How to Strip Stain From Wood

Person sanding a stained wooden table

Knowing how to strip stain from wood is an invaluable skill for anyone who wants to rejuvenate their wooden floors or furniture. The process? Remove the finish, apply stripper, scrape, and neutralize the surface.

Sounds simple, right? In theory, it’s straightforward: standard instructions for stripping stain from wood. In practicality? It boils down to the right techniques and the appropriate tools. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you strip away the years and the layers for a fresh, new look.

Your Investment

Hours Required2 to 4 hours
Skill LevelBeginner
Material Cost$50–$100
Pro Labor Cost$25 – $70 per hour

Why Use a Wood Stain Remover?

When it comes to removing stains from wood, using a wood stain remover is simple and effective. While there are various methods available, none match the ease and efficiency of a dedicated wood stain remover.

Alternatives like scrapers are time-consuming and require significant effort. Similarly, using a heat gun demands patience and care. Power sanders and rotary grinders might seem like quick solutions, but they produce large amounts of dust, leading to extensive cleanup efforts.

Choosing the Right Wood Stain Remover

Selecting an appropriate wood stain remover involves several key considerations:


Potent chemicals in some wood stain removers can pose health risks. Choose a product that is safe for indoor use, especially if you plan to work inside your home. Safety should always be a top priority.


Different wood strippers are formulated for specific types of stains. While some are effective on weathered or semi-transparent stains, others are better suited for solid stains or urethane finishes. Ensure the product you select is compatible with the finish you need to remove.


If you’re tackling multiple projects, a versatile wood stain remover that can handle both stain and paint is an ideal choice. This versatility saves time and money, allowing you to use one product for various applications.


Many wood stain removers have strong odors, which can make the process unpleasant. Opt for a remover with minimal odor to enhance your working experience.

Types of Wood Stain Removers

Understanding the different types of wood stain removers can help you make an informed decision:


Solvents, such as alcohol, acetone, and toluene, dissolve the old finish with chemicals. They are particularly effective in removing paint but are often the most toxic option. When using solvents, take appropriate safety measures.


Caustic wood stain removers work by converting the finish into a different substance through a chemical reaction. These products typically contain strong bases and are corrosive. They require careful handling due to their aggressive nature.


Biochemical removers offer a balance between efficacy and safety. They combine chemical action with more natural ingredients, making them safer to use and more environmentally friendly. Ingredients like citric acid, soy oil, and wood pulp extract are common in these products, providing a greener alternative to traditional removers.

How to Remove Stain From Wood With a Wood Stain Stripper

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Rubber gloves: To protect your hands from chemicals.
  • Respirator mask: To avoid inhaling fumes.
  • Vacuum (optional): For easy cleanup of sawdust and debris.
  • Cloth: To clean the wood surface before and after the process.
  • Drop cloth: To protect your work area from spills and drips.


  • Wood stain stripper: The primary agent for removing the old stain.
  • Bristle paint brush: For applying the stripper evenly.
  • Plastic putty knife or plastic scraper: To remove the stripper without damaging the wood.
  • #000 Steel wool: For tackling any stubborn stripper residue.
  • 120-grit sandpaper: A medium-grit sandpaper for initial sanding.
  • 200-grit sandpaper: A finer grit for smoothing the wood.
  • Denatured alcohol: For the final cleaning of the wood.

1. Set Up Your Workspace

Choose a well-ventilated area, if possible, and lay down a drop cloth to protect your workspace. This prevents any stripper or stain from damaging your floors or furniture. Wear your respirator mask and rubber gloves to avoid direct contact with the wood stain stripper.

2. Clean the Wood

A hand cleaning a wood surface with a cloth
Photo Credit: ARAMYAN / Adobe Stock / License

Using a cloth, clean the wood surface with sudsy water and then dry it. This ensures that the wood is free of dust, dirt, and oils that can impede the effectiveness of the stripper. A clean surface allows the stripper to work directly on the stain, ensuring more thorough removal.

3. Remove Any Hardware

A metal hinge on a wooden door
Photo Credit: Spudaitis / / License

Detach any hardware like hinges or handles from the wood to expose every part of the surface for even stripping. This step is often overlooked but is essential for a comprehensive job. Removing hardware ensures that you can access all areas of the wood, leading to a more uniform and aesthetically pleasing result.

4. Apply the Stripper

With a bristle paint brush, apply a thick coat of wood stain stripper evenly over the wood. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes, allowing the stripper to penetrate and lift the stain.

The thickness of the application is key here: too thin, and it may not effectively soften the stain; too thick, and it could dry out before you can remove it.

