How to Remove Paint from Wood: A Step-By-Step Guide

Wooden door with half of the paint removed

Whether you want to give your furniture a fresh coat of paint or reveal the natural beauty of wood siding or trim, knowing how to remove old paint from wood is essential. It may seem like a challenging task, but with the right tools, proper techniques, and a little patience, you can achieve great results. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you with the process.

Why Remove Paint From Wood?

Here are some reasons why you may need to remove paint from wood:

  • Change color: If you’re bored with the color of your wood furniture or want to match it with a new decor, removing paint is necessary.
  • Repair damaged paint: Painted wood develops chips and cracks over time. Removing the damaged paint is necessary to fix these damages and apply a new coat.
  • Reveal wood grain: Removing paint reveals the natural beauty of the wood.
  • Restore old furniture: Stripping paint from old furniture is necessary to repaint or stain the wood. 

What You Need

Before you begin the paint removal process, make sure you have these tools handy:

  • Utility blade
  • Two rags
  • 3M LeadCheck Swabs
  • Drop cloth 
  • Painter’s tape
  • Chemical paint stripper, heat gun, pressure washer, or vinegar solution (depending on the method you choose to remove the paint)
  • Sandpaper (80-, 150-, and 220-grits)

Safety Gear:

  • Safety glasses
  • Respirator
  • Long sleeves
  • Gloves

You can purchase these tools from Amazon or your local home improvement store.

Steps to Remove Paint From Wood

1. Find Out if the Wood Is Worth Stripping

Stripping paint can be a messy and labor-intensive task. Removing paint from rotten wood is worthless and a waste of time. Here’s how you can check for rot:

  • Cracks and splits
  • Wood shrinkage
  • Musty odor
  • Visible fungal growth on the surface
  • Discoloration — darker than the surrounding wood
  • The wood feels soft or spongy, or crumbles easily

If only a portion of the wood is affected by rot, you can use fungicides like boric acid to treat it. If you notice cracks or the wood is spongy, you have no option but to replace it.

2. Inspect for Lead

The dust from lead-based paint poses significant health risks, especially to children. It can cause learning disabilities and a lower IQ. Adults exposed to lead paint may experience headaches, high blood pressure, and memory loss. 

In 1978, the federal government banned household use of lead-based paint. However, if your house was built before 1978, there’s a good chance that the surfaces contain lead-based paint. 

You can use DIY test kits like 3M LeadCheck Swabs to test for lead-based paint. Follow these steps to check for it. 

  • Clean the surface with a dry rag. 
  • Use a utility blade to cut through layers of paint. 
  • Squeeze the designated areas, usually marked as “A” and “B,” to mix the solid and liquid chemicals inside the swab. 
  • Shake thrice with the swab tip facing down. 
  • Press the swab gently until the yellow liquid comes to the tip. 
  • Gently rub the swab on the test area for about 30 seconds while gently pressing the swab.
  • If the swab turns pink or red, the paint contains lead. If it doesn’t, that’s great. Use the confirmation card to check if the chemicals on the swab are reacting properly. The card contains traces of lead, which will cause the swab to change color upon contact.

If the paint contains lead, call the pros. It’s best to dispose of old wood furniture with lead paint because the time and money you spend to remove the paint isn’t worth the effort. 

Check out our lead paint testing guide for more methods and advice.

3. Prepare the Area

It’s best to remove paint from objects outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces. If the item isn’t movable, open the windows to improve ventilation. 

Lay down drop cloths on the floor and use painter’s tape to protect smaller objects from dust and paint stripper. Cover the grass and plants if you’re working outside. 

4. Remove All Hardware (Nails, Screws, Doorknobs, etc.)

A doorknob on a wooden door with peeling paint
Photo Credit: / StockSnap / CC0 1.0

Remove nails, screws, brackets, and doorknobs to prevent them from getting damaged. Cover non-removable hardware with painter’s tape. 

5. Remove Paint From Wood

There are multiple ways to remove paint from wood, such as:

  • Chemical paint stripper
  • Heat gun 
  • Sanding
  • Paint scraper 
  • Vinegar
  • Pressure washer

Whatever method you choose, don’t forget to wear your safety glasses, gloves, long sleeves, and respirator. 

Chemical Paint Stripper

Ideal for: Large wood surfaces 

Chemical paint strippers are solvents that break down the paint to make it easier to remove. They come in three types and are effective against both water- and oil-based paints.

  • Caustic paint stripper contains a very high pH to break the molecular bonds in the paint. It’s easier to remove paint with a caustic paint stripper, but it can damage the wood. It also burns the skin and causes lung irritation. 
  • Solvent-based paint stripper contains solvents like NMP that penetrate and dissolve the paint. Removing a thick layer of paint with a solvent stripper may require more effort, but it doesn’t damage the wood. Solvent paint stripper may burn the skin but doesn’t cause lung irritation. 
  • Biochemical paint stripper contains less toxic citrus- and soy-based solvents, making it safer. However, it takes longer and requires more effort to remove paint.

Follow these steps to remove paint using paint stripper:

  • Pour generous amounts of stripper on the surface. 
  • Use a paint brush to spread it. Start from the top and work your way down. 
  • Allow an hour or two for the stripper to work, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. Biochemical paint strippers usually take longer to work. 
  • Use a metal putty knife to scrape off the softened paint. Scrape in the direction of the wood grain and be careful not to damage the wood. 
  • Repeat the process if there’s still some paint left. 
  • Use mineral spirit to clean the dust and leftover bits of paint. 

