Do you have some painted woodwork or furniture that you're looking to restore? If you want to do the job right, you'll first need to remove the old paint. While you can accomplish this by sanding off the old paint, this may result in an uneven finish and cause damage if you aren't familiar with sanding. It's also an incredibly labor-intensive and dusty project. Plus, if you suspect you might be dealing with lead paint, the wood should not be sanded due to health hazards.
Fortunately, there is a way to get the job done using paint stripper, a chemical compound that softens the paint and makes it easier to scrape off the wood. While paint stripper is notorious for being a bit harsh, modern versions of the compounds have dialed back some of the more caustic elements. In fact, it's now even possible to buy paint stripper that uses natural ingredients to get the job done. The natural products take a bit longer than the other versions, though, so your decision will depend on your stance on eco-friendly chemicals and the amount of time you have to accomplish your task.
For our project, we decided to use regular paint stripper on an old painted milk door to bring it back to its original state. Follow along to learn how to strip paint from wood in a few easy steps. We also provide some advice for speeding up the process and offer some essential safety tips.
Be sure to gear up with gloves, safety glasses, an apron, and protective clothing before beginning. Do not attempt this project in open-toed shoes or shorts. Make sure you're located in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors.
Equipment / Tools
- Metal putty knife
- Protective eyewear
- Paint stripper of choice
- Mineral spirits or water
- Steel wool
Apply Paint Stripper
First, apply the paint stripper according to the manufacturer's directions. Most products will advise you to brush on the stripper in a very thick coat using brushstrokes in one direction. Remember, the thinner the layer, the less effective the stripper will work. Don't skimp on this step.
If you are using an environmentally-friendly stripper that isn't as potent, or you have a ton of layers of paint to strip, wrap the entire piece in plastic wrap after the first is coat is applied. Then, wait 15-24 hours for the stripper to start peeling back the paint. We started to see results in under 20 minutes.
Wait for Paint to Bubble
You'll know the first layer of paint is ready to be stripped once you start to see it bubble. If you have plastic wrap over your wood, slowly peel back a corner to check.
Whatever you do, don't leave the wood too long with the stripper and paint on it. If the stripper and paint dry, they can harden back into the wood and become harder to remove. You want the stripper to still be wet to the touch when you start scraping.
Scrape With Metal Putty Knife
Carefully start scraping back layers of paint using a metal putty knife. Be careful not to be too aggressive here because you could gouge the wood. In most cases, not all the paint comes up with the first pass, and that's okay. Don't force it. Just scrape back whatever paint comes up easily.
Don't use a plastic putty knife for this project if you're using a heavy-duty paint stripper because the stripper could melt the plastic.
Reapply Stripper as Necessary
You might need to add and scrape off three to four coats of stripper before all the paint is removed. A lot will depend on how many layers of paint are on the wood as well as the type of paint and stripper used.
Clean With Mineral Spirits
Once you've gotten as much paint off as you can, clean up the remaining stripper using mineral spirits and a cloth. Some environmentally-friendly strippers will tell you to use water instead. Follow the manufacturer's directions, but keep in mind that water can open up the grain of the wood.
Use Steel Wool on Stubborn Spots
After we cleaned up the majority of the stripper with the mineral spirits and cloth, we opted to go back in with a fine piece of steel wool that was also dunked in mineral spirits. This step helped lift more paint and stain than the cloth alone.
Prep Wood for Refinishing
Once you get off as much paint as possible, it's time to prep the wood for refinishing. We opted to give the wood a final rub down with some paint thinner. Once it was dry, we gave the wood a light sanding to smooth the edges, and then it was ready to be refinished and given an entirely new look.