Alcohol is my Best Friend

Remember back when Robert and I stripped our fireplace mantle and I was in love with the Citristrip we used? 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.)
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!
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.
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.
Ever have this kind of mess when trying to strip wood stain? No one likes a sticky, gunky mess!
I searched high and low through resource after resource to figure out a solution for the 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 stripper. 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:
This Klean Strip denatured alcohol saved my project! It makes the stripping process SO much easier!
Denatured Alcohol! 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. Warm soapy 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. Saying a little prayer for patience probably helped too. So after a good wipe down of denatured alcohol and using 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.
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!
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.
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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. 😉

  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