How to Use Paint Stripper on Wood

Furniture conservation - applying paint remover (stripper)

Old paint can make furniture and other household objects look worn and shabby, but that doesn’t mean you have to discard them. If you know how to use paint stripper correctly, you can remove the old paint, apply a new coat, and breathe new life into items you want to keep and enjoy. Here’s how to use paint stripper on wood.

What are Paint Strippers?

Paint stripper typically refers to a chemical solution that breaks down the bonds of old paint, making it easier to remove from wood. It typically comes in liquid or gel form and contains powerful chemicals. However, there are equally effective alternatives, too.

Paint strippers can be summed up into three categories:

Paint Stripping MethodKey Advantages
Gel or liquid productQuick, easy
Power toolSaves money in the long run
Multiple manual toolsSave money if there’s no need for a power tool or product

Note: Don’t use sanders, heat guns, steam strippers, or similar devices to remove lead paint. This creates a serious health hazard because 

Gel and Liquid Paint Strippers

Gel and liquid paint strippers can be divided into three categories:

  • Solvent-based gel or liquid: These work by dissolving the paint, allowing it to be scraped or wiped away. These types of strippers can be quite strong and require proper ventilation and protective gear when used.
  • Caustic-based gel or liquid: These break down the paint with chemicals. Caustic-based paint strippers are effective at removing thick paint. However, they can be harsh on certain surfaces and require extra care when handling. They may also stain or damage the wood.
  • Soy-based gel or liquid: These paint strippers are made from natural ingredients and are considered to be more environmentally friendly. They work by softening the paint, making it easier to remove. Soy-based paint strippers are generally safer to use and do not emit strong odors or harmful fumes. However, they may take longer to work compared to solvent-based or caustic-based options. 

Power Tools for Stripping Paint

Person using a heat gun and a scraper to remove paint from windows
Photo Credit: KalachevsStockStudio / Canva Pro / License

If you think you’ll be doing multiple paint-stripping projects in the future, buying an effective power tool may be the right option for you. Here’s what’s available:

  • Heat gun: A heat gun is another option for removing paint. It uses high temperatures to soften the paint, allowing it to be scraped off. Heat guns can be effective on large surfaces or intricate details. It can cause burns if not used properly. It’s important to follow safety guidelines and use protective gear when using a heat gun. In any case, using a heat gun to remove lead paint is dangerous as it will release harmful fumes.

Moreover, using a heat gun isn’t as quick as paint-stripping gels and liquids. It also doesn’t work on every paint; some mineral-based paints may not respond to it.

  • Infrared device: An infrared device is a great alternative to a heat gun. It works from the bottom up and doesn’t use temperatures that are as high. That means it’s safer and more environmentally friendly.
  • Steam stripper: Steam strippers use vapor to heat up the paint, making it easier to remove. They should only heat it up to 212 degrees F. This helps to avoid burns, dust, and fumes. It’s more environmentally friendly than some other options, like chemicals. But the vapor may be absorbed by the surface, leading to damage.
  • Sander: Using a sander is an effective method for removing paint from wood. It’s the same as using sand paper, but with the added benefit of using a power tool. Take note that it may leave a mess of paint shavings, though. You can attach a vacuum to it to keep your area neat. Never use a sander on lead paint; it will spread toxic lead dust in your home. Additionally, it’s more labor-intensive and sometimes slower than using solvents.

Manual Tools for Paint Stripping

Man scraping off old paint
Photo Credit: Pancaketom / Canva Pro / License

You can use various tools like scrapers, sandpaper, or wire brushes to manually remove the paint. Manual paint stripping is a labor-intensive process but can be a good option for delicate surfaces or small areas. It allows for more control and reduces the risk of damaging the underlying material. However, it may take longer and require more effort compared to using chemical-based strippers. It’s important to note you’ll need a scraper even if you do use gels, though, to help you remove the paint.

How to Strip Paint

How to use a gel or a liquid paint stripper:

  1. Carefully apply a thick coat of paint-stripping gel or liquid.
  2. Wait for the gel or liquid to work; usually up to 30 minutes.
  3. Placing plastic wrap over the solvent-coated surface can help to prevent evaporation and allow the product to work better. This will make the stripping process easier and more efficient. 
  4. Test the area by gently scraping a small section with a putty knife. If the paint easily comes off, it’s ready to be stripped. If not, wait a bit longer and test again. 
  5. Use a scraper to gently remove the softened paint, working in small sections at a time. Be careful not to scratch the surface.

How to use a sander: 

Using a sander is relatively self-explanatory. Make sure that you use the minimum pressure needed. An 80-grit sanding paper should do the trick. If needed, do multiple rounds of sanding, using stronger grit paper each round. Be sure to wipe all the dust off after each round.

