how to clean wood after stripping paint

How to Properly Clean Wood After Stripping Paint

In Tips by Jamie P.

Using a paint stripper can get pretty messy, the first few times I tried the process it went horribly wrong. I applied the stripper way to light and it just created a sticky disaster, at this point, I could have picked up the coffee table and taped a “free” sign on it and placed it on the end of my driveway. Still, nobody would have picked it up though.

Anyways, after applying paint stripper over your painted project it will bubble up, this is a good sign that it’s ready for removal. However, if you leave it on too long I find it will start to dry up making it tacky and almost impossible to scrape off. Timing is critical when using a paint stripper.

After stripping paint, to properly clean the wooden surface use mineral spirits and fine steel wool. Pour the mineral spirits over the stripped area and use the steel wool to wipe away any remaining stripper residue, be sure to follow the wood grain.

If you still have paint or varnish remaining on your wooden project you can repeat the stripping process and again use mineral spirits and steel wool to remove the remaining residue. However, I am going to go into more detail about how to clean wood after stripping the paint below.

What to Do After Stripping Paint from Wood?

After stripping paint from wood you are left with leftover stripper residue that needs to be cleaned up before you can move onto any staining or painting. There are a few different ways you can remove this residue, but through trial and error, the most effective way for me has been through the use of mineral spirits and steel wool.

I mentioned this above in a quick answer, but to go into more detail is important, so feel free to follow the step by step guide below on how to clean up the remaining stripper residue when using a paint stripper.

How Do I Remove Sticky Residue After Paint Stripping?

1. Alright, so the first thing you need to do after stripping your piece of wood furniture is to make sure you are wearing a respirator and you are in a well-ventilated area. For example, your garage, workshop, or even outside.

2. Secondly, throw on some gloves because you don’t want mineral spirits and paint stripper residue all over your hands. Also, a pair of safety glasses to keep harsh chemicals out of your eyes.

3. Thirdly, now you can finally grab your bottle of mineral spirit and pour a small amount over the stripped area and begin rubbing off the residue with some fine steel wool. Make sure you are pushing with some pressure, the old paint or varnish can be hard to remove sometimes. But remember, it is very important that you follow the wood grain so you do not create a lot of small, but noticeable, scratches on the surface.

4. In the fourth step, we can now take a clean rag and use more mineral spirits (or just some water) to wipe everything down. At this stage, there is no more residue on the surface and you should be down to bare wood, if not you can lightly sand the small amount of paint or residue away. The paint will sand off easily, but the residue will likely clump up when sanding, it will take time but will eventually come off. If you have a lot of residues stuck on your wooden piece you should re-apply paint stripper and scrape it off once again.

Do I have to use mineral spirits after stripping?

You don’t always have to use mineral spirits after stripping paint or varnish from furniture, however, it is highly recommended for the best results. The majority of methylene chloride strippers contain wax that will become apparent on your stripped piece, this is when mineral spirits are helping to remove such wax and make staining or painting much more durable when applying after this stripping process.

One issue you might see when using mineral spirits to clean up stripper residue (the goop) is when refinishing some darker woods. Personally, I have never run into this issue, but I have heard about it before. The mineral spirits will take dark colors deep into the wood where wood cleaners and brighteners could not fix the damage.

What are some alternatives to mineral spirits after stripping painted wood?

Water

With certain paint removals and furniture strippers, you can use hot water and a rag to wipe up the stripper residue. Sometimes it will do the job, but other times you will have plenty of residue sticking on with no hope the water will help remove it. As I would say, it will be a task and a half, meaning there’s a lot of work to do when using water to clean up paint stripper residue.

Adding vinegar to your water can help with the cleaning process, mix 50% water and 50% vingar for best results.

Lacquer Thinner

Some chemical strippers you can use thinners to clean and neutralize the surface. Lacquer thinner works similarly to mineral spirits, you apply it over the stripped surface to clean up the remaining residue. It is very toxic and the fumes can make you very sick, so that’s a good reason to avoid it if possible. If you plan to use it to clean up after stripping paint be in a ventilated space, like outdoors. Plus wear all protective glasses, respirators, and gloves.

Acetone

Acetone is known to be a great cleaner on wooden surfaces, its great for removing oily surfaces and much more. You can use it to clean up the wood stripper because it is known to dry faster than other commonly used materials. Breathing it in can cause irritation to your lungs, throat and nose, but at higher amounts, it can cause serious damages to the nervous system.

Final Thoughts

The question “how to clean wood after stripping paint” is very common for newer woodworkers and furniture painters. I know using paint stripper can be intimidating because I was intimidated to use such products, but digging in and trying new techniques will only help you figure out what process works best for you.

Deciding what product to use when cleaning up the residue might be a difficult choice at the start. I always use mineral spirits and for the most part, I haven’t had many issues. If you are worried about using it because its a more toxic product, you can always opt-out for water/vinegar at the start. It may not work as well but you will feel comfortable, get started, and get out there.

Good luck stripping paint off your next project!