how to strip paint off wood

How To Strip Paint Off Wood and Other Materials (Complete DIY Guide)

Over time, many homes build layers of paint on their walls, ceilings, floors and furniture. These built-up layers become messy and difficult to remove.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to strip paint off wood, and other common surfaces, such as masonry, metal and glass. Let’s get stripping!


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How to Strip Paint off Wood (and other materials) – 8 Methods

If you want to return an old painted item to its former self, you’ll need to follow this guide.

There isn’t just one method for stripping paint; there are 8! The method you choose will depend on the type of paint, the object to be stripped, and your budget.

This guide will explain each of the eight paint stripping methods to help you better understand which one is best for your situation.

Lead Paint Warning

Paint that predates the 1970s may contain lead. Dust from lead paint causes serious health problems if ingested, so wear safety gear, remove children and pets from the area and take precautions to control the dust created.

Test the paint for lead content before starting work and ensure the stripping method you choose is suitable for lead paint.

For more advice regarding lead paint, check out this UK government leaflet.


1. Chemical Strippers

chemical paint strippers

A chemical paint stripper is sold in either gel, paste or liquid form. It’s applied to the area you wish to strip paint from and works by either breaking down the paint or weakening the adhesion of the paint, depending on the type of chemical used. It can be applied to wood, metal and masonry.

Pro Tip: Always do a test patch first to ensure it doesn’t damage/mark the surface.

Pros Cons
Chemical strippers are ideal for lead-based paint, as no dust is created. It’s one of the more expensive methods of paint stripping.
It’s relatively simple to use and doesn’t require much DIY skill. Proper protection and safety precautions must be used; you may not want to use this around children or animals.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to use. Not the most environmentally friendly method.
It can be used to remove multiple layers of paint at once. Chemical strippers only work on certain paint types and can mark/stain the surface.

Tools & Materials

Tools:
  • Protective Gloves
  • Suitable Mask
  • Eye protection
  • Stripping Knife or Shave Hook
Materials:
  • Protective Floor Covering
  • Chemical Stripper
  • Bin Bag
  • Water/Neutraliser

Chemical Stripping – Step-by-Step Instructions

I. Prepare the Area

Make sure to protect any floor or furniture that may be damaged by spillages with a covering sheet. Open windows to properly ventilate the space. Wear a ventilation mask if necessary. Ensure there are no children or pets around.

II. Apply Stripper

Wearing gloves, apply a small test patch according to packet instructions. Once this is complete, apply a liberal and even amount of chemical paint stripper over the area you wish to strip.

Some paint strippers (like Peel Away) must be covered with specialist paper whilst it works its magic, while others don’t. The packet instructions will make this clear.

III. Wait

Leave the chemical stripper on for the manufacturer’s amount of time. The stripper may bubble or change colour, which means it’s working its magic.

IV. Remove

Once the time is up, remove the stripper with a stripping knife whilst wearing protective gloves and place it straight into a bin bag.

It may be fairly thick and quite ‘gunky’. If it’s worked correctly, the paint should lift off along with this gunk. If any paint remains, you may need to apply a second course of chemical stripper.

Pro Tip: Leaving the stripper on for longer than the recommended amount of time can damage the surface.

V. Clean and Neutralise

Once the gunk has been removed, clean away excess residue with water, then neutralise the area. Some strippers come with their own neutraliser; others may recommend white spirit.

This step ensures the item is ready for paint and there won’t be any adhesion issues with new paint from any chemical residue left behind.

Watch the video below, where Sian Astley shows you how to use Peel Away.

YouTube player

2. Mechanical Sanding

mechanical sanding

Mechanical sanding is ideal for all types of wood, including flooring, skirting boards, doors and furniture. However, this method doesn’t suit metal or masonry.

Mechanical sanding creates a lot of dust, so it’s unsuitable for lead paint removal. There are 5 types of sander:

Floor Drum Sander – A floor drum sander is a powerful machine and, as its name suggests, is most suited to hard-wearing floors. It’s great at removing old tar-like floor paint and will speed up the process whilst saving your knees.

Pro Tip: Floor drum sanders cost over £1,000, so most people rent them.

Belt Sander – These are powerful handheld sanders that work by spinning a belt of sandpaper whilst vibrating at the same time. They are ideal for large flat areas, like flooring, and are particularly good at removing tough paint and varnish.