5. Scrape Off the Stripper

Several putty knives on a bright yellow background
Photo Credit: Tiesse / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0

After the waiting period, use a plastic putty knife or scraper to remove the stripper gently. This method prevents damage to the wood while removing the softened stain.

The angle and pressure you apply with the scraper are important; too much force or a sharp angle can gouge the wood, while too little might not remove all the stripper.

6. Remove Any Residue

If any stripper remains, rub the area with #000 steel wool, following the wood grain. This step helps remove stubborn residue without scratching the surface.

It’s important to move gently and with the grain to avoid creating scratches or uneven surfaces on the wood.

7. Drying Time

Allow the wood to dry for at least an hour or longer if you’re not in a hurry. This drying time is important as it ensures all the stripper has evaporated, leaving the wood in the best condition for sanding. Rushing this step can result in sanding wet wood, which can be ineffective and potentially damaging.

8. Sand the Wood

Person using power sander on wood
Photo Credit: Antoni Shkraba / Pexels / License

Sand the wood along the grain using 120-grit sandpaper. This medium-grit sandpaper helps remove any remaining stain and prepares the wood for finer sanding. The goal here is to remove the last bits of stain and smooth out any roughness caused by the stripping process.

Switch to 200-grit sandpaper for a smoother finish, focusing on any rough spots to ensure an even surface. This finer sandpaper can help achieve a smooth, ready-to-finish surface. It’s important to sand evenly to avoid creating dips or grooves in the wood.

9. Final Cleaning

Wipe down the wood with denatured alcohol to remove any last bits of residue and sawdust. This step is essential for preparing the wood for a new finish. The denatured alcohol cleans without leaving a residue, ensuring that any new stain or paint adheres properly and looks even.

How to Remove Stain From Wood Using Stripping Gel

Breathing new life into your wooden furniture or floors often means removing years of old stain and sealant. While many turn to traditional wood stain strippers, stripping gel is an effective alternative.

This method not only promises a thorough cleanse of old finishes but also offers a user-friendly approach to wood restoration. The gel variant is easier to work with than the liquid variant because there are no drips, and applying an even layer is easier. 

Here’s a detailed guide on how to harness the power of stripping gel.

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Protective gloves
  • Respirator
  • Protective eyewear
  • Plastic scraper
  • Rags
  • Trash bag


  • Stripping gel
  • Plastic sheet or cling wrap (optional)
  • Mineral spirits
  • 120- and 220-grit sandpaper
  • Medium steel wool
  • Wood epoxy putty
  • New stain or sealant (optional)

1. Prep the Wood Surface

Start by removing all hardware and cleaning the wood surface with soap and water. Let it dry completely. This ensures that the stripping gel can work effectively on the wood.

2. Apply Stripping Gel

Don protective gloves, eyewear, and a respirator. In a well-ventilated area, apply a generous layer of stripping gel to the wood with any old brush that you won’t mind throwing away when you’ve finished. The paintbrush will get coated with the stripping gel, which is quite sticky and difficult to clean off. 

Focus on one section at a time rather than coating the entire piece. Depending on the product, let the gel sit for 30 minutes to 24 hours.

WARNING: Be aware that some stripping gels can be toxic. Always work outside or in a well-ventilated area when handling chemicals.

3. Cover the Gel (Optional)

Covering the gel with plastic is an optional step, but it can prevent the gel from drying out, allowing for a longer working time. This is particularly useful for stripping thick wood finishes.

4. Scrape the Stripping Gel

Use a plastic scraper to remove the gel and the old finish. Scrape the material directly into a trash bag. This step is essential for removing the bulk of the finish.

5. Remove the Stripping Gel

Employ medium steel wool and mineral spirits to remove any remaining gel and finish. Follow up with a damp cloth to ensure the surface is completely clean. Allow the wood to dry thoroughly.

WARNING: Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific stripping gel. If there are steps for neutralizing the stripper, be sure to follow them before refinishing the wood.

6. Treat Scuffs and Holes

Fill any holes or scuffs in the wood with wood epoxy putty before sanding. This step ensures a smooth, even surface for the new finish.

7. Sand the Wood

person sanding wood with sandpaper
Photo Credit: Los Muertos Crew / Pexels / License

Once the wood is dry, sand the surface with 120- to 220-grit sandpaper. This process removes any remaining wood stain and prepares the surface for a new finish.

8. Clean the Surface

Finally, use a cleaner like mineral spirits to wipe down the surface. This step is crucial for removing any residual dust or debris. Once the surface is clean, you can apply a new stain or sealant to the wood.

How to Remove Wood Stain With Bleach

For those challenging and deeply ingrained wood stains, standard chlorine bleach can be a good alternative to conventional wood stain strippers. This method shines in its ability to effectively target and remove persistent stains without compromising the natural color of the wood.

