How To: Use CitriStrip (Kinda)

By Scott Sidler • September 25, 2017

how to use citristripPreface: I had a great post all written about how to use CitriStrip effectively just like I have done in the past, but things often don’t turn out exactly like you plan. After writing the post I went to shoot a video of the process and even though I did the same process I always do it didn’t get the job done.

What to do? Scrap the video and pretend it never happened? That’s what I was thinking of doing until my brother talked me out of it and convinced me to share the reality of using CitriStrip rather than what I hoped it would do. The products and techniques I show you on this blog work most of the time but just like anything the can sometimes fail miserably.

So, that’s what I’ve done! I’ll show you how to do it properly in the post below, but definitely watch the video at the end to see how it sometimes doesn’t work out like you plan.

What happened: In the video the CitriStrip removed all the paint, but even after 2 applications it was completely useless against the linseed oil primer underneath the 90 year old paint. Lessoned learned for me and hopefully for you too. Now onto the post!

Paint Stripping

Paint stripping is always one of my favorite topics since there are so many ways to get the job done. The techniques and materials vary as much as the accents across this country. Ultimately, you need to find the way that fits best for your situation.

There are three main ways to remove paint. If your unsure where to even start I’ve written about each in the below posts you should check out first.

If you know you are going to route of chemical strippers then one of the best places to start is CitriStrip.

How To Use CitriStrip

Here’s the skinny on CitriStrip. I like using chemical strippers for stripping delicate profiles that would otherwise be difficult to handle. I can use my ProScraper to strip flat pieces of wood in a flash, but it’s almost useless when it comes to detail work.

Of the countless chemical paint strippers on the market today CitriStrip is one of my favorites for a few reasons:

  1. It’s bio-degradable
  2. No neutralizing needed
  3. No-harsh fumes (pleasant citrus odor)
  4. Very effective
  5. Non-caustic (no methylene chloride!)

Like all non-castic chemical strippers it doesn’t work quite as fast as the really dangerous stuff so learning some tips about how to use CitriStrip effectively can make the process much easier.

CitriStrip can be used effectively to remove multiple layers of latex paint, oil-based paint, varnish, lacquer, enamel, polyurethane, shellac, acrylics, and epoxy from wood, metal, and masonry surfaces. Other than cured glues there is very little you can’t get off with CitriStrip.

Getting Started

While CitriStrip is a much safer stripper it is a still a chemical that dissolves paint so keeping it off your skin and out of your eyes is important. Here are some basic precautions you should take:

  1. Wear safety glasses
  2. Wear nitrile gloves NOT latex since this dissolves latex
  3. Have good ventilation (open all windows and use fans to exhaust air if possible)
  4. Wear a respirator with organic vapor cartridge (especially if adequate ventilation isn’t possible)

Step 1 Apply Liberally

CitriStrip needs a thick coat to work effectively. Too thin and it will dry out and stop working. I generally apply a coat of stripper using a disposable chip brush about 1/8″ thick. The best way to judge that you have enough is if the surface is mostly the orange color of the stripper. If you see a majority of the paint or varnish below then you probably need to go a little thicker.

citristrip plasticStep 2 Cover with Plastic (Optional)

If you have lots of coats of paint then you may need to let the CitriStrip sit longer and to prevent it from drying prematurely I have found that covering the surface with plastic can extend the working time of the stripper dramatically. Saran wrap, painter’s plastic or something similar will work great.

Step 3 Let It Sit

The length of time definitely depends on the number of coats of paint and type of coating you are trying to strip. It can take anywhere from 30 mins to 24 hrs to dissolve the paint. You can do a test patch first to find the right time.

Step 4 Scrape It Off

After the working time is done you’re ready to start scraping. You can use a disposable plastic putty knife or a regular pull scraper to clean the surface off. For detailed profiles the Hyde Contour Scraper works great, or you can use anything else that fits the profile of the woodwork in question.

Another great option I use on very intricate door profiles or mantles is a hand brass wire brush. It pulls the paint off easily and conforms to the surface enough that you won’t damage the profile.

If you are trying to get the wood completely clean of all paint consider using steel wool in the stripping process. You can use 00 or 000 steel wool dipped in CitriStrip to help clean the old primer out of the wood grain. Rub the steel wool and CitriStrip into the wood grain like applying wax to a car and you’ll get the wood clean of almost all paint residue making it ready for a varnished finish.

