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How to Remove Citristrip Residue from Wood Furniture

There is nothing more annoying in the DIY furniture makeover world than removing the gross sticky residue after using a chemical stripper on wood furniture. Choice words have been said around here.

Remember back when Robert and I stripped old paint from our fireplace mantle and I was in love with the Citristrip gel we used? The fresh citrus scent makes stripping paint so much more bearable than other types of paint strippers. 

I was trying to strip the wood stain from this chair but it turned into a gunky mess! Little did I know that denatured alcohol to strip wood was the secret I was missing!

Well, that relationship has run its course and after this last furniture stripping project, it’s time for a breakup. Sorry Citristrip. It’s you, not me. And just like every difficult break-up, I turned to alcohol to get me through it. Denatured alcohol that is. (Har har. Come on now, this is a family-friendly blog.)

When to Use Citristrip

Citristrip CAN be the best way to remove oil-based paint or layers of dried latex paint from a piece of furniture. But sometimes you’re left with Citristrip residue that is extra stubborn to remove after taking off an old finish. 

Yesterday I posted about my mid-strip progress, or lack thereof, and I finally had to call it a day after 24 hours of scraping the stubborn gummy residue that made a complete mess and still didn’t want to budge. 

Citristrip did great on latex paint before, but it was no match for 40 year old varnish.

The Citristrip label said to clean up the residue with mineral spirits, but after hours of applying, scrubbing, and a few dollars shorter later, it still wasn’t much better.

However, I won the battle! So here’s how I fixed the issue.

Makeover: Designer Knock Off No Sew Dining Chairs

Most Effective Furniture Stripper

For removing oil-based paint and varnish, use Dumond Smart Strip instead. It is a much more powerful formula than Citristrip.

Here’s a shot of the chair legs right after applying the Citristrip. I was blissfully unaware at this point. I was so mad about the gummy gunk later that I didn’t even take a picture of it. Trust me on this one; it was bad.

Related: How to Refinish Wood Furniture Without Stripping

Ever have this kind of mess when trying to strip wood stain? No one likes a sticky, gunky mess!

How to Remove Citristrip Dried Residue

I searched high and low through resource after resource to figure out the easiest way to fix the dried Citristrip disaster I created and came up with a few solutions but nothing that really worked.

Several sources I found said to try another coat or two of the varnish stripping gel. And my thoughts were “No freaking way! I can’t do it again. I need a shortcut.” (Shortcuts usually lead to more disaster when it comes to home improvement, but I proved that lesson wrong in this scenario…thankfully.)

I reached the point where I didn’t even care that the furniture still had some leftover stain and varnish. I just wanted the residue gone so that I could prime and be done with it. So if you find yourself in a gummy, gunky stripping mess like I did, here is the solution that I figured out through trial and error.

The answer to my Citristrip disaster:

Denatured Alcohol! 

This Klean Strip denatured alcohol saved my project! It makes the stripping process SO much easier!

Check out that beautiful gunk-free wood! Mineral spirits didn’t work. Goof off didn’t work. Goo Gone didn’t work. Sanding didn’t work. Hot water made it stickier. Additional stripper just caused a bigger mess (these chairs had a LOT of varnish). 

But when I swiped on the denatured alcohol, I could almost hear angels singing. It was the best result. Saying a little prayer for patience probably helped too.

So after a good wipe down of denatured alcohol and using steel wool on the flat surfaces and a small brass wire brush to work it in the little crevices, I finally saw light at the end of the tunnel.

To be safe since there are a few varnish spots still left, I’m giving the wood a coat of oil based primer, Kilz Original.

I’ve never been so happy to take an after shot in my life.

Related: How to Clean Wood Furniture to Make It Look New

Before using denatured alcohol to strip wood stain on this chair.
After using denatured alcohol to strip wood stain on this chair -- look at how clean that is!