Sheet Sander – Sheet sanders usually have a large flat rectangular sanding pad that vibrates in a small circular motion. They’re more lightweight than a belt sander and ideal for flat areas such as skirting, furniture or vertical situations. They’re not quite as harsh as a belt sander and are good for getting into edges and corners.

Random Orbital Sander – A random orbital sander has a rounded sanding pad that spins whilst vibrating simultaneously. These are also suitable for skirting, furniture and vertical areas. However, they provide slightly more vigorous sanding than a sheet sander, so are best for tougher paint.

Detail or Palm Sander – These are incredibly lightweight and are only suitable for detailed sanding areas, such as staircase spindles, architrave and details on furniture. They provide gentle sanding to avoid harming the surface beneath, which means more work when stripping multiple layers.

Pro Tip: Consider the voltage. A higher voltage power tool means more powerful and faster sanding. This is particularly important on tougher paint or if you have lots to do!

Pros Cons
Will leave a perfect finish for painting straight onto. Not suitable for lead-based paint due to the dust created.
Ideal for tough paint, like varnish or old floor paint. May damage surface if over-sanded or wrong grit is used.
You’ll be able to see instant results. Sanding can be time-consuming and costly.
 Only suitable for wood.

Tools & Materials

Tools:
  • Dust Mask
  • Sander
  • Lint-Free Cloth
Materials:
  • Low-Grit Sandpaper (to fit sander)
  • High-Grit Sandpaper (to fit sander)
  • White Spirit
  • Stripping Knife or Shave Hook

Mechanical Sanding – Step-by-Step Instructions

I. Prepare Surface

Prepare the surface you’re working on, ensuring there are no nails or screw heads that the sandpaper might catch.

II. Heavy Sanding (Low-Grit Paper)

Pro Tip: It’s important to sand along the grain (as opposed to against it) otherwise, you may damage the surface.

III. Smoothing (High-Grit Paper)

Once you’ve got the bulk of the paint off with the coarse sandpaper, change to a higher grit (less coarse, 120 grit is ideal) to smooth over what you’ve already sanded. This will also take away any smaller bits of paint left behind. It’s important to remove any scratch marks that may have been left behind by the coarse sandpaper, or these will be visible when paint or oil is applied.

Pro Tip: If you have a Heavy Duty or DIY Vacuum, you can usually attach the hose to the sander to considerably reduce the amount of dust.

IV. Apply White Spirit

Apply white spirit on a lint-free cloth to clean the area from dust.

Pro Tip: If you’re planning on sanding paint or varnish from floorboards and have multiple rooms, it may be worth hiring a large professional drum floor sanding machine, which will halve your time and save your knees!

Watch the video below where Charis Williams sands back a varnished table.

YouTube player

3. Hand Sanding

Sometimes, mechanical sanding isn’t suitable for paint stripping. Often, it can be too rough for the surface you want to work on, or it might be because the area you want to strip paint from is too small for a mechanical sander to fit.

It might be that the area wouldn’t be practical to use a power tool with (up on a ladder doing a window sill, perhaps). In these cases, hand sanding might be the better way to go.

Hand sanding has a very similar process to mechanical sanding, but it’s far more gentle and is particularly favoured for detailed areas.

Pros Cons
Less powerful than mechanical sanding means a lot less dust. It will require more effort and elbow grease than mechanical sanding.
Hand sanding is ideal for delicate areas of detail which you don’t want to over-sand. It may be painfully slow, and you may not see instant results.
It can be used in awkward areas where you wouldn’t otherwise be able to use a power tool. Not ideal for multiple layers of paint or tough paint.

Tools & Materials

Tools:
  • Dust Mask
  • Protective Gloves
  • Hand Sanding Block
  • Lint-Free Cloth
Materials:
  • Low-Grit Sandpaper
  • High-Grit Sandpaper
  • White Spirit

Hand Sanding – Step-by-Step Instructions

I. Heavy Sanding (Low-Grit Paper)

Wearing a dust mask and gloves, start with low-grit sandpaper and apply pressure to the paper with your hand, moving it back and forth. We recommend using a sanding block tool for flat areas. You can buy specialist sanding blocks with curved or rounded edges to get into more awkward spaces.

