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. I am going to run to the store and get denatured alcohol as soon as possible. Citristrip is terrible! I tried using it on all of the trim in our entire house… worst idea ever! Now our whole house is full of this gummy mess.

      1. This is where I’m at right now.

        Gotta run to the store now to try this.

        Since my trim and case moldings are all gooey from the citristrip and I’ve added that mineral spirits to try and remove it like the instructions say. (Two days of pulling my hair out) Since this is all done inside. Any feedback on to how to now apply it (i.e. With what) and remove it using the alcohol? How long does it need to sit before removing?


    1. I would try to get rid as much of the gooey mess as you can, but rubbing it down with the alcohol should help get rid of the rest.

  2. Hi Lauren,
    I was wondering what your opinion would be. I used Citristrip on my mother’s staircase. I only did the bottom post and that has the most detail with grooves and an ornate molding. It had layers of paint and then I discovered the stain and varnish at three bottom of it all. It seemed like the citristrip worked well on the newer paints but the older(lead based) paints I am sure, turned to liquid goo. I applied three oats so far and I just can’t do another. I was always going to repaint. It just had sooooo much paint and it was messy looking. Anyway, I am left with tacky goo all over it. I used the citristrip because my mom has asthma. It hasn’t bothered her at all. My question is in your opinion, is the denatured alcohol very fumey like mineral spirits? I may not have a choice but to use it. I just don’t know how to proceed in stripping the rest of the staircase now after the citristrip mess! Possibly a heat gun. Ugh! Thanks! Your post was a blessing. At least I know it wasn’t only me.

    1. I am SO sorry I’m just now seeing this post, Susan! The denatured alcohol does have fumes, so you do need to be careful about that. I wish there was some other way, but everything else I tried that didn’t have fumes was a big giant fail. A heat gun would probably be your best bet.

    2. Do not use a heat gun! Especially indoors on old lead paint. It will make lead vapor in the air and is very dangerous. My coworker several years ago wanted to strip the giant Victorian baseboards in her tiny bedroom. I even told her to be careful…well, she was in the hospital for two weeks with lead poisoning and was seriously ill. On top of that, once she furnished her tiny bedroom, there was barely any of the baseboards showing.

      1. Woah! That is so scary! Thank you for sharing that, Elizabeth! Yes, definitely test for lead paint before stripping anything.

  3. You literally just saved my life. After hours of tears and a full meltdown I’m headed out to get some denatured alcohol.

  4. Lauren, I love you. Six Queen Anne dining chairs with five layers of paint (my own doing) and although I do like Citistrip I didn’t think I could handle the mess. Thank you!!

    1. Whew! Nope nope nope. I wouldn’t be able to handle it either. So glad this little trick could help. Such a nightmare! Over a year later, and I’m still scarred. Haha!