Oil-based wood stains can offer excellent protection to wooden surfaces while enhancing the overall look. But when it is time to change the look by, say, a new finish, you will want to know how to remove oil-based stain from wood.

Getting rid of the layer of solid stain or oil-based wood stains gives you the much-needed blank slate to work on. However, you may not get the desired results if you try refinishing a wood surface without removing the old coat of stain.

Read along to learn how to remove oil-based stains from wood.

How to Remove Oil-Based Stain from Wood Furniture

Like any wood stain, oil-based stains absorb into the grain of the wood, so removing them can be hard.

Also, oil stains often go together with a protective varnish, therefore, you will have to use a paint stripper to remove the varnish.

You will also require a medium-coarse steel wool and medium-grit sander to remove thin layers of wood stain.

What You Will Need

How to Remove Oil-Based Stain From Wood

Follow these simple steps to strip oil-based stains from wood furniture and floors without daming the surface.

Step 1: Prepare Your Workspace

Most paint strippers or wood strippers consist of harsh chemicals designed to handle varnish. These chemicals can be harmful to your health if you should inhale them.

So, ensure your workspace is well ventilated to avoid the risk of concentrating the fumes in one place.

Even better, consider working outside if possible. Except for some outdoor projects like removing oil-based paint from a wood paneling or a workpiece that is too large to move outside.

In such a case, your options would be limited to keeping the work environment well-ventilated. Ideally, open the windows or turn on the ventilation system as you work.

Aside from the ventilation, protect any other surfaces you don’t want the remover to come in contact with. You can use a drop cloth to cover these surfaces and keep them out of reach of the chemical substance.

For instance, lay a drop cloth on your floor if you are working on a piece of furniture. This will prevent chemical spills from reaching it. Likewise, if you’re outside, the drop cloth should protect the lawn or deck from spills.

Step 2: Assemble Your Tools and Materials

By now, you likely already have the stripper and the rest of the items you need for this project.

If you do not have the stripper at home, you can buy one from a nearby home improvement store or your local hardware store.

Assemble all the supplies (tools and materials) in one place, so you do not have to interrupt the activity once you are started.

Step 3: Protect Yourself

The chemicals in products such as the wood stripper can be harmful to your skin if they come in contact. So wear protective hand gloves before you begin handling the chemicals.

Also, put on your old long-sleeved clothing so you won’t have to worry about getting wood stains off hands.

Since the chemicals produce fumes, wear goggles to cover your eyes and a safety mask or respirator to keep you from inhaling the fumes.

The chemical stripper may have the manufacturer’s instructions and specific recommendations regarding the kind of protective gear to use. Even though what we have recommended here should do in nearly every scenario, it still won’t hurt to read these instructions on the label.

Step 4: Prepare the Surface Stained Area

It is best to work with a clean surface. So, prepare the stained wood surface by cleaning away any loose dirt or dust.
You may use soapy water consisting of regular laundry detergent or dish soap and clean water for this part. Then, gently dry off the stained area with a clean rag.

Step 5: Apply a Thick, Even Layer of the Stripper

Pour some stripper in a bowl to scoop it with the paintbrush and apply to the stained area. Make sure to check the label for the kind of material you need for the bowl, often a glass or specific metal designed to hold such corrosive solvents.

Alternatively, pour the chemical stripper directly onto the wood surface from its container. Next, spread it evenly using the natural-bristle brush.

The product container will also have instructions on how best to apply the remover. Follow those instructions when using the product.

Work in a small area at a time if you are removing oil-based stains from a large piece of wood or furniture.

Step 6: Let the Stripper to Sit for 15-20 Minutes.

Allow the chemical stripper enough time to remove as much of the stains as possible; about 15 to 20 minutes. You will know when the surface is ready for the next step when it begins to swell or bubble.

The manufacturer may specify a different amount of time for soaking, so take a moment to check the label for these specific details.

Regardless of the time instructions, keep checking the surface every few minutes to see if you need to add more of the product. Add more if you notice any areas drying out while you wait.

Step 7: Scrape Away the Stripper and Stain off the Wood Surface.

Use the scraper to strip away the loosened wood stains and varnish. Keep the pressure even and gently scrape it off in a straight line along the direction of the wood grain. Repeat the process until all the stain stripper has come off the wood surface.

Step 8: Wipe the Surface with Steel Wool.

Soak a steel wool pad with the remover and use it to wipe down the surface along the grain. Try to ensure the pressure is even and gentle to remove any remaining stains.
After stripping all the stain residue, use a wet rag to clean the surface and let it dry for about 24 hours.

Step 9: Sand Your Wood

Once the area is dry, sand the wood surface with medium-grit sandpaper, using an orbital handheld sander. Keep sanding until you achieve the desired clarity with bare wood now somewhat visible, when you have removed all traces of the stains and varnish.

Switch to fine-grit sandpaper and sand to your desired smoothness.

When you are done, use a damp cloth to wipe the surface to remove all the sanding dust. Voila, you now have your clean workpiece without any traces of stain.

If you notice any heat stains lingering on your table, check out this quick guide to figure out how to remove heat stains from wood table! You’ll be back to admiring your beautiful furniture in no time!

Wood Stain Removal Tips

If you wish to remove a lot of stain from wood, the secret is to leave that stripper on for as long as possible. What the remover does is create a slight film over the top of the piece of furniture that you’re trying to work on.

The longer you let it stay on, the more stain it will remove.

  • Always use a very dull scraper to avoid the risk of gouging the wood. Of course, you could use a phenolic or plastic scraper, but these start to wear on edge too fast. As such, an old metallic scrapper should do great.
  • Work with the grain when using steel wool on wood to avoid creating any scratch marks.
  • Always keep an even pressure when sanding or using steel wool on wood to achieve the best results.
  • When using an orbital sander, you can always use its edge to your benefit. For example, people keep the sander flat on the wood surface they are sanding. But if you want to sand a specific area of the wood, you can raise one side of the sander at an angle and use its edge to define the area you want to sand.

Learn more: How to get sharpie off wood


Will Mineral Spirits Remove Old Stain?

No, mineral spirits cannot remove the old stain. Instead, mineral spirit can only lighten the stain if it is on dark wood. Use a soaked rag in the solvent then rub it along the wood grain. However, you can use mineral spirit to remove water stains from unfinished wood.

Will Paint Thinner Remove Wood Stain?

Yes, paint thinner will remove the stain. Soak a clean cloth in a bowl with the paint thinner. Rub the thinner in a circular manner on your piece of stained wood as you refresh the rag in the solvent. Do this until the stain is out.

Will Vinegar Remove Wood Stain?

Vinegar can remove the wood stain or fail. Put some vinegar on the stained surface, let it sit for some time, and then rub using a stiff brush. If the stain fails to come out, you can opt for a bleaching agent (Oxalic acid).

What Happens if You Leave Stain on Wood Too Long?

Stains will remain tacky and not dry to touch if you leave them for too long on wood. The excess stain will redissolve into the wood but peel off again, leaving only the penetrated stains. To avoid that, here’s what to do in case you forgot to wipe off excess stain.

Does Acetone Remove Wood Stain?

Yes, acetone can remove wood stains. Acetone is an organic solvent you can use to remove stains from your wood surface. However, you must sand your surface to strip any leftovers of stain.

Final Thoughts on How to Remove Oil-Based Stain from Wood

We hope that you enjoyed this tutorial now that you know how to remove oil-based stains from wood. If you left your stain untreated for long, you may not remove it considering not all stains can be removed, so act quickly. We will be happy to hear any comments or observations in our interactive comments section below if you have any.

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