How to Remove Paint From Wood: Sanding vs. Stripping

Wondering how to remove paint from wood? Taking off the top layers of paint from old dressers, doors, and other wooden items can give them a whole new look. Plus, you don’t have to be a carpenter to pull off this project on your own; with a little elbow grease it’s an easy weekend DIY.

Still, before you head to the hardware store, you’ll want to know whether sanding or stripping is better for your project. Here’s how to decide, and the steps on how to remove paint from wood, whichever method you pick.

Sanding vs. stripping paint: Which method is better?

Sanding is fine if you’re planning to paint over the surface anyway. In this instance, the goal of sanding isn’t to remove every last speck of paint; it’s just to get the surface scuffed up enough that new paint will adhere to it.

How to sand paint off wood

Materials you’ll need:

  • 180-grit sandpaper
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • Small, handheld sander or sanding block

Before starting, prep the woodwork with soap and water, cleaning off the surface. Load your handheld sander or sanding block with the sandpaper and start sanding!

“Sand paint with 180-grit sandpaper until it becomes dull,” says Blake Aylott of Project Build Construction in Laguna Hills, CA. “If you need to sand away paint globs, then use a coarser grit paper like an 80 grit.”

Once that shiny top layer of paint is gone, wipe away your dust. As long as the surface is rough rather than smooth, “you can prime then paint,” says Scott Specker, owner of Five Star Painting of Suwanee, in Cumming, GA.

If, however, you don’t plan on repainting the object but prefer instead to show off the wood grain underneath (or stain it at most), then you’re going to have to remove every last drop of old paint. In this case, sanding is a futile endeavor and you should use paint stripper instead.

How to strip paint from wood

Materials you’ll need:

  • Thick rubber gloves
  • Face mask
  • Paint stripper
  • Steel wool
  • Mineral spirits
  • Paintbrush
  • Small bowl
  • Plastic or metal scraper

Most strippers are in liquid form, but if your project is vertical walls, Aylott recommends using a stripper in gel or paste form. Regardless of what you choose, every paint-stripping project needs to begin with some reading. Although most chemical paint strippers are similar, the directions do vary slightly, so you’ll want to make sure you read them thoroughly.

After putting on protective gloves and a face mask, fill a small bowl with the paint stripper, grab your brush, and begin applying stripper to the old paint. It can be painted on, just the way you would apply regular paint.

“Work on small sections at a time,” Aylott advises, and apply the paint uniformly, so it will strip the paint evenly.

Allow the paint stripper to sit until the paint beneath begins to crack and bubble. Once you notice the bubbles, grab your scraper and begin scraping away as much as you can. It’s best to tackle the paint right when it’s bubbling, rather than allowing it to sit, as it will dry and readhere to the surface.

Article by After you’ve scraped off as much paint as you can, apply another coat of paint stripper, again using the paintbrush. Follow the same steps: scraping when the paint bubbles. The number of times you have to do these steps will depend on how much paint is on the surface.

Once you’ve scraped your way to the wood’s surface, apply mineral spirits with an old rag or paper towel, and scrub off the remaining remnants of paint with steel wool.

When all the paint is gone, Aylott recommends cleaning down the surface with mineral spirits one final time.

“Rubbing the surface with mineral spirits is crucial for avoiding problems when sanding and staining later, because the mineral spirits remove the stripper from the wood,” he explains.

Now the wood is ready to be refinished!

If you’re not up for all that work, there is an alternative: Some professionals offer dip tanks, where portable pieces of wood (like a door or table) can be dipped in a vat of stripping agent.

Article by Jeanne Sager