diy: safe, nontoxic, eco friendly way to strip furniture

I get a lot of emails about refinishing furniture and pieces that I have worked on it the past and the best advice I can give anyone is to pay the most attention to the prep work!  Prepping a piece (aka stripping the finish, or sanding and scuffing it to make it paint-ready) is the most important step in the refinishing process.  When it comes to stripping furniture, I’ve always avoided chemical strippers, instead choosing elbow grease and lots and lots of sand paper.  I’m sure the chemical strippers are worth their weight in gold in terms of how quickly and efficiently they work, however, I never trusted myself with the mess it would make, not to mention the toxicity…I just don’t need or want either. 

HOWEVER, after recently burning through what seemed like a million sheets of 80-grit sand paper with my orbital sander on a set of four dining chairs, I thought I’d give in and try Smart Strip, a biodegradable, non toxic stripper I found at Sherwin Williams:

 Everthing I needed, I already had on hand, including a cheap foam brush and a paint scraper:

Even though this stuff is biodegradable, I wore plastic gloves and laid a plastic tarp underneath…trust me, you will need both once you start scraping paint off!  To start, I put a heaping amount of the stripper on the brush:

Wipe the Smart Strip right onto your piece and don’t be stingy with it!  The more you put on, the easier it will be to remove layers of paint and finish.  Once you’ve applied the stripper, just wait….the container says to wait anywhere from three to 24 hours, but, it started bubbling and cracking just 30 minutes after applying.  This is what it looked like:

After about an hour, I scraped away at the stripper and, believe it or not, it brought the paint and finish away with it pretty easily, right down to the original stain:

The stripper only removed down to the original stain of the wood, which was fine because I finished off the rest with my orbital sander to get down to bare wood:

Overall, I was very impressed with Smart Strip…it was relatively fast and easy and cleanup was a breeze.  This stuff is great for pieces with flat surfaces – I wouldn’t recommend this for pieces that have a lot of detailing.  This stuff is so gooey, that using a steel brush to get in to the grooves of a piece would be a mess. 

Stay tuned to see this set of four Queen Anne-style chairs’ dramatic makeover!

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I'm Kelly, interior designer, stylist, hostess with the mostest and editor of my blog, where I share pics of my work, my own home, décor projects, entertaining hacks, where to find the best decorating deals and all the beautiful things that are currently inspiring me!




  1. Sherry Hart on March 26, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    I posted not too long ago that I was seeing stripped and bleached wood pieces all over Scott's and that I was feeling a trend! Can't wait to see how these chairs turn out!!

  2. Kelly Stivers on March 26, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks, Sherry! I'll be posting before and after pictures as soon as the weather warms up and I can actually finish them!!

  3. Christine on October 10, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    I rave about Citristrip because of the same reasons you chose this stripper. Good to know there's an alternative out there.

    I am wondering for you, though, if like Citristrip, if you leave it on longer will it suck the stain out of the wood? I put the Citristrip on, go to work or bed, , scrnd when I come back, where the ribbons of lifted paint have remained in contact with the wood the stain is sucked out. I use a 2nd coat to turn the stain into BBQ sauce (looks just like it!) scrape that into a bucket, then scrub the rest off with water and a scrubbie. I've taken 15 antique doors down to absolutely bare wood (and 8 kitchen cabinets, and my mahogany door & sidelights) and am so excited about how easy this stuff is I can't stand it. I don't use any safety equipment and if I get liquified stain on my hands, I just lotion on some Citristrip then wash 'em. Yeah!

    I really digress. I'd be interested to hear if you leave it on longer if it'll do the same and suck out the stain. I'll compare costs tomorrow when I head for BM for Moroccan Spice paint!

  4. Kelly Stivers on October 14, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Christine – that is so interesting (and promising!) that you were able to get those doors down to bare wood! Whenever I've left the CitriStrip on for longer periods of time, it gets crusty and hard and basically unworkable, so I end up having to put another coat on, wait, and then start scraping again. I have one more chair to strip and am going to try your suggestion of using water and a scrubbie, as I'm willing to try anything to make my work easier. Thank you so much for sharing!!

  5. Kimberlee on April 30, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    I know this is old, but had to chime in. I use the 3M citrus stripper and I barely need gloves it's so gentle. Here's a hint I came up with that works gangbusters! After coating the piece, I use the film that comes from the dry cleaners. It's large, tears and forms easily, and gives the stripper the working time of up to, in my own experience, 36 hours. I come back and it's Still tacky!
    I come back usually within 18-24 hrs. later and I've taken pieces that had lead paint, then stain, then acrylic paint w/glazing off in easy swipes of a plastic straightedge. (my grandmother did those things to her furniture over the decades) I use Q-tips, old toothbrushes & toothpicks for the details & crevices. Been well rewarded for the time in with a beautiful, 90-yr old dresser of what turned out to be golden oak.

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