How to Use Citristrip for Best Results

Here are some helpful tips to use Citristrip with good results next time:

  • Protect your work area with a large drop cloth
  • Wear protective gear such as safety glasses and chemical resistant gloves
  • Apply a thick layer of Citristrip (don’t hold back)
  • Cover the stripper with saran wrap and let it sit for at least 30 minutes 
  • Begin paint stripping with a plastic putty knife or plastic scraper
  • Wipe away paint stripper residue with a paper towel or clean cloth
  • Repeat the process with a second coat if needed when removing thick layers of paint
  • Clean off remaining residue with odorless mineral spirits or Paint Stripper After Wash

I’m so glad to finally be done with that first step, but whenever I have a DIY fiasco happen, I have to look on the bright side that at least I learned a skill to always keep in mind for any other projects from here on out.

More Wood Furniture Makeover Resources

How to Refinish Wood Furniture Without Stripping

how to refinish wood furniture without stripping

How to Clean Wood Furniture to Make It Look New

How to Restore Wood Outdoor Furniture

See more DIY furniture makeover resources here.

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    1. Yay! So glad it helped! I know the feeling very well. I was ready to throw those chairs in the TRASH! Thank goodness I didn’t. Stay strong, Kim. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  1. Update: Out of desperation, I went and bought some denatured alcohol. So far, it is helping! Thanks for posting this article and sharing your experience! Hopefully my table won’t burst into flames. LOL Seriously though, I have found several other videos and articles recommending the denatured alcohol.

    Have a great day!

      1. I use denatured alcohol to clean furniture before I paint and prime all the time. I guess I should have read those instructions! To make you feel better, the paint company I follow – General Finishes – recommends cleaning all products with a 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and water before painting. It works like a dream for me. I just do it outside or with lots of ventilation and a mask on. And of course gloves. The alcohol dries pretty quickly – so I think the thread of bursting into flames is pretty low.

  2. HI! I’ve been reading your post and I went to the store to buy the Denatured Alcohol, but I’m concerned about it being flammable. The can specifically says not to use it on wood floors or furniture due to the fact that Denatured Alcohol is a fuel. What are your thoughts on this? Why did you think to use this product in the first place? I admit that it’s almost misleading considering that it’s sold by Klean Strip and found in the paint aisle. Are you worried about the flammable nature of this product?


    1. Ya know…I can see how it could be a concern but at this point, I was so desperate to just have the gunk gone after trying every solution I could find that it was either use the denatured alcohol or throw out the chairs all together. We’ve had the chairs done now for nearly a year though, so we’re very happy with how they turned out. But we also stained and sealed them, so I’m hoping we’re in the clear.

  3. I know this kind of an old post, but I am using Citristrip for the first time and I have gunk in some places but not in others, and I wanted your advice… I was trying to strip paint, which went wonderfully, but I didn’t know there was some kind of stain / varnish underneath, and now that has come up in some places but not others. Could it be the stain underneath making it gunky, and I should get some more stripper to get rid of that, or is it pretty definitely the Citristrip and I should wash it off asap?

    1. If you are just wanting to paint the piece, I would suggest cleaning up as much as you can with the denatured alcohol. Trying to wash it off with soap and water only made it worse for me. After the denatured alcohol, let it dry for 24 hours, sand with a medium/coarse grit, wipe off any dust with a tack cloth, and prime with Kilz Original and dry for 24 hours, then paint with whatever finish you choose. It’s a long, aggravating process but it works. Good luck with it! Let me know if you have any more questions!

    2. I will never use CitriStrip again! What a mess! The denatured alcohol worked great! It’s also useful for a lot of woodworking based projects.

      For removing finish from cabinets and flat surfaces I’d suggest a “card scraper”. It’s an old school hand tool that scrapes the finish coat off and creates less of a mess.

  4. Lauren! Thank you so much for this post! I used Citri-strip to strip contractor overspray off of my steps after I ripped the carpet off and was left with that same gooey mess. I was at my wits’ end until I found this! You’re a lifesaver.

    1. Hi using this will it take off the the old stain on it I’m doing a dinning room table.and it has so much layers of gloss on it it’s taking lots of stripping gel.help plz