Pro Tip: The Family Handyman recommends sticking the sandpaper to a filling knife to reach into tight corners.

II. Smoothing (High-Grit Paper)

Once you’ve removed most of the paint, switch to higher grit sandpaper (something like 120) to smooth over any sanding marks and remove any fine paint left behind.

III. Apply White Spirit

Using a lint-free cloth, wipe over the area with white spirit to remove any dust. You’re now ready to apply a paint or oil finish if you wish.

Pro Tip: Try using wet and dry sandpaper to reduce the dust from hand sanding.

Here are some top tips from the Family Handyman for using hand sandpaper.


4. Hand Scrapers

hand paint stripping

Hand Scrapers are useful in areas where the paint is already peeling and flaking away from its surface. They’re also useful on harder materials like brickwork and masonry, where you can get a bit rougher with the tool without worrying about damaging the surface.

Hand scrapers come in all shapes and sizes, and you can buy large flat ones for bigger surface areas, pointy triangular ones, called shave hooks, for corners and crevices, and you can even buy specialist window scrapers for removing the paint around glass too.

Pros Cons
Best suited for already peeling or cracked paint. Won’t be beneficial on tougher paints.
Ideal for removing paint from glass. May gouge the surface beneath it if you’re not careful.
It can be used on masonry and brickwork too. May not remove every single ounce of paint.

Tools & Materials

Tools:
  • Scraping Tool
  • File or Sharpening Stone
  • Shave Hook
Materials:
  • Protective Gloves

Hand Scrapers – Step-by-Step Instructions

I. Sharpen Scraper

Make sure your hand scraper is sharp enough to work with. You can sharpen it up with a file or sharpening stone if it isn’t. You may need to sharpen it a few times whilst stripping paint depending on the surface you’re working on and how aggressive you need to be with the tool. We also recommend using safety gloves when working with blades.

II. Scrape

When using a scraping tool or shave hook on wood, be sure to work with the grain moving the scraper in one direction only. Unlike sanding, where you would go back and forth, you should only either go up or down, not both ways. Depending on how many layers of paint there are, you may need to do this a few times before you reach the surface.

Try using a shave hook or a contour tool to remove paint in crevices. The finer detailed areas are the most tricky and most prone to damage, so taking your time and handling the scraper with great care is important!

Pro Tip: For hard surfaces, you may be able to use a scraping attachment with a multi-tool for a more vigorous scrape.

III. Scrape Crevices

Check out the video below to learn more about paint scraping:

YouTube player

5. Heat Gun

heat gun paint stripping

Heat guns are a well-known tool for stripping paint and have been used for years. They produce a high temperature, enabling the paint to melt off the surface. They are an inexpensive tool that works particularly well with glossy paints.

This paint stripping method can be used for lead paint, but you should be careful not to burn the paint as this will release toxic lead fumes.

Pros Cons
Very easy to use. Easy to burn the wood beneath.
Inexpensive. Doesn’t work on all paints.
Works well on gloss paint. It can be messy.
It can be used on large and more intricate areas.  

Tools & Material

Tools:
  • Protective Gloves
  • Heat Gun
  • Scraping Tool or Shave Hook
Materials:
  • Protective Floor Covering
  • Bin Bag

Heat Gun – Step-by-Step Instructions

I. Preparation

Ventilate the room and protect the floor with a covering. We recommend wearing gloves to avoid burning skin.

II. Heat gun

Hold the gun 5-10cm above the surface you want to strip and turn it on. It’ll take a while to heat up, but you’ll soon notice the paint beginning to bubble, indicating it’s starting to come away from the surface. If it’s not working that well, try a higher heat setting, but it’s important not to burn the wood beneath the paint. In the beginning, it’s a bit of a trial and error to see how well the paint responds!

III. Scrape

As the paint bubbles, remove the heat from the area and use a scraper or shave hook to lift the paint away from the surface. Put the melted paint directly into a bin bag so it doesn’t re-stick to your surfaces.

IV. Repeat and Clean

Repeat the above steps until all paint is removed, then clean the area ready for your chosen finish.

Watch the video below for an excellent example of paint stripping with a heat gun.

YouTube player

6. Dipping & Stripping

Dipping and stripping is a service you pay for where you send items off. They’re submerged into a tank of caustic peel, jet washed and returned to you paint-free!

