Do you have an old piece of furniture that’s looking a little drab? Or maybe your wood deck hasn’t been maintained in years, and the stain is peeling or chipping. These are all great reasons to remove the stain and start anew. Whether you stain or paint the wood afterward is up to you.
Prepping to Remove Wood Stain
Photo: Marco VDM / E+ / Getty Images
First, prep the work area. If you’re working indoors, make sure it’s well-ventilated, and use drop cloths to protect the floor. If you’re working with furniture, remove the hardware before getting started. Wipe the surfaces with soapy water and let dry.
Prepare to remove the stain from your outdoor deck or fencing by moving all furniture and objects, clearing debris, and covering any landscaping with a plastic sheet or tarp.
Next, make sure you’re wearing appropriate clothing and protective gear. Some stain removers create more fumes than others, but as a general rule, you should wear old clothes (including long sleeves and pants), goggles, chemical-resistant gloves, and a mask.
Next, figure out which wood stripper you need for the job.
Types of Wood Stain Removers:
Indoor and outdoor use
Uses terpenes to remove stain
No fumes or methylene chloride
Exterior stain stripper
Outdoor use only
Removes solid and semi-transparent stains
Eco-friendly water-based stain strippers available
Oxalic acid crystals
Indoor and outdoor use
Mix crystals with water to make stain stripper
Removes any kind of wood stain
Toxic and must be handled with care
Outdoor use only
Mix powder with water to make the stain stripper
Removes most transparent, semi-transparent, and semi-solid stains
Once you strip the old stain, you’ll uncover the original, beautiful wood underneath. You should follow the exact directions on your stain removal product, but here are the four basic steps for any job.
Apply a Coat of Wood Stain Remover and Wait
If you’re removing stain from a piece of furniture or working on a small area, you can apply the stripper with a natural bristle brush. Pour what you need into a metal or aluminum pan, and brush a thick, even layer of stain stripper onto the surface.
To apply stain remover to an outdoor deck or other large areas, you can use a polyester brush, roller, or a pump-up hand sprayer. For vertical applications like railings and fences, apply the remover from the bottom up.
Once you’ve applied the wood stain remover, wait for 15 to 30 minutes—you’ll see the paint start bubbling after a while. If you notice any areas drying up during the waiting period, apply more remover.
Scrape the Stain
Photo: M.Dörr & M.Frommherz / Adobe Stock
For furniture and small areas, use a scraper to remove the stain in the direction of the wood grain. You can use a plastic scraper (it’ll wear faster than metal) or a dull metal scraper (if it’s too sharp, you can damage the wood). To get the residual stain out of the wood, work the area with #2 or #3 steel wool and scrape it again. If necessary, use more remover and repeat steps one and two.
If you’re removing stain from a deck or a large area, a pressure washer at 500 to 1200 psi is likely to get the job done. Make sure the tip is 9 to 12 inchesfrom the surface. You can also use a regular garden hose on the highest pressure setting. If the stain is hard to remove, use a stiff bristle brush or a scraper to get it out.
Neutralize the Wood
You can neutralize the wood with various products. For smaller projects, rub in sawdust, wipe down with water, or use a bottled formula. For wood decks and fencing, use a wood brightener, which brings out the beauty of the natural wood while restoring the pH. You can apply this with a sprayer.
Sand the Wood
Photo: Yakov / Adobe Stock
Wait 24 hours for the surface to completely dry before moving onto the sanding.
Start with 120- or 150-grit sandpaper. For smaller projects, you can finish with 180-grit sandpaper. For decks, you can use an orbital sander with multiple heads. Take care when sanding near screw or nail heads. After sanding, wipe, sweep, or vacuum up the debris.
For furniture, finish with a layer of mineral spirits to get any remaining stain and remover out of the wood.
DIY Wood Stain Removal vs. Hiring a Pro
Most DIYers will find that stripping stain from wood is a manageable job, although it requires some time and elbow grease. This is especially true for larger projects like fencing and decks, and if you have a large yard, this could be too big of a job to handle. Not to worry—you can hire a deck refinishing company near you or a local handyperson to do the job right.
Hiring a pro to strip the stain from your deck will cost $1.50 to $3.00 per square foot, whereas removing it yourself will only require the cost of materials and a good bit of your free time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Wood stain remover should remove most, if not all, of that wood stain on its own. While sanding can be a great final step, especially if you’re planning to paint or restrain the wood, it isn’t always required. Following the first three steps of this process can leave you with beautiful results.
Vinegar won’t strip the wood stain from your wood, but it can help remove a different type of stain. If you’re dealing with water rings or food stains on your wood, you can use a little olive oil and vinegar (mixed equally) to remove those stains without stripping your actual wood stain. Just rub the solution in the direction of the wood grain, let it sit, and then wipe it away with a damp towel.