Unlike specialized wood bleaches or two-part bleaches that can alter the wood’s natural hue, standard chlorine bleach targets only the dyes and pigments, preserving the wood’s original charm.

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Protective gloves
  • Respirator
  • Protective eyewear
  • Handheld dish, non-metal (optional)
  • Rags


  • Chlorine bleach
  • Synthetic paintbrush
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • 120- and 220-grit sandpaper

1. Apply Bleach to the Wood

After stripping the finish and cleaning any stripping gel and sawdust from the wood, don protective gloves, eyewear, and a respirator. Then, using a synthetic paintbrush, carefully apply an even layer of chlorine bleach to the wood’s surface.

This even application is essential for achieving uniform results. Let the bleach dry for at least four hours.

WARNING: If you pour the bleach into a handheld dish for easier application, ensure it’s non-metallic. Bleach can react with metal, causing unwanted chemical reactions.

2. Neutralize the Bleach

Though the wood might look ready, the bleach needs to be neutralized before applying any finishes. This step is essential to prevent any adverse reactions between the bleach and the finish.

Ensure the wood is completely dry before neutralizing to avoid negative chemical reactions. Create a 1:1 solution of water and distilled white vinegar. Wipe down the entire wood surface thoroughly with this solution and let it dry completely.

WARNING: Never apply white vinegar to a surface still wet with bleach or mix the two in a solution. The combination can produce toxic gasses if the substances are wet.

3. Sand the Wood

Once the wood is fully dry, start sanding with 120-grit sandpaper to knock the grain back down. Follow this with 220-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface. This sanding process is vital for preparing the wood for any new finishes, ensuring a smooth and even application.

How to Remove Wood Stain From Your Hands

It’s easy to get wood stain on your skin during a DIY project, similar to getting paint on your hands. Fortunately, it is easy to remove with common household items like acetone or rubbing alcohol. Here’s how to do it:

1. Prepare Your Cleaning Solution: First, choose either acetone or rubbing alcohol as your cleaning agent. Both are effective at breaking down the oils in the wood stain.

2. Apply the Solution: Soak a clean towel with your chosen solution. It’s important to use a towel so that you don’t mind getting stained.

3. Rub the Stain Off: Gently but firmly rub the stained area of your skin with the soaked towel. Apply consistent pressure, and you’ll notice the stain starting to lift off your skin. This step might take a little time, depending on the severity of the stain.

4. Rinse Your Skin: Once the stain is removed, rinse your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap. This step is crucial to remove any remaining cleaning solution and wood stain from your skin.

5. Moisturize Your Skin: After cleaning and rinsing, your skin might feel dry due to the acetone or alcohol. Apply a good moisturizer to restore hydration to your skin.

Remember, while acetone and rubbing alcohol effectively remove wood stain, they can be harsh on your skin. It’s always a good idea to use gloves during your wood staining projects to avoid this issue.

FAQ About Wood Stain Removal

What does isopropyl alcohol do to wood?

Isopropyl alcohol can clean the surface of wood and remove certain stains, but it can also potentially damage or dull the finish if used excessively. It removes sticky residues or ink stains effectively but should be used cautiously.

Does alcohol soak into wood?

Alcohol can penetrate the surface of wood, especially if the wood is unfinished or the finish is compromised. This can lead to discoloration or damage to the wood if not addressed quickly.

How do you fix wood after rubbing alcohol?

If rubbing alcohol has dulled or damaged the wood’s finish, you can try restoring it by lightly sanding the affected area and then reapplying a matching wood finish or polish.

Does hydrogen peroxide remove wood stain?

Hydrogen peroxide can be used to lighten or remove stains from wood, particularly water stains or organic stains. It acts as a mild bleaching agent and can help in reducing the appearance of the stain. However, its effectiveness can vary depending on the type of wood and the nature of the stain.

DIY or Hire a Pro to Bring New Life to Your Wood

Tackling a stubborn stain on an old piece of furniture or breathing new life into your wooden floors demonstrates more than just skill; it shows a dedication to the art of home improvement. While this guide aims to empower you with the know-how and confidence to handle these projects, we understand that some tasks might require a bit more expertise.

If you feel like you need professional assistance, we’re here to help. We can connect you with experienced pros who can elevate your woodworking or home improvement project, ensuring results that are beautiful and enduring.

Main Photo Credit: PxHere / CC0 1.0

Adrian Nita

Adrian Nita, a former marine navigation officer, has transitioned his precision and attention to detail into the world of painting and color. With over four years of writing experience, he brings a unique perspective, specializing in painting techniques and innovative color trends. When not exploring the latest hues and painting techniques, Adrian enjoys annoying his wife with new painting projects in their home.