The cost of dipping and stripping pays off when you have lots of things that need stripping. Most commonly, this is used for doors and radiators where you would usually have several to deal with. It would cost a small fortune if you were to buy your own chemical stripper for this amount of items.

Dipping can cost as little as £15 per door (depending on the local services available), and the hard work is done for you, freeing up your time for other areas in your home.

It’s worth noting that this option isn’t always successful, and it’s a very harsh method of stripping which means there is some risk to the item you send off.

Pros Cons
Collection and delivery are usually available. Water-based paint cannot be stripped via this method.
Cost-effective when large amounts need stripping. It can be risky, as you cannot do a test patch beforehand.
Frees up your time. Dipping is only available for items that can be removed from the home.
 Not suitable for glazed doors.

Dipping & Stripping – Step-by-Step Instructions

Simply send your items to the paint stripping service and then sit back and relax.


7. Infrared Paint Stripping

Infrared paint stripping technology works like a heat gun but uses an infrared bulb and lower temperatures, making it a more gentle process. You can even use it on glass surfaces! It’s also safe for lead-based paint.

Unfortunately, an infrared paint stripper will set you back a few hundred pounds!

Pros Cons
Considered a gentle method of paint removal. A very expensive tool to buy.
Low temperatures mean there’s no need to worry about burning wood. Large size means it may not get into small spaces.
Safe for use with lead-based paint.  
It can be used on glass.  

Tools & Materials

Tools:
  • Infrared Stripper
  • Scraping Tool or Shave Hook
Materials:
  • Protective Floor Coverings
  • Protective gloves
  • Bin Bag

Infrared Paint Stripping – Step-by-Step Instructions

I. Protection

Cover the floor and any furniture. You may wish to use protective gloves as you’ll be working with high temperatures.

II. Heat Paint

Switch on the Infrared heating tool and hold it directly over the paint, around 5-10cm above. You’ll only need to hold it there for a few seconds before the paint will begin to bubble. This shows the paint stripper is working and it’s melting away from the surface.

III. Scrape Paint

As soon as the paint begins to bubble, move the infrared heater away and use a scraper or shave hook to pull the paint off the surface, taking care not to gouge it. Put the melted paint into a bin bag.

IV. Repeat and Clean 

If any paint is left behind, you can go over it with the infrared stripper and repeat the above steps. Otherwise, a quick clean of the surface will have it ready for finishing.

Watch the video below to see an infrared paint stripper doing its magic.

YouTube player

8. Boiling Paint

You can boil paint off smaller hardware such as door hinges or handles by submerging them in a pan of hot water.

Pros Cons
Very easy to do. Only suitable for items small enough to be put into a pan.
Inexpensive. Hardware must be removed from the door first.
 It will not work with wood or porous materials.
 Unable to do a sample test first.

Tools & Materials

Tools:
  • Old Saucepan
  • Tongs
  • Scraper
  • Wire Wool
Materials:
  • Hob
  • Water
  • WD40
  • Cloth

Boiling Paint – Step-by-Step Instructions

I. Fill Saucepan

Fill an old saucepan with water (ideally one you never want to use again) and place it in the objects you wish to remove paint from.

II. Boil Water

Turn the hob on and allow the water to boil, leaving it for 15-20 minutes.

III. Remove Objects

Carefully remove the objects from the pan with some tongs and, using a paint scraper or shave hook, pull the paint away from the metal hardware.

For any small areas, like screw holes, use some wire wool. If there’s still paint left on it, pop it back into the pan for another 15-20 minutes.

IV. Clean

Clean up your hardware with some WD40 and a cloth. They should now be ready for use.

In the video below, Pretty Handy Girl shows you how to boil paint away:

YouTube player

Pro Tip: For extra tough paint, try adding some TSP Cleaner (Trisodium Phosphate) to the boiling water and let soak for 30 minutes.


Don’t fancy doing this job yourself? Find top-rated painters & decorators in your area by clicking the button below:


How To Strip Paint Off Wood – Final Thoughts

So there you have it – that’s how to strip paint off wood and other commonly used materials. I hope this guide has helped you determine the best method for your situation.

If you want to purchase a sander to help with this job, check out our reviews of the best sanders in 2022.