Tip: Attach a vacuum to your sander to help collect the dust and prevent it from spreading throughout the area.

To find out how to sand wood in more detail, check out our How to Sand Wood article.

How to use a heat gun or an infrared device:

Heat guns and infrared devices work similarly, but an infrared device heats up paint from the bottom up. It makes it less likely to produce fumes.

  1. Let the device heat up according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Work in sections. Take the device and a paint scraper. Let the gun heat up the paint enough so that it starts bubbling. If you’re using a heat gun, be sure not to apply too much heat to the paint as this can cause burns.
  3. Immediately use a scraper or a putty knife to scrape the heated paint off. 
  4. Frequently scrape any paint remains from both sides of your paint scraper.

Here’s a video that will help you compare paint stripping products, sanders, and heat guns:

How to use a steam stripper: 

  1. Let the steam stripper heat up according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Work in sections. Apply the steamer to the area of paint according to the manufacturer’s instructions and let it work for as long as needed. Be careful not to damage the wood.
  3. Immediately use a scraper or a putty knife to scrape the heated paint off. 

Learn more about using a steam stripper in this video:

How to use manual tools:

Another option is to only use manual tools to strip off the paint. You’ll still use something like a putty knife, a scraper, or sandpaper to remove the paint. Sometimes, the paint is flaky enough that the job is relatively easy. However, most of the time, you’ll need a product or a power tool to remove your paint. 

Whatever technique you choose, be sure to wipe down the stripped surface using soapy water when you’re done. If you’ve been using a brush to apply a product, be sure you clean it properly.

And there you go; your surface is ready for whatever awaits it next.

Paint Strippers by Cost

As mentioned above, there are various types of paint strippers out there that vary in both features and cost. This is how much you should expect to pay for each:

Paint Stripping MethodEstimated Cost
Gel or liquid products$9 to $15 per quart (+ brush and tarp)
Heat gun$15 to $50 depending on type
Steam stripper$60 to $200 depending on type
Sander$30 to $60 depending on type (+ sandpaper)
Infrared device$70 to $120 depending on type
Manual tools (you’ll need at least one no matter which method you choose)$5+ depending on type and quantity

If you use a gel or a liquid, you’ll also need a brush to apply it and a tarp to protect your surroundings. Brushes cost around $14 for a set of 3 different sizes, and you can get tarp for $12.

You may also need sandpaper, especially if you’re using a sander. You can get it for approximately $6.50 for 48 assorted pieces.

It’s also important to note that power tools are more expensive but will work out cheaper in the long run if you do multiple paint stripping projects.

Safety Precautions

If you want to use a gel, a liquid, a steam stripper, a heat gun, or even a sander, it’s important to wear protective equipment. 

Depending on which tools you use, and if you come across chemicals or heat, your protective equipment may include:

Safety EquipmentEstimated Cost
Disposable gloves (for protection against chemicals) or heat-resistant gloves (for protection against heat)$9 to $15
Safety goggles$9
Respirator or dust mask$17 to $60

Additionally, make sure to work in a well-ventilated area and wear protective clothing.

Simple manual tools such as scrapers and sandpaper usually don’t need protective equipment. However, be sure to use all tools as intended and be cautious when handling sharp tools.


Can you remove paint from wood without sanding?

Yes. If you don’t want to sand your surface, you can use a gel, a liquid, or a power tool.

What is an eco-friendly way to remove paint?

To opt for an eco-friendly option, use a soy-based gel or liquid or a power tool.

What’s the most cost-effective paint stripping option?

You should be able to get a heat gun relatively cheaply. If that doesn’t work for you, gel and liquid paint strippers are generally affordable, too. 

Of course, the cheapest option is to use manual tools only. But unless your project is extremely simple, it won’t be worth all the effort.

When should you not use a heat gun?

You shouldn’t use a heat gun near flammable materials or on lead-based paint (don’t remove lead-based paint with sanders, steam strippers, or similar devices either). It may also not work on some paints, such as mineral-based paints.

The Best Paint Job is a Click Away

Every homeowner wants to make sure their paint job is smooth and flawless. Plus, you need to choose the right paint. Check out, for example, our guide to the best exterior paints for wood.

You can look up various DIY methods or leave it to the pros; the choice is yours. However, local painting pros are just a click away.

Main Photo Credit: Etan J. Tal / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Judith Gallova

Judith Gallova is a freelance writer living in Slovakia. She found her passion for writing when she created her first blog at the age of 10. Later on, she started working in marketing, and eventually combined her writing and marketing skills to become a freelance writer. In her free time, she often studies the Bible, goes to the gym, spends time with loved ones, and enjoys all things art and design.