Want to easily strip wood cabinets or furniture? Lately I’ve seen all kinds of “hacks” and “tips” on social media for how to get stripper to cooperate and people wrap it in plastic, heat it, do all kinds of things, and then – from where I sit – still spend an inordinate amount of time scraping and coaxing the paint to come off. There’s a better way! I did not have to suffer through any of that hassle because I accidentally found what is, in my opinion, THE BEST paint and varnish remover out there. Between this awesome paint stripper – and my new favorite tool – layers and layers of paint came off like butter in one smooth move.
Why Did I Strip My Kitchen Cabinets?
First, let me answer a question I was asked a lot on social media: why did I strip my kitchen cabinets? We had sanded, primed and painted back in 2013 and that finish was PERFECT. When I wanted a change, I scuffed up the paint, primed again and painted but this second color was a different brand and I really wasn’t happy with the quality of the paint. I decided that I wanted to go lighter with the cabinet color anyway. But I already had so many coats of finish on the wood and some of the cabinets already close with only millimetres to spare (not a well designed kitchen, lol), so more layers of paint would have just been too thick. So I decided to strip all of the finish off and start fresh. I’m also still planning to refinish my bedroom dressers – I have promised a painted dresser makeover for years (sorry, lol). But I have been nervous about “ruining” them because even though I don’t love the finish, there’s nothing wrong with it. I could sell them and just buy something I love (but I do love the size and the curvy drawer fronts of these dressers). After mulling paint samples, I decided maybe to strip and refinish the wood veneer instead, so I had extra motivation to test this stripper. Now I feel confident about using it on those dressers and plan to strip them back to their natural cherry and then bleach them for a more coastal look as soon as it’s warm enough to work outside again.
What is THE BEST Brand of Paint Stripper?
So, in my opinion, having used some other brands that were really good but not noteworthy, I LOVE this brand:
I bought it locally, here’s a link to help you find it. My best advice is to call/visit locally owned, small paint stores in your city or town. Even if they don’t have this, they will probably have something equally magic. Often those smaller shops carry products that are of superior quality to the big box retailers (and sometimes geared more toward people who do this by trade), especially when it comes to refinishing projects.
I also love that this stripper is non-flammable, needs no neutralizing, and removes all finishes.
Supplies for Stripping Paint from Cabinet Doors:
- Paint stripper
- Chemical resistant rubber gloves
- Protective foot wear (no flip flops!)
- Protective eye wear
- Work bench / work surface
- Belt or palm sander
- Shave hook scraping tool
- Stiff scrapers (I used a wide one and a narrow one)
- Lint-free rags
- Old paint brush (for applying stripper)
- Old container for goop
Because my cabinets have a raised profile, the old finish really liked to get stuck in those grooves. So I bought a shave hook scraping tool, which was a GAME CHANGER!
For the flat parts, I used a really wide scraper and then a smaller size for the smaller areas – it really depends on your style of your cabinets.
How to Strip Paint from Kitchen Cabinets:
(If you prefer some video, check out my Instagram Story highlight called “Cabinet Strip” so you can tap through the stories from this project and see more of the process in action – or watch my popular Instagram Reel, which demonstrates how the paint comes off so easily).
First, I removed all of the doors and brought them outside, because paint stripper is always nasty stuff and it’s just not fun or really safe to use it indoors. The first time I ever used it, it was so hot and I was wearing flip flops – never again, lol, I felt like my toes were being seared off. I set up a work surface (cover it if you want to protect from the stripper) and it helped to have a buddy to speed things along. My Mom came out to help me, which was much appreciated because I was running out of non-winter weather days when I started this project.
With the work area set up, don some protective wear: eye protection, gloves, face mask if you want it. I was working outside in open air, so I really only worried about my hands and eyes and feet.
Gently pour or brush on the stripper, a nice generous and even coat, and wait for it to bubble up – as soon as it started to bubble, I’d start to quickly scrape to avoid it drying out (at which point, it wasn’t effective). Keep the area being stripped completely saturated with the stripper. If it does dry out, just apply some more to re-activate it. I cut up an old water bottle to dump the goop off as I scraped it but note: the plastic will eventually start to melt (but never before I filled it up), I just didn’t have metal or glass on hand. Be sure to dispose of the goop jar responsibly (many landfills have a special area for paint and junk like this).
I learned to be super generous with the stripper, so I could use less elbow grease. In the photo below, I was still being conservative with my application and you can see a lot was left behind, even after two applications. That meant way more sanding! Once I started applying it more thickly, I had none of those bits left.
If my cabinet doors had been flat, I would have been done very quickly. But the grooves required some scraping and more time. I’d pour a little extra stripper for just the grooves and then go at it with my shave hook scraping tool.
When I was done using the stripper, I gave the cabinets a quick wipe down with a damp cloth to remove any residue (although this doesn’t need neutralizing).
I followed up the stripping with sanding, using my old belt sander and then did a little hand sanding where needed. My cabinets were not 100% stripped to bare wood because I was painting anyway, but with these steps and a bit more elbow grease than I committed, you could easily remove 100%. You can also use a small tool like a Dremel, to sand in any grooves of raised panel cabinetry.
WOW! This magic stripper cut through the original finish, primer, multiple coats of paint, more primer, and more coats of paint! For one second, I was almost tempted to keep going and do a bleached oak kind of look but I’m glad I stayed with the original plan because I LOVE the new color!
In my next post, I’ll share my process for priming and painting the cabinets fronts – I did it a bit differently (and used a different brand of paint) this time around.
Check out these posts for tutorials on different ways to refinish cabinets:
- How to Paint Cabinet Doors with a Paint Sprayer
- Comparing Different Methods of Painting and Re-Finishing Cabinets
- How to Re-Finish Cabinets with Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations
- How to Re-Varnish Cabinet Doors
P.S. Don’t Forget to Pin for Later!