How to Remove Stain from Wood

Wondering how to remove stain from wood? Unlike paint, stain is transparent to allow the wood grain to show through. You can't just slap a new coat of stain on finished wood-you'll have to remove the existing stain before you can move on to a new color.

How To Remove Stain From A Wood Surface

  • What do we have here? Before you can remove the stain from wood, you'll have to remove any protective topcoat or finish that may have been applied. Wood stain can be covered by a number of materials including shellac, lacquer, varnish, oil, wax and penetrating sealer. Each covering has its own method of removal. To find out what you're dealing with, find an inconspicuous spot on the piece of wood you're working with and test it with denatured alcohol. If the finish dissolves, you're working with shellac. If not, try again with lacquer thinner-if the finish dissolves than your piece is covered with lacquer. If neither of these solutions works, you'll need to use a chemical stripper to remove the finish.
  • Removing shellac. To remove a shellac finish, apply denatured alcohol to a section of the wood using a disposable brush. Let the alcohol sit for about 10 seconds and then wipe it off with steel wool or a coarse cloth. Work in small sections, as alcohol evaporates quickly.
  • Removing lacquer. To strip a lacquer finish, apply lacquer thinner to a portion of the wood surface with a disposable brush. After 5 or 10 seconds, wipe the surface with a cloth or steel wool. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Other sealers. Many paint and sealer removers are available to strip the finish from wood. Stripping compounds that contain waxes like paraffin will need to be finish wiped with mineral spirits to remove the wax. Water cleanup strippers are easy to use, but should not be used with veneers or inlaid surfaces. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and be sure to work in a well-ventilated location when working with chemical strippers.
  • Are we there yet? Once you've removed the finish coat from the wood, step back and inspect you work. Many furniture manufacturers include stain in their finish coat and removing the finish may lighten the wood enough for your needs. If not, you'll need to move on to removing the wood stain under the finish coat.
  • Heavy duty. To remove all of the color from the wood surface, you'll need to use a two-part A/B wood bleach. To remove the stain, apply a generous coat of the "A" solution to the wood and allow it to sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Follow the first coat with a coat of the "B" solution. The stain color will lighten as the bleach dries. Let the wood rest for at least four hours and then wipe it down with a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water. Allow the wood to dry overnight before deciding if a second application is needed.
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