How to Make Furniture Stripping Solution

Commercial paint strippers, or removers, can be expensive, not to mention their toxic fumes. You can make your own, fume-free furniture stripping solution using regular drain cleaner, also called lye. Remember, however, that just because it doesn’t smell bad doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you. Lye is a dangerous, caustic chemical and should be used with caution. Above all, keep it away from children; ingesting lye is almost always fatal.

Things You'll Need

  • Wrap-around safety glasses
  • Gloves
  • Long-sleeved shirt or jacket
  • Lye (crystalline drain cleaner)
  • Plastic buckets (2)
  • Paint brushes (2)
  • Plastic wrap, plastic bags
  • Putty knife
  • Tooth picks, bamboo skewers
  • White vinegar

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Mix one small container of powdered drain cleaner (lye) into one gallon of warm water in a plastic (not aluminum) bucket. Make sure you pour the lye into the water, not the other way around or it will bubble up and it could burn your skin.

Brush the solution onto the paint you’re trying to remove with a medium-sized paintbrush. The solution needs to keep the paint saturated until it has a chance to break it down. Cover with plastic wrap or place in a plastic bag. Allow to sit for 15 to 45 minutes.

Scrape off the old paint with a putty knife. Put all of the scrapings into a plastic bucket. Do not empty the bucket into the trash, set aside for now. Brush on more stripper if needed in grooves and recessed areas of the wood piece. Use small implements, like tooth picks or bamboo skewers, to get into those tight spots and remove all the old paint.

Neutralize the paint stripper. Mix 2 cups white vinegar with one gallon of water. Use a clean paint brush to apply the solution to your newly stripped piece. Once the piece has been completely brushed with solution, allow it to air dry.

Pour the remaining vinegar solution into the plastic bucket that contains the paint residue you removed from the wood piece. Then pour in any leftover stripping solution. This will effectively neutralize the caustic lye in the paint stripping solution. Leave the bucket in a corner of your garage until all the liquid has evaporated, then discard the solids in the trash in a double plastic bag.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always wear wrap-around safety glasses, work gloves and long sleeves when working with lye.
  • Keep lye away from children.


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