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How To: Use CitriStrip (Kinda)

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!

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112 thoughts on “How To: Use CitriStrip (Kinda)

  1. I am using CitriStrip on an old pine bookcase that either had shellac or lacquer on it. In some spots it looks like it almost has an orange tinge to the stripped wood. Would CitriStrip change the wood color or do you think that is the wood itself? Thanks

  2. I used a paint brush per the bottle instructions to apply. Can the brush be rinsed off in a sink?

  3. This is my first furniture project. Been watching You Tubes and thought would be a fun project during this Covid pandemic. I’m a total newbie. I applied the Citristrip, scraped off, ran through the process a couple of times but I’m finding it leaves a sticky residue. A lot of elbow grease with steel wool and Mineral Spirits and I’m still finding a sticky residue. Any suggestions? The product was not painted but is stained/varnished 80’s style Ethan Allen end table

  4. I was wondering if the liquid citristrip would work better than the gel. I know people think the gel will sit there longer, but I’ve found the gel formulas of cleaning products don’t work near as well as the liquid (limeaway, bleach). It’s almost like the gel binds the liquid, not allowing it to work

  5. To echo what several others have already said, Citristrip definitely changed its formula recently. I’m stripping my front door right now and thought I’d briefly share my experience.

    I bought a new full container of Citristrip a few weeks ago in preparation for this project. I’ve used it in the past on multi-layered paint stripping projects with great success. My door only had one coat of paint on it, so I thought this would be pretty straightforward.

    After the first application, it only removed a thin “layer” of the paint–almost like a top film of paint. This surprised me, so I proceeded to do another application. Same thing–it only removed yet another micro-layer of the paint film. Third application–same result.

    At this point, I had used up all of the new Citristrip I had purchased. Frustrated, I searched my workshop shelves and spotted an old container of Citristrip, circa 2013, about 2/3rds of the container remaining. Figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.

    Right away, I noticed that both the smell and the consistency of the old product was different. The citrus was more pronounced and the product was a bit runnier than the new stuff. But to my delight, I also saw that it began working right away on the stubborn paint that the newer product hadn’t touched.

    Long story short, the old Citristrip worked exactly as I expected it to and my door is now paint-free. It’s too bad that the company changed the formula, because the old formula worked great. Maybe if enough of us complain to the company, they’ll change it back? Either that or we need to build a time-machine…

    1. I noticed the exact same thing. Starting out using an older bottle, worked great. Ran out and bought a new one. Immediately noticed it was thicker and smelled different. Also not working as well. Having to apply multiple coats. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

  6. Help! I have a century home and trying to strip off the trim that had been painted at least 6 times. Putting a very thick layer, saran wrap, and waiting 20 hours still requires 3 coats. I’m thinking I have the same paint shown jn the video because it looks different. No other way to describe it. Altho doing the process 3 times is much better that 9 (that’s what it to before) I was wondering if after say 18hrs I put a 2nd coat on without scraping and cover will get to the rest of it. Or just resign myself to 3 rounds of scraping.

    1. Tina,
      I used a soft brush and soapy water. It “ungooed” the stain and cleared it away. It did however take 3 attempts before removing all the stain completely with the 3rd time using a brass brush. (The piece I was working on had ALOT of intricate details, was stains and painted, and dated back from the early 1900’s.). This process worked for me while the CitriStrip was both wet and dry. I tried to include a picture but I don’t know how to attach the pic.

  7. 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!

    1. Fusion Minéral Paint makes a TSP alternative that I use. No rinsing after washing it down with that! And it’s non-toxic.

  8. 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. My suspicion with this product and too many others is that the formula was changed either to comply with changing environmental regulations and/or to align as more ‘green’ (possibly to avoid liabilities around all of this too).

          We have 10 acres and a lot of poison ivy and devil’s walking stick throughout the woods. Don’t want either of them growing there. Within the last ten years or so I have seen the products I used to use lose their effectiveness, usually accompanied by labeling touting a new environment friendly version.

          The sad part is that the end result is I have gone to much harsher, more toxic ‘old school’ solutions that I know work. Unfortunate that things have gone this way…and do not get me even started on the plethora of new ‘safe’ gasoline containers…ended up scouting garage sales to get a couple of the old ones with regular screw on tops.

    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?

    2. Same here … my wife went out and purchased an old steel bedstead covered with 3 coats of differing paints as far as I could tell. Purchased Citistrip at my local DIY box store because of it’s advertisement stating it works on metal, dissolves multiple layers of paint and works in 15 minutes. Followed the instructions on the bottle to the letter and after two days and multiple heavy coats of stripper I am finally seeing metal in a few places. Returning the remainder to the box store !!!

    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

  9. 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.

        1. I find an old pieces of furniture the best thing is not paint stripper but 50-50 denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner. Have two bowls ready one with Steel wool and one with a T-shirt. Clean with a steel wool and then wipe up with a T-shirt it works like a charm. This is not for painted furniture this is for furniture with old finishes. It leaves the original color but takes off the varnish

  10. 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!!!!!!

  11. 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.

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