Note: If you’re removing paint from a vertical surface, such as a door, use a paint stripper in gel or paste consistency so it doesn’t drip down.

Heat Gun

Person using heat gun to remove paint from a wooden door
Photo Credit: Couperfield / Adobe Stock / License

Ideal for: Large wood surfaces

A heat gun causes the paint to melt and bubble, so it’s easier to remove. It also works well for removing varnish and stains from the wood. Here’s how to use a heat gun correctly without damaging the wood. 

  • Point the heat gun at the paint two inches from the surface. 
  • Slowly move the heat gun back and forth on a small area until the paint melts and bubbles. 
  • Scrape off the loosened paint with a metal putty knife in the same direction as the wood grain. 
  • Brush the dust away from the surface. 
  • Repeat the process in areas where there’s still some paint left. Use sandpaper to remove paint from narrow crevices. 
  • Clean the surface with mineral spirits.

Note: When removing paint with a heat gun, there’s a possibility that the wood will catch fire. Keep a bucket of water or fire extinguisher nearby to act quickly in case of mishaps. 


Hand sanding paint off wooden table
Photo Credit: Africa Studio / Adobe Stock / License

Ideal for: Small wood surfaces and intricate items like baseboards

Sanding is your best bet if you’re working on a small area with only a single layer of paint. It’s time-consuming and labor-intensive, but you can protect the wood from damage. 

You’ll need 80-, 150-, and 220-grit sandpaper for sanding. The higher the number, the finer the sandpaper. Once you have them handy, follow the steps below. 

  • Clean the wood surface with a degreaser and allow it to dry. 
  • Sand the surface with 80-grit sandpaper along the direction of the wood grain. Test on a small area to ensure you only remove the paint and do not damage the wood. 
  • Brush the dust away from the surface. 
  • Switch to 150-grit sandpaper to remove the existing paint and finish with 220-grit sandpaper. 
  • Clean the dust with a damp cloth. 

Pro tip: Use a power sander when working on large surfaces. Attach a vacuum to prevent paint dust mess. 


A bottle of white vinegar
Photo Credit: eskay lim / Adobe Stock / License

Ideal for: Small wood surfaces 

The acetic acid in white vinegar softens the paint, making it easier to remove. It can remove peeling paint but not multiple layers of paint coats. 

To prepare the vinegar solution, mix one cup of vinegar with two cups of water and heat it. Once ready, follow these steps to remove the paint from the wood. 

  • Soak a microfiber cloth in the warm vinegar solution. 
  • Dab the surface with the cloth. 
  • Allow 20 minutes for the vinegar solution to work. 
  • Scrape off the loosened paint with a metal putty knife. You may use a wire brush or steel wool to tackle stubborn paint, but be gentle to avoid damaging the wood.
  • Repeat the process on spots where there’s still some paint left.  
  • Clean the dust with a damp cloth. 

Paint Scraper

Gloved hand scraping paint off of wooden windowsill
Photo Credit: sima / Adobe Stock / License

Ideal for: Small wood surfaces 

You can use a metal scraper without chemicals to remove peeling paint. Use it with the grain of the wood to prevent gouges. Slightly sand the surface and wipe it with a damp cloth to remove the remaining paint chips. 

Pressure Washer

Pressure washing wood with worn out paint
Photo Credit: volgariver / Adobe Stock / License

Ideal for: Large wood surfaces 

Pressure washing is effective in removing peeling paint from exterior surfaces. You’ll need a heavy-duty 2,000 to 4,000 psi pressure washer to remove the paint, which is strong enough to damage your home’s siding. So use it with caution.

Here’s how you can remove paint from wood with a pressure washer. 

  • Use a yellow 15-degree nozzle to strip paint from wood.
  • Hold the gun and wand firmly at an angle and ensure there’s at least a 12-foot gap between you and the surface. 
  • Work in sections and move the nozzle along the grain of the wood. 
  • A pressure washer will strip most of the paint but not all of it. Scrape or sand the surface to remove the remaining paint. 

6. Dispose of the Waste Properly

You can dispose of latex paint chips in regular garbage, but oil-based paint chips should be disposed of in drop-off centers as they are hazardous. Chemical paint strippers are toxic and should be disposed of in drop-off centers.

Check your local regulations to know how to dispose of paint waste properly, and read our paint disposal guide for more advice.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Neglecting safety gear
  • Using excessive force when scraping the wood
  • Leaving the floor and other objects uncovered
  • Failing to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for chemical paint strippers
  • Repainting without allowing adequate drying time


Can I repaint the wood immediately after removing the paint?

No. Wait at least half a day for the wood to completely dry. If you have used a pressure washer, wait at least three days before repainting. 

What if I damage the wood while removing the paint? 

You can sand on the surface to fix minor damage. If the damage is extensive, you may have to replace the wood.  

Should I DIY or Hire a Pro?

Painting can be a fun DIY project, but removing it isn’t. Removing paint from wood is a messy and time-consuming task that’s best left to the pros. 

How to Find a Local Pro

Removing paint from wood isn’t a fun chore. It’s time-consuming and labor-intensive. If you need help with the project, get in touch with Paint Gnome. We connect you to the best painting pros in your area who can help you with everything, from removing old paint to repainting to cleaning up.

Main Photo Credit: Laurenz Notter / Unsplash / License

Abdul Wadood

Abdul Wadood enjoys painting and is currently on a mission to help homeowners transform their living spaces from boring to beautiful. When he's not painting, you can find him exploring the world.