Step 5 Clean Up

Once you have the majority of the residue off you’ll want to get the surface clean enough for paint and the best way to do that it with some mineral spirits and steel wool. Use a finer 000 or 0000 steel wool and mineral spirits to scrub the surface down well and wipe it off with a cotton rag.

You should be ready for priming and painting now! You can dispose of the used stripper and paint residue in the trash, just wrap it up and put it into a regular trash bag. If CitriStrip sounds like something you’d like to try you can purchase it using my Amazon affiliate link right here.

Wanna see the process in action? Watch the short video below to see all the steps I just described in detail. Be sure to subscribe to our Youtube channel so you can see all of the helpful videos we release so you can get a head start on your next project!

Share Away!

98 thoughts on “How To: Use CitriStrip (Kinda)”

  1. After stripping the furniture, and cleaning it with mineral spirits, what do you use to clean the spirits off the furniture before painting? Please help!

  2. Gave Citristrip a try, Following directions and other helpful tips, I have to say it was pretty much a failure. I put on a thick coat, covered it in plastic and left it for 10 hours. There’s only a couple of layers of paint where I am working. It took off the first layer, but left the harder, almost enamel like paint underneath completely untouched. It also just got really gooey, and I had a hard time cleaning off the scraper to get under the paint pealing goop. Wiped it down with denatured alcohol after scraping in it really just gunked up the pads. Thought about trying a second coat, but it didn’t even touch the enamel like paint that was showing in spots where the latex had already let go of it, so I don’t think its worth it. Will be returning the rest of the stripper, since I only tried a small area to test with.

      1. Citristrip USED to be the best paint/top coat remover I have ever used. I used it to remove about 5 layers of Polyurethane on my cabinets. It stripped off all layers with ease after about 45 minutes of leaving it on, I didn’t even cover it with plastic. It cleaned up better and cleaner than anything I ever used. HOWEVER, when I purchased a second bottle of the product, it ended up being the absolute worst product I have ever used. The product was not the same at all so I called the manufacturer to see what was going on. The manufacturer told me they changed the formula at the first of 2020. I don’t know why they go from the best product on the market to the absolutely worst product. I purchased 7 other paint remover products and Citristrip worked the worst out of all the products and tied for last of the worst to clean up. I went to about 15 different hardware stores to see if anyone still had the old formula of Citristrip. I found one bottle left of the old formula and it of course worked wonders. I thought removing the Polyurethane from my cabinets was going to be an easy thing to do after using their original formula but now it has turned into a pain in the butt. I can’t find anything that worked even close to as well as Citristrips original formula. I have been trying to leave a complaint on Citristrips website for the last month but they have removed the link to leave comments. My guess is they have received so many complaints about their new formula that they just don’t won’t to hear any more complaints. Don’t waste your money on this new formula because it DOESN’T WORK!!!

    1. I’m using CitrusStrip to take off two layers of paint with a decorative layer of paint as the third layer, which I want to keep. Question: once I get off the first two layers, will using mineral spirits to clean away the waxy residue left over also remove the decorative layer of paint I want to keep? Should I use something less harsh to preserve the final layer of paint I wish to keep?

    1. just get a cheap bottle of acetone in the nail polish section of any drug store. soak a cotton ball or swab with the acetone and rub off the paint from your flannel

  3. Help! I just used this nasty Citristrip on the top of an early 1920’s buffet. It didn’t get the varnish off and was sticky so I thought I would follow the instructions and try to clean it with mineral spirits. Now it’s even more sticky!! I’m about ready to die! Will this dry well enough to just sand it off?

    1. You more than likely need to do another coat or two of Citristrip. The first time I did an old wardrobe, it was sticky. I repeated the process…no longer sticky. But, to get more of the stain off, I repeated again and am considering a 4th round. Hope this helps and did not get to you too late.

      1. I thought I wanted a winter project and decided to refinish an old dresser and drawers. I started with one drawer and it’s now a sticky mess, I am now going to do the best to get it cleaned up, sand the whole thing down and paint it. I haven’t got the patience for Ciristrip.

  4. I am using it on Beetle Kill Pine on my walls that I used Spar Urethane on and that turned a terrible yellow. I am have lots of trouble getting the CitriStrip off the wood with scrapping. Tons of residue. Mineral Spirits takes a long time to penetrate it. Help!!!!!!

