How to Remove Polyurethane Finish From Cabinets


Home ownership brings a lot of pride until you are forced to look at the same interior design year after year. A kitchen tends to be the hub of activity for most homes, and replacing cabinets is a guaranteed way to bring back some excitement. This type of project often carries a shockingly high price tag. An equally effective and less expensive method of updating the kitchen is to refinish the cabinetry. Before a beautiful new look can be applied, the old polyurethane finish has be removed.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Masking tape
  • Marker
  • 2 plastic drop cloths
  • Face mask
  • Gloves
  • Paint brush
  • Gel stripping agent
  • Putty knife
  • Steel wool
  • Toothbrush
  • Cotton cloth
  • Sander and 220-grit sandpaper


  • Remove all doors, drawers, hinges, handles and knobs. Use a screwdriver to remove the screws, twisting in a counterclockwise direction. Use a marker and a small piece of masking tape to label each drawer and cabinet door with a designated symbol that indicates where they go when finished. Save all hardware and screws in a convenient location.

  • Place a drop cloth over the floor in a well-ventilated area you have picked to strip the polyurethane off the cabinets. Set all doors and drawers on the plastic in the order you wish to complete them.

  • Place a drop cloth over all counters directly beneath the cabinets you will be using the stripping agent on. Secure it in place using masking tape.

Stripping the Finish

  • Put on a face mask and protective gloves. Apply an even, thin layer of gel stripping agent to small areas of the finish on the cabinets using a paint brush. Wait a few minutes for the gel to begin working. The polyurethane finish will start to bubble up.

  • Hold the putty knife down toward the wood surface at a 45-degree angle. Begin carefully scraping the polyurethane and stripper from the wood. Scrape with the grain of the wood to avoid gouges.

  • Dip a steel wool pad and toothbrush in stripper to finish scrubbing away areas of polyurethane that seem to not want to budge. Allow the surface a few hours to dry.

  • Use a small belt or palm sander with 220-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface and remove all leftover stripper. Wipe the surface with a damp cotton cloth to remove any remaining dust.

Tips & Warnings

  • Remove all pets and small children from any area where you will be using a stripping agent. The fumes are very strong.
  • Work in small sections to avoid the stripper evaporating before you are done. The stripper must still be liquid to work with.
  • Wear a mask and gloves to protect your lungs and skin from the harsh chemicals.
  • Keep the area well ventilated and avoid open flames.
  • Check with your municipality regarding the disposal of the stripping agent.

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