We are about a week into into our dining room set makeover project, and I wanted to show you our progress so far, and also introduce you to THE BEST paint stripper I have used to date. 

If you have ever stripped and refinished a piece of furniture, you know how absolutely toxic most stripping agents are. 
The fumes are seriously hazardous to yo health!

Because I have 3 kiddos running around this place at all times, and one tiny infant who nurses every couple of hours, there was just no way I was even going to consider risking that kind of chemical around them, or expose my own hands, etc to something so toxic since I’ve got a baby boy to hold & care for all day long.

So after searching around for something that was safer, I found this great product called Citristrip!


This stuff is pretty awesome. 
It has a pleasant citrus-fresh aroma, and doesn’t give you an instant headache after working with it for a few minutes.  It is methylene chloride-free so it’s safe to use indoors (with proper ventilation). 

It’s sold as a spray or as a gel. I bought the gel, which had fantastic reviews from users online.

It took me about one full day of working on and off to remove all the finish. It’s not a difficult process, but it does take time (for the product to activate effectively) so you really can’t rush it. Thankfully, I got a lot done  all at once because my 3 older kids were at grandma and grandpa’s for the day. {A very wise decision since I noticed two size 12 shoe prints right in the middle of the gel-covered table within minutes of my kids being home…which, if memory serves, was right after I emphatically explained that NO.ONE. was to go near the table in the garage.  *sigh*}

Interested in refinishing your own piece of furniture?  Here are some tips.

1.  Prepare work area.
Spread out a tarp over entire work surface. Place furniture on tarp, leaving enough room on all sides to work.  When stripping old varnish or paint, there’s really no need to clean the surface of the furniture–the stripper will cut through any residue left on the top.


2.  Prepare materials.
For a stripping project like this, you’ll need Citristrip gel, a metal container to pour stripper into, a disposable natural fiber brush (the foam type shown below is actually NOT the kind you need as it will basically disintegrate), protective gloves, splash goggles, a couple of stiff *plastic [NOT metal] scrapers, a roll of paper towels, and an old box or something else you can scrape gooey old finish into.  Also, have a trash can nearby.


3.  Apply Citristrip with a disposable paint brush. 
Go ahead and apply it pretty thick–MUCH thicker than shown here.  Wait 45 minutes up to a few hours (the back of the container said you can actually wait up to 24 hrs). 
 * Again, do NOT use a foam brush like the one pictured


After a while, you will see these kinds of bubbles all over the place.  Now it’s time to begin scraping!

4.  Remove old varnish / paint using a stiff plastic scraper. 
Many areas will easily scrape right off, but you’ll probably have some stubborn areas as well.
The first time I applied and scraped, I was able to remove all the polyurethane from my table, and some of the finish as well.  This was nasty business, and much of the residue was super gooey and gross (albeit citrus-fresh!) 😀


I reapplied much thicker for a second time and was able to easily scrape the majority of the varnish right off using very little effort.

By now my wood was looking pretty bare, but I could still see that it was holding some of the honey oak color from the old varnish, so I did one final painting of the Citristrip over everything–just a thin coating this time, and wiped it off with an old rag.
That pretty much did it.  Old finish–gone!


I did notice that on Citristrip’s website, they show their product applied in an ULTRA thick layer, using FAR more than I did, even on my second application.  And I’m pretty sure that if I had done the same thing, I wouldn’t have NEEDED to apply 2 and 3 coats.
Also, I discovered that when I patiently allowed the product more time to sit on the wood, I didn’t have to apply much elbow grease to remove the finish.


So bottom line when you use Citristrip: apply it thick, be PATIENT and let the product work for you.


I still plan on wiping the table down with a thin layer of odorless mineral spirits as a final step in order to remove any remaining wax residue.  However, Citristrip also sells a safer after-wash product you could use instead.

At any rate, the table is looking good and is ready to sand down.  Gotta say, so far, this has been a pretty painless process, though I’m about to enter uncharted territory! 

In my next post, I’ll show you what I decided to do about the damaged veneer in the center of the table. 


My Project Piggybank:
(running total)

Table and 6 Chairs……………………..$100
Stripping Products and Materials….$38

Total Out of Pocket……………..$138


One thought on “Step 1 of Table Makeover: How to Strip Varnish without the Toxic Fumes

  1. becki

    I just read all of your dining room posts. It’s going to be great! I’m impressed with all you’ve accomplished with four kids and one nursing! It’s going to be beautiful though, and I’m sure you’ll be happy to have more seating!

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