Should You Use Oven Cleaner on Wood? Take a Closer Look at the Viral Furniture-Stripping Hack
Before you grab a can of oven cleaner to strip your wood furniture, check out the facts first.
Q: It seems that a lot of people are having success stripping wood with oven cleaner. Is it really as quick and easy as they say, or is this another viral hack that doesn’t actually live up to the claims?
A: Using oven cleaner on wood is certainly a popular trend on social media right now, as sites like YouTube and TikTok have numerous examples of people using oven cleaner on furniture. At first glance, it appears easier than traditional wood stripping techniques and doesn’t seem to damage fine detail like sanding can.
It’s understandable to have concerns. Many DIY hacks seen on social media turn out to be misleading. Before buying oven cleaner (or mixing up your own), read this detailed guide on what does and doesn’t work, and the important safety precautions you need to take if you do try this at home.
Oven cleaner is a powerful stain remover.
The best oven cleaners quickly remove tough cooking stains caused by oil, grease, or baked-on food. These caustic formulas can cut through and dissolve a variety of different ingredients because they often contain sodium hydroxide (also called lye or caustic soda), a common ingredient in commercial paint and varnish strippers. In this way, the two different products have a key similarity. However, paint stripper should never be used on an oven.
We don’t know who first tried using an oven cleaner on wood, but in the right circumstances it can certainly be effective. However, it won’t work on all wood products or all finishes, and a number of precautions need to be taken for personal safety.
Success depends on the type of wood you’re working with and the finish you’re trying to remove.
Oven cleaners can be liquids, powers, gels, and sprays. While any of them will work, the latter is far and away the simplest to use. Easy Off oven cleaner is a popular oven cleaner spray, and it’s often found in oven cleaner furniture stripping videos.
Oven cleaner is most effective when used to remove stain or varnish from solid wood furniture, but it’s usually less effective on painted wood. In this case, we would recommend using one of the high-performance products designed specifically for the task, such as the ones featured in our researched best paint strippers guide.
Even though oven cleaner can work on wood veneers, doing so poses risks. If the cleaner is too strong or left on too long, it will also attack the glue that holds the veneer to the substrate and lift it away from the surface. Meanwhile, laminates should be avoided altogether when using oven cleaner. While they may look like wood, many laminates are simply a photograph of wood grain printed onto plastic and fiberboard. Oven cleaner can eat into this material with disastrous results.
Oven cleaner stripping can dry out wood furniture.
The caustic action of using an oven cleaner on wood will often dry out the fibers which makes the wood more brittle and more prone to splitting. Although raw wood has its attraction, rubbing on a thin coat of wax or oil after stripping will feed the wood, and over time develop a natural patina. Alternatively a matte sealer will offer protection, and sealed wood is easier to keep clean.
Oven cleaner can also be used to bleach wood, which is a popular upcycle for older dark furniture. While this may take longer, using a number of mild applications will give greater control than a single heavy one.
Safety precautions must be taken when using oven cleaner on wood.
Any product that can strip stain and varnish from wooden furniture needs to be treated with care. Some are toxic, and many produce an unpleasant or even dangerous vapor. When using an oven cleaner on wood, take the same safety precautions as when using paint strippers.
- Work in a well-ventilated area, like a garage or shed with the doors open or outdoors, even with so-called “fume-free” oven cleaners.
- Wear chemical-resistant gloves (even if the product suggests they aren’t needed).
- Wear some form of eye protection or a face shield.
- Wearing a respirator mask is highly recommended.
- Kids are best kept away from this process. Oven cleaner should always be stored out of children’s reach.
- Think carefully about where you plan to work. Rinsing is a key part of the process, and the runoff could harm local wildlife, even if it’s diluted. Working on a tarp will help prevent runoff from staining your garage floor or driveway.
How to Strip Furniture With Oven Cleaner
Oven cleaner stripping isn’t an exact science. There are all kinds of different woods, and a huge range of finishes. One treatment may be sufficient, but two or more might be required. The key steps are as follows.
STEP 1: Prepare the wood surface and put on your safety equipment.
Remove any metal hardware such as handles or lock escutcheons. If stripping mirror frames, remove the mirror or mask it off with tape. Although the glass will be fine, the oven cleaner will likely damage the silvering on the back.
The wood doesn’t need to be particularly clean, but it’s a good idea to use a rag or soft brush to remove dust and debris. And don’t forget to put on your protective gear—protective gloves, safety glasses or goggles, and a respirator mask. Even sprays that are supposed to be skin irritant- and fume-free can still irritate your eyes and airways.
STEP 2: Apply oven cleaner to the wood.
Spray the oven cleaner. Aim to create an even coat over the entire surface, paying attention to areas where there are carved or molded details. It doesn’t need to be especially thick, but don’t apply too thin of a coat either.
Leave for 20 to 30 minutes. Direct sunlight will dry the oven cleaner too quickly at this stage, so leave it somewhere shady.
STEP 3: Scrub and rinse the wood surface.
Add water and a little dish soap to a bowl or bucket. Use a soft bristled brush to scrub the wooden surface. Try to work along the grain, and scrub into detailed areas.
Once you’ve been over the whole surface, rinse with lots of clean water. Using a garden hose is easiest. Keep it running until all the gunk is gone and the water runs clear.
STEP 4: Let the wood dry.
Because it’s wet, the wood will appear dark at first. It needs to dry for at least several hours. Leaving it in the sun now will speed up the process.
Once completely dry, check the wood surface for any residual stain or varnish. Repeat the process if necessary—it may require two or three applications to completely strip the old finish.
RELATED: How To Clean Wood Furniture