Interior Paints & Finishes

How To: Remove Stain from Wood

Removing wood stain may seem like a daunting task, but it can be a simple DIY project with the right know-how.
Debbie Wolfe Avatar
How To: Remove Stain from Wood

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn More ›

If you’re updating hardwood floors or refinishing a piece of furniture, for the best results, you need to remove the existing stain first. Removing wood stain can be an involved process since it absorbs into the grain of the wood.

Most stained wood has a coat of protective varnish that must be eliminated as well. So, technically you must first use the chemical stripper to clear away the varnish (and some of the stain will lift, too), then sand away a thin layer from the surface of the wood to remove most of the stain. You can also sand away minor scratches and fill in deep gouges. Then, apply a fresh coat of stain and varnish to make your piece of furniture or wood flooring look brand new.

Removing wood stain is an easy home improvement project that first time DIYers can tackle in an afternoon. Learn how to remove stain from wood with some pro tips to help get the job done right.

– Drop cloth
– Chemical resistant gloves
– Safety glasses
– Respirator mask
– Natural bristle paintbrush
– Chemical wood stripper
– Plastic scraper
– Steel wool
– Rags
– Medium grit sandpaper
– Fine grit sandpaper
– Electric hand sander

STEP 1: Prepare your work area.

Before you get started, it’s important to know that most wood strippers (and even paint strippers designed to handle varnish) contain harsh chemicals that are dangerous to breathe in and should not touch your skin. If possible, work outdoors. If your wood piece is too large or not movable, make sure windows are open and the room is well-ventilated. Lay down a drop cloth to protect the work area (if you are stripping stain from a piece of furniture).

STEP 2: Organize the tools and materials.

Have the paintbrush, stripper, and plastic scraper within reaching distance. Put on protective clothing such as a long sleeve shirt, long pants, and closed-toe shoes. Before you open the stripper, put on the chemical resistant gloves and safety glasses. You do not want any of the stripper to come into contact with your skin or splash in your eyes. Finally, put on the respirator.

Pro Tip: Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the chemical stripper. They may offer specific recommendations on the proper protective gear to use.

STEP 3: Pour the stripper in a smaller container.

Only use a container that is designed specifically to hold corrosive solvents such as a disposable aluminum pan or a metal bowl. Pour the stripper into the container carefully so you don’t get any on your clothes or the floor.

Find trusted local pros for any home project
How To Remove Stain from Wood: Applying Stripper

STEP 4: Apply a thick layer of stripper.

Dip the paintbrush in the container of stain stripper and apply a thick layer of the stripper to the wood. Carefully brush it across the surface of the wood until the entire surface is covered. Be sure to keep the layer of stripper even and thick.

Pro Tip: If the piece of furniture you are working on is large, it’s easier to strip the stain off a small area first as opposed to the whole piece at once.

STEP 5: Let it soak.

The stripper needs to soak for a good 15 to 20 minutes. However, it’s best to read the label on your stain stripper for specific timing instructions. Check on it every few minutes. If you notice any dry areas, apply more stripper.

STEP 6: Scrape the stain stripper off the wood.

Use a plastic scraper to scrape the varnish and stain. Start at one edge and gently push the scraper across the surface of the wood in a straight line. Scrape off the debris, and repeat in a different spot. Continue until all the stain stripper has been scraped off the surface of the wood.

STEP 7: Wipe down the surface.

Dip a steel-wool pad in the stripper and wipe down the surface. Follow the direction of the grain. Be sure to get into every nook and cranny. Once you are satisfied that all the protective coating has been removed, wipe down the surface of the wood with a wet rag. Allow the piece of wood to dry for 24 hours.

How To Remove Stain from Wood: Sanding the Surface

STEP 8: Sand your surface.

Once the wood is dry, sand the surface with medium-grit sandpaper. If working on a large area, use an electric hand sander. Continue sanding until you remove all traces of the varnish and stain. As you continue to sand, the existing stain will fade away, and the raw wood beneath will be exposed.

Follow up with fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out any scratches made from the coarse sandpaper. Once you are satisfied with the color of the wood, wipe the surface with a damp rag to remove the wood dust. Now, the piece of wood is ready for a new stain and protective finish.