How to: Strip Wooden Furniture and Give It a Freshly Painted Makeover

by on Aug 5, 2013

"A Freshly painted Wooden Furniture looks attractive"I never had visions of being a stripper, but here I am… almost middle aged, living the suburban dream and, BAM, I did it. It wasn’t pretty, but I swear I’ll be better the next time.

Painting furniture is an easy and affordable way to give it a quick makeover, but after decades of facelifts, sometimes you gotta get rid of the paint and start as freshly as possible. This mini-dresser has been mine for an eternity, but now it’s time to pass along to my daughter Eleanor for her new adopted bedroom on the 3rd floor.

 Unfortunately, it was black… which didn’t seem right for the space (or a four-year-old little girl!), and the unknown-but-visible layers of paint look was getting a little old…read: you could see all the patterns layered on top of each other. See all those squiggles in the “before” photo? Soooooo, I thought it was high time to learn some proper paint stripping technique.

In order to diminish the toxicity levels, I started with Back to Nature Ready Strip. Apply it to the surface with either a brush or a putty knife and let it sit until it changes color: 4-24 hours. I used an old paint brush with sturdy protective gloves (thinner latex gloves could disintegrate with the heavy chemicals in some strippers), a face mask and goggles. I recommend a gel stripper as it’s thicker and seems to sit and penetrate a little better than a thinner liquid product.  This operation is fume-a-rama, so be sure to work in a ventilated area. 

A person is holding a green and white container of Ready Strip.

The front of four dresser drawers are lined up outside on the ground and have had their paint stripped for a makeover.

From the dusty recess of my brain, I remember seeing that it was helpful when stripping furniture to apply a plastic bag over the stripper in order to slow down the evaporation and to give the product time to work its corrosive magic. Perhaps that’s only for specific brand strippers, but it certainly didn’t seem to hurt.

Several black trash bags cover a large item.

After 24 hours, I pulled back the plastic and sure enough the stripper was an opaque white like the label said.  I used my putty knife to slowly scrape off the layers of paint. The smooth flat surfaces were a piece of cake. It didn’t remove paint right down to the bare wood, but it certainly ate through at least 5 layers (including polyurethane). I plan on repainting this dresser and simply wanted to remove the bulky texture of the layers of paint, so this was all the stripping I needed.  It was originally one of those unpainted furniture pieces, so the wood isn’t anything worth preserving or staining.

A wooden working table with a spatula and paint on it.

A painted surface is being scraped with a paint scraper.

For the sides of the dresser, I actually ran out of Ready Strip so I grabbed a different brand just to compare and contrast: Citristrip.  I actually liked Citristrip better because it had a thicker consistency so I could apply it to the sides of the piece without tipping the dresser on end. The gel was thick enough to stay put.  It also didn’t  take as long to cure.  Same low fume/ low toxicity dealio so that was nice.   But again… I’m a novice to this stripping gig so lots of tricks to learn.

There are three scrapers with an orange cleaner on a dirty table.

The challenges for me were the nooks and crannies.  I used a 5-in-1 tool to help get into the ridges.  I let the whole piece sit and dry for a while before taking my sander to it to remove any residual stripper or dried paint.  All in all, the dresser felt smooth as can be despite the blotchy appearance.  As I mentioned, this was one of those pine unpainted furniture pieces so the original coats of paint just got absorbed into the wood… for my purposes (repainting) this worked like a charm.

A dresser with hard to see polka dot designs.

For the face lift portion of this project, I actually brought a swatch of the fabric in that room to match.  Behr Ultra’s Geranium Leaf was the closest match.  I gave the dresser two coats of paint and then added a little embellishment (because I gotta get a little detail in there.)

A grey panel on a table.

I didn’t want anything quite as bold as a chevron or a herringbone for this piece so I reached for an oil-based white Sharpie marker to add something a little more delicate.  This stage of my makeover is often where I take a gander through Pinterest and Google images to get some ideas.  In this case, I stumbled upon a similar dresser with this sweet design so I went with it.  Imitation is the best form of flattery, right?  I used a combination of glass knobs I had on hand that are a similar color so they don’t get in the way of the white lines.

Light green dresser painted with a frilly pattern on the front.

A piece of furniture has been painted green with a white design and has mismatched clear knobs.

The dresser looks so nice that I’m not sure I want to hand it over to Eleanor… so far it’s found a home right outside our living room so maybe I’ll have to try my stripping hand at another dresser that Eleanor can use!

Painting of flowers above a dresser with a painted design.


A woman in a black and white striped shirt is smiling.More about Charlotte from Ciburbanity: My family and I left the glorious urban chaos of New York City for the quiet dust-free Connecticut suburbs in 2012. As much as I miss the city, this new suburban life allows me the space (and craft stores) to get my DIY on! You can read more about us here!” 

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