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Removing Paint or Varnish from Wood

by Michigan State University on May 12, 2012

Using paint remover or related chemicals may cause extensive damage to the finish, so please consider some of these other options to be green and safe.

Wipe off water-thinned paints with a wet cloth. Wipe surface immediately with a dry cloth to prevent water damage to the finish. Caution: water will make shellac finish sticky.

Remove fresh oil-based paint by rubbing the spot with a cloth saturated in liquid solvent-base wax.

For paint stains that have dried, cover the spot with boiled linseed oil. Let stand until softened; then remove with a cloth dampened with boiled linseed oil. If any paint remains, remove with rottenstone and oil, using the same procedure as prescribed for alcohol stains; or gently scrape off the paint with stiff cardboard, a plastic bowl scraper, or a fingernail.

Removing by Sanding

  • Sanding with power or hand sander.  If you are working on a fine piece of furniture, sanding is not recommended because it also removes the wood.
  • When sanding old paint or varnish from the surface, use open coat, coarse sandpaper. Fine sandpaper clogs up quickly, making it ineffective as a paint remover.

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