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. 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! 🙂