove the plastic from a small area.

scraping off the first layer of paint on the drawer

Then, scrape off most of the paint with the plastic scraper and dump it into an old container that has a lid.

Step 5: Repeat If Needed

Usually, if there is just one layer of paint, the paint comes off pretty easily!

On this piece, the red paint came off really easily, but the grey primer needed a little bit of elbow grease to get off.

So I put another thin coat of stripper on and left it for half an hour.

When I came back, the grey primer scrapped off more easily and it wasn’t as much work to scrub it off either (step 6).

scraping off the second layer of paint

Step 6: Remove the Citristrip Residue

Once you’ve scraped off all that you can, dip your steel wool or scrubbing pad into the mineral spirits and start scrubbing the rest of the paint away.

The mineral spirits help to remove the residue of the stripper and it also helps to soften any paint that the stripper didn’t lift up.

cleaning residue off with mineral spirits and steel wool

Once the steel wool is fully caked with gunk, grab a new piece of steel wool and dip it into more mineral spirits.

Keep scrubbing away with the steel wool and mineral spirits until the paint is all gone.

Then, move to the next section until everything is completely stripped down.

For this dresser, each section or drawer took about 20 minutes to get down to the wood.

Step 7: Let Dry

After it was completely stripped, I let it all dry for about 2 days.

Step 8: Sand Smooth

There were a couple of spots that still had a little bit of paint.

I didn’t mind the little bit of paint though since I plan to repaint it.

sanding dresser with surfprep sander

But the wood was rough from all the moisture.

So, I used my SurfPrep Sander and foam sanding pads to sand everything down to make sure it was all smooth and ready for a new paint job.

Watch the full video on this process here:

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Citristrip the Best Stripper?

This 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 fumes.

My overall health is more important to me than getting a project done faster.

New Citristrip Formula?

Around 2017, Citristrip came out with a new formula.

It was more translucent in color, and honestly, it didn’t work as well as the original formula.

It still worked, but there were some issues with it, (leaving splotchy looking areas in the wood was the biggest issue I had.)

Thank goodness, in 2020, Citristrip went back to selling what I believe is their original formula again!

The original formula is more of a pastel looking orange. The new formula (that they stopped selling) is more translucent.

And the more pastel looking color is the kind I am finding on the shelves at stores again.

I personally wouldn’t use the more translucent formula.

Do I Need to Remove Paint If I’m Painting Again?

I would recommend removing paint from furniture if you want to stain the wood underneath, OR if the paint job is peeling, scratching, or just plain bad.

If you want to remove the paint just so you can paint over it, and the paint that is already on it is in good condition and durable, there is a much easier way to go about it than removing the paint.

Click here for the paint removal checklist and guide

Check out the best tools for removing paint from wood here.

You’ll need to treat it like any other piece of furniture and prep the painted surface so the paint will stick onto it. Here’s how to prep furniture for paint.

Will Citristrip Remove Stain?

Citristrip can be used to remove stain or paint and the process is the exact same!

Here’s our tutorial on how to remove stain from detailed wood that you might be interested in!

How to Remove Layers of Paint from Wood

After scraping off the first layer of paint, repeat the process!

Citristrip can be reapplied to another layer of paint to remove it as well.

Typically you don’t have to wait as long for Citristrip to eat through the 2nd or 3rd layer of paint.

This piece had 2 layers of paint, the red paint and a grey primer underneath.

Can You Use Citristrip on Laminate Furniture?

Yes!! This piece had a laminate top. The paint came off way easier from the laminate top than it did the wood.

It didn’t ruin the laminate top either!

laminate top before cleaning with mineral spirits
Laminate Top – Paint Scraped Off
laminate top before cleaning with mineral spirits
Laminate Top – Paint Scraped Off
laminate top clean of paint
Laminate Top – Paint and Citristrip Residue Cleaned Up

When the paint and Citristrip were removed, the laminate top was in great condition.


"how to strip paint from wood" before and after pictures of the dresser

More Helpful Posts:

Click here for the paint removal checklist and guide

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  1. I use 0000 grit steel wool. It’s pretty fine.

  2. Nancy Molstad says:

    There must have been some shellac and lacquer and stain (and maybe paint) on the music cabinet I’m working on, because it took four sessions with CitriStrip and plastic wrap. When the wood finally dried, I sanded it down to the bare wood.

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