How to remove paint or varnish from wood

Updated April 17, 2017

Sometimes an old piece of furniture or construction just needs a new coat of paint or varnish for it to look as good as new. If you wish to repaint wooden furniture, walls or fixtures, you must first remove the old paint or varnish. If you don't, the new paint won't properly adhere to the wood, leading to expedited peeling and chipping. Thankfully, it's relatively simple to remove paint or varnish from wood.

Place the wood in a well-ventilated area as paint stripper is toxic. If you inhale the fumes, you may become light-headed, nauseous and even pass out.

Wear protective gloves and eye goggles. Paint stripper is highly irritating to both your eyes and skin. Keep yourself protected.

Apply paint stripper to the wood. Use a paint brush to apply a thick layer over the entire area. If you need to remove several coats of paint or varnish, you may need to give the wood a second application of stripper.

Let the stripper work on the wood. Though specific directions vary from product to product, most paint strippers must remain on the wood for five to 10 minutes.

Scrape the paint off the wood, using a paint or varnish scraper. The stripper causes the paint to bubble, making it easy to remove. Use light pressure to gently scrape it away. If you apply too much pressure, you may damage the wood.

Dip a rag in white spirit and wipe down the wood. This will remove paint bits that may be clinging to it.

Use sandpaper to remove remaining paint. Opt for fine-grain sandpaper for minor touch-ups and coarse-grain sandpaper for larger areas.


If you suspect the wood may have lead paint on it, take it to a professional. Lead paint particles and fumes are highly toxic if inhaled.

Things You'll Need

  • Paint stripper
  • Paintbrush
  • Safety goggles
  • Protective gloves
  • Paint or varnish scraper
  • Rag
  • White spirit
  • Sandpaper
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