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.
Follow me on
Follow on Bloglovin
Or find me on

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. OH MAN!!!!!!!! THANK YOU!! I loved using it on my table top but ran out of steam on the base and 4 chairs…and I tried FEVERISHLY to get what I left, off. I will buy some of this too!! I am so excited now!
    Thank you

    1. It’s the biggest paint in the butt ever, right?! I think I’m scarred for life. Haha! Glad my little tip could help. I was pulling my hair out!

  2. I had the same problem! I have a beautiful old dresser COVERED with gummy gunk that won’t wash or sand off. I hate Citri-Strip! I dried the mineral spirits and they did nothing. I just tried your trick with the denatured alcohol, and it softened it somewhat, but I am still left hacking at the residue with a metal painter’s five-in-one tool. What did you use to remove the residue, please? Scrubbing just doesn’t seem to be doing it. I wonder if it depends on the nature of the original finish interacting with the Citri-Strip.
    Also, what will you try instead for a stripper? I was trying to avoid toxic chemicals, and now I have had to buy and use many more chemicals than if I had just used an effective stripper in the first place!
    Thank you for posting & happy stripping, lol.

    1. Oh no! The denatured alcohol really did the trick for me so I’m sorry to hear you’re still dealing with it. I did a little research and found that this stripper is the highest rated: http://amzn.to/1MTYTK4 It’s supposed to be an alternative to harsh chemical strippers too.

      I haven’t tried it yet myself though, since I finally just broke down and primed and painted my chairs instead. I hope that helps!

  3. I just used CitriStrip today to remove flaking stain/shellac/varnish from my sewing cabinet (all hardwood, huge and heavy with tons of storage–a STEAL for $20 from a thrift store). The top was in bad shape, to the point where I couldn’t use it uncovered for actual sewing because it would snag the fabric. Anyhow, finally got around to stripping it, and yes, I got “goo.” Lots and lots of it! I scraped with a flexible metal scraper and wiped it on paper towels and cardboard over THREE separate coats of stripper! What a mess! But, I’m sitting here right now next to an awesome sewing cabinet with a beautifully clear top. I will use alcohol wipes to remove any extra residue, then sand the top. I will probably restain this piece because the wood grain is pretty. My advice, stick with it until you get all the goo gone! Still way easier than sanding, IMO.

    1. Good to know, Tina! Maybe I just need more patience. I’m thinking I’ll try a different stripper next time. Maybe the Citristrip and I just don’t get along.

      1. you can’t let it sit too long. My first experience was on a rocker, think I left it on 24 hrs and that was my problem.

  4. I also have a waxy goo after using citristrip. If I use denatured alcohol, can the piece still be stained or have a clear coat over the wood? I didn’t really want to paint these chairs, but might have to.

    1. I ended up painting mine but that’s really only because I still had a good bit of stubborn varnish left on them. If the varnish is splotchy on yours, I would paint. If you can manage to get all of the varnish off, you can certainly try staining them. And the good thing is, if the stain doesn’t go well, you can always try painting over it then.

  5. Hi Lauren, I have been refinishing furniture for the past 40 years…and after reading your note with the stripper, I must commend you by saying…it is never too late to teach “an older refinisher” a new trick! I am stripping my kitchen cabinets..using the hard core stripper on the doors outside which is not an issue with good airflow. I too started stripping the indoors areas with EZ strip, Citristrip and and Back to Nature Redi-strip methods and luckily my hair is still intact!!!I was to the point of closing off the rooms and venting the fumes and using the hard core stripper inside. If I use the denatured alcohol I will need to vent as well. My question to you….do you think the denatured alcohol could be used as a first step and forget all the other products? Now after completing the chair project, have you used the alcohol in place of everything else? Thank you, SueP

    1. I’m so glad I could teach “an old refinisher” a new trick! Haha! I think this one for me was sheer dumb luck out of total desperation. I was so sick of that icky goo after several days. It’ll try your patience for sure. If I’d known the drama it was going to cause, I would have just primed the chairs with Kilz in the very beginning and avoided stripping altogether. I haven’t used the alcohol on anything else because actually…I feel like I’m scarred for life when it comes to stripping furniture now. Maybe one day I’ll attempt it again. But I’ll definitely TEST a spot first before applying it to the entire piece. Ahh! Lesson learned. Hope your project ends up well, Sue! 🙂