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. 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 houseā€¦ 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!