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How To Remove Paint From Wood Without Using Chemicals

01 January 0001 min read

Removing paint from wood can be a very daunting prospect, and an arduous task to complete successfully. It can also be a highly unsafe process when caustic chemicals are used; requiring everything from high-quality ventilation to expensive safety gear to get the job done.

Although there are jobs where paint strippers may be your only option, for everyday furniture and interior jobs, Woodshop are here to give you some surprisingly effective methods and natural alternatives that won't require toxic or abrasive solvents. All you need is a bit of elbow grease and a little preparation work to help remove paint from wood, without using chemicals.

Important: Before you begin stripping paint from wood, always try to work out if the paint you're removing contains lead. Paints made before 1960 often contained lead, so if you're planning to strip old furniture or surfaces, be careful, as lead particles that find their way into the air can be toxic if ingested. If you're in doubt, purchase a lead testing kit and make sure you have the necessary safety equipment and clothing to hand before you get started.

Please read the guidance provided by The British Coatings Federation on lead paint removal - essential information if you're DIY-er or a professional decorator in need of some advice.


Solution #1. Sanding

Perfect for smaller scale paint removal projects, sanding is particularly effective on smooth wooden surfaces. However, whether you're hand or machine sanding, it does require a bit of effort and consistency. If you're unfamiliar with sanding tools or have little experience using them, it's best to have a few practice runs with your tools or equipment on scrap materials before you start removing paint on the desired area or item in question.

When using a belt sander, an 80-grit sandpaper and a firm, even application will provide the best results. Make sure every sanding area is treated evenly and consistently and resist the temptation to sand one area for too long - also, keep the sander moving to avoid dipping and chipping. Once this is done, you can then use a hand sander to remove any stubborn painted areas before applying a finer grit belt to finish the job.

Solution #2. Heat Removal

A heat gun is a highly effective tool for removing paint on wooden surfaces. They work by taking in air via a fan, a heat element then increases the temperature of the air, producing a hot output at temperatures between 100°C - 500°C or even hotter in some cases.

Before using a heat gun, make sure you're wearing safety glasses, a pair of heatproof gloves and a mask during the paint heating and removal process.

Start by using the heat gun at a 45-degree angle, applying heat 20cm away from the painted surface, moving it constantly over the working area. As the paint blisters and reacts to the heat, keep moving it so it softens and bubbles further, but be careful not to burn the paint or the wood underneath. If you come across paint that is particularly hard to remove, resist the urge to focus the heat gun on one area, instead sand it down or use a wood scraper after heating. Steel wool can be particularly effective at removing any remaining paint from the edges or corners of the timber.


Solution #3. Pressure Washing

Probably the quickest and most efficient way to remove paint from larger timber surface areas, pressure washing with a 2,000 to 4,000 PSI range of power will yield great results.

Make sure you wear safety glasses, rubber gloves and protect or cover anything in the working area that could get damaged by the pressure washer. Focus the water nozzle around 30cm away from the wood surface and apply the water jet evenly, working in controlled, consistent sections, sweeping downwards to remove the paint. For painted areas that are hard to remove, increase the pressure or move a little closer but be careful to not overspray any particular area as it can damage the wood grain.

Once the wood has completely dried, use a paint stripping tool or sand away any remaining paint to complete your removal job.