  5. This is very interesting. I was stripping some closet doors from my 1964 house in FL today and got down to the exact same grey color with the same off white beneath. Same experience – the citristrip took off the top three layers (beige, white, then surf green) but the grey layer was resistant. I was able to get under it carefully with a razor blade scraper and peel it up in sheets, but the bottom off white layer was still there. I don’t really care – I’m planning to paint over them anyway. I tried cleaning up with the afterwash stuff, but if there’s still paint it just sort of smears everything around. I wiped it down with mineral spirits so hopefully that’s enough to take care of any stripper residue.

  6. How do I get old stain off bar twist legs in antique table.
    Will it loosen enough to get off with cotton rags and wiping , since I cannot scrape this…?

    1. Oh I so agree! The new formula doesn’t work half as well as the former formula. It has given me a complete dread of stripping anything! I have been searching for a different brand of stripper or something to make citristrip work better but no answers as of yet. Anyone have a good idea?

      1. Klean-strip works great. I regret just purchasing the citristrip today at Home Depot. Should have stuck with what works but wanted to try the less chemical version and am so ANGRY. this stuff is terrible in comparison to Klean strip.

    2. Help! I used Citristrip on a table top, and it worked well for most of it. I put on a second coat, covered it and intended to leave it overnight…but that turned into several days due to the weather. I went out yesterday to remove it, and now I have orange splotches that soaked into the wood! Any ideas if I’ll ever get it out???? PLEASE!

  7. I used CitriStrip to remove paint from what turns out to be a metal table top (I thought it was wood because the legs are definitely wood.). I think the paint that remains is baked on enamel. The CitriStrip did absolutely nothing to it, and I’m wondering if that’s why the paint I took off was peeling so badly, which was the reason I had to remove it. Anyway, the back of the CitriStrip bottle says to use “paint stripper cleaner” to clean up afterwards. What do you recommend? I’ve read several things as mild as soap and water to a vinegar and water wash to a chemical cleaner like Klean Strip Paint Stripper After Wash. I really don’t want to use the Klean Strip stuff. The instructions and warnings are a bit overwhelming. I may or may not repaint this table top. I just might leave the baked enamel, but I do want to make sure I remove all of the CitriStrip residue, which is dry by now since I did this yesterday. Please help! Thanks!

    1. I removed CitriStrip from baseboards and floors that were dried on one day by using mineral spirits and then mopped with hot water until no more residue came off the floor. Keep changing out the water as it gets cloudy.

  8. Well, it works but it made me pretty sick in the process. While maybe it has a pleasant odor it’s as toxic as anything. I highly recommend using a paint project respirator.

    1. This stuff is garbage. I tried using this on an antique vanity due to running out of kleanstrip and Omg did I make a huge mistake. It made a huge mess, and left everything so oily and sticky. But that was just the beginning. Once I cleaned the stripper off, I started sanding the surface always to make it smooth for staining and the stripper had soaked into the wood. Now spots of oily residue are coming through no matter what I do. Steer well clear of this garbage. Use something better. Anything is better.

  9. After using citrus strip on my deck Can I power wash after scraping the majority off? Will it take the final residue off?

  10. I have used Citristrip for a long time on many different pieces.
    Recently I have notice they have change the formula to citristrip. It no longer has that nice orange citri smell and it takes longer to strip .Also there customer Service is very bad, I have tried calling a couple times but gave up after being on hold for longer than 20 minutes, and when I put my number in for a call back…They never call back..Bummer, I might have to try something different. Very disappointed.

  11. I’m redoing my front porch , my citrusstrip calls for a paint thinner wash followed by mineral spirits . I can not find any in formation in what a paint thinner wash is ?

  12. How good a job does it cleaning dried paintbrushes with either oil or acrylic paint? Does it do any brush damage?

    1. To clean up brushes, especially those caked with dried paint, I have had excellent luck soaking the brushes in the laundry product “Shout” I have saved many brushes with latex, acrylic and oil based paints. I shared this with a neighbor painting his house. He accidentally let a brush dry and soaked it in “Shout” and saved his paint brush. I have saved my good oil paint brushes in the same manner. And no damage to anything I’ve cleaned with this product. Good Luck. BTW, I love Citristrip, I’ve always had good luck with removing paint on walls and furniture with it. Good Luck

  13. I’m currently using this stuff to strip paint off from a steel bike frame and fork.

    As others have stated it does take
    Longer for it to kick in.

    I’m in day 2 of applying is and letting it soak in..

    Thanks for the useful infos folks!

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