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!

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

  1. When stripping an old desk with a lot of detail, I used a wire brush, but the brush continues to get clogged up with stain. Any suggestions on how to clean that gunk out of the wire brush? I have been running a small screwdriver through the bristles which takes forever. The finish is really thick and I don’t want to throw out the wire brush after every panel (not cost effective). Any suggestions are appreciated.

  2. I just used it on my deck that had multiple thick layers of deck paint. It work like a charm, took it back down to bare wood, which I was hoping for because I’m going to stain it. Not sure why some people are having issues with it? Thanks for the post though!

  3. Citristrip recently changed the formula for this product, and now it’s a total disappointment. I fear I may have to revert back the toxic strippers I used before discovering citristrip many years ago. It’s seriously impacting my business prospects at the moment.

    As I understand it, someone passed out and had a fatal incident while using (not in accordance with the recommended guidelines) the product.

    I hope they bring the old formula back‼️

      1. Just bought some from Lowes for another mid-century restoration project. I noticed the packaging was different and that it was a slightly darker orange.

        It’s useless. Even after 2 whole 12-hour soaks I’ve only pulled maybe half of the stain out of the wood. I’m working on thin veneers so I really don’t want to abuse it any further.

        Mineral spirits don’t help.. I’ve heard denatured alcohol might be able to finish the job.

      2. What do you all use now that the new Citristip formula is out and doesn’t work as well? Is any other stripper out there better? Scott, can you do an updated post on chemical strippers?

    1. I’m using CitriStrip right now on a old table and it’s working perfectly. It’s actually my first time using it and I’m more than happy with the results!

      Another one I’ve used is Multi Strip paste… however I’m really liking the CitriStrip for this project!

    2. Are you saying that the new formula caused the fatal incident or the old one? It is a little confusing.

      I had a bottle of the old formula that I recently used. It did the job. I now have a bottle of the new one. I hope it does what the other one did.

    3. I wish I had seen this string before I purchased the product. We have used it often in the past and am so very disappointed in the new formula. We’ll never use it again, unless they bring the old formula back.

  4. Used Citristrip overnight on a office desk. Some areas i applied a thicker layer and alllwed the varnish to come off. I had to reapply this morning only allowing the gel to sit for 3 hours. When i removed all the gel it left the wood with a stained look. Unfortunately i cannot sand too much of the desk or it loses its texture. Any suggestions on how to make the wood not spotty and stained? if you need photos

    1. I had the same staining effect on my oak floor. It’s very dark where I applied it to sanded wood where I was trying to get the varnish off around the edges. Anyone know how to deal with this?

  5. hi i used citritsrip to strip the varnish off my front entry stained oak door. i wanted to restain it and put fresh varnish on it. After applying the citristrip and scraping the varnish off, i did not use mineral spirits like you said to clean the surface. I actually left the front door like that for a few months ( long story why!). so any remaining citristrip on the surface dried up. After a few months, i came back to the project and i wasn’t sure if i could just sand any potential dried up citristrip away (nothing visible) or not so i washed the door with a stiff plastic brush (scrubbing toilet brush) dipped in water and wiped it down with a wet towel. I kept getting a tan color gummy stain on my towels when i wiped them. I wasn’t sure if that was the original stain still coming off or if i was actually taking off wood with stiff brushing ? i was worried that citristrip could still be active ? or is that a non-issue after many months of drying out? i was going to let the door dry, sand lightly and stain it. now i just read your post and it says to use mineral spirit to clean after scraping citristrip off, what are the chances that i still may have active citiristrip after months of drying and wiping the surface down with water? (i didn’t hose down the door)

    and also, i am in CA 60 degree weather these says and trying to manage the stain and varnish in between the rains ! how much time in 60 degree weather do i need to give the (minwax) stain to dry before applying varnish? and if i apply a spar polyurethaine varnish and it rains the next day, is that not enough time for it to dry?

  6. I used CitriStrip on 30 years old oak cabinet door panels and drawer fronts. The color turned out darker and more uneven than the pieces I stripped with Jasco Paint and Epoxy Stripper using the same technique. I was disappointed with CitriStrip, but do not like using the highly toxic alternative.

  7. Hi Scott, I intend to use CitriStrip on a cedar timber garage door coated with Sikkens Cetol HLS. I’m hoping you can confirm whether CitriStrip will dissolve this paint. Also I cannot find the CitriStrip Paint Stripper After Wash product. However you noted that Mineral Spirits (we call Methylated Spirits in Australia) which is Denatured Alcohol, is all that’s required. I hope so !!! Much appreciated if you can confirm.

  8. I’m stripping a merry go round horse. Parts are wood and cast aluminum. . How in the world do I scrape all the curves and crevices!!!

  9. I have water in a bucket to rinse things. What is the safest thing to do you do with the water you rinse your brushes and tools off with?

  10. I need to use this to remove paint runs and drips from old wood floors in a house that is being sold. This won’t eat into the flooring finish will it?

  11. Thanks so much for this blog. I’m taking about nine layers of paint off my windows and walls so I can redo the whole room. It wasn’t intentional but when I started to repair chip in the wall the old paint started peeling and from there it peeled paint off the window ledges and baseboards. So now I am doing the whole room. As a DIY’er, I found this very instructive and useful. I’m lucky enough that it appears all the layers of paint are coming up with the Citristrip. So Thanks for all the great info & tips.

    1. Hi Ellie,
      I’m so glad you found it useful! That’s why we do what we do. 🙂 Best of luck on your DIY journey!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  12. I need to remove epoxy coating done on a bathtub. I am hoping the original surface and color will be left there. Will it? The only reason it was coated to begin with was because of its color. It has places where original color comes through some scratches etc so hopefully would epoxy easy with the Citristrip gel. Any suggestions so I can do this correctly.

    1. I just used citristrip to remove Aqafinish bathtub paint. Lay it on thick, I used old paintbrush. Leave it for a few hours and it bubbles n tents up into mini peaks all over. Some areas were not so reactive so I repainted those parts. I used flexible putty knife to peel it off. Some came off like peeling a thin sheet others stuck there but was easily scraped off. Process took s few hours to sink in. Not too smelly.

  13. Need to remove paint from a deck. The deck area is 6 by 24 feet and has about 5 layers of paint and stain. Would Citristrip be the right product?

    1. I’m doing a 10′ x 30′ deck right now with citristrip. It only has 3 coats of semi transparent stain. It’s working well but a very slow painstaking process. The deck is covered for the most part so sun is not a problem but if yours has direct sunlight this stuff will dry out too fast. I’m doing 3 boards at a time so ‘s not to step or kneel in it, I put it on with a 2 1/2″ paint brush and let it sit for 20 minutes to a 1/2 hour then use a stiff bristled brush to get it off, lots of elbow grease! Hose off the bristled brush every now and then to get the mess off, very messy but you can contain it if you’re careful. I’m going to hose off the deck, sand a few tougher area’s and use a cleaner / brightener before I re-stain. Not sure if this process would work on solid stain?

  14. I just discovered a miracle! We were given a Hoosier cabinet, but unfortunately, a previous owner had painted the enamel surface with many layers of oil and latex paint. I had tried other strippers, but they left several untouched layers of paint bumpy and gummy. Just one generous application if Citistrip gel and 30 minutes of wait time, and I was able to scrape absolutely everything off down to the enamel with just a plastic putty scraper! My Hoosier is gorgeous!!

    1. Helo Debra,
      So glad you had such an amazing experience! We love hearing stories like this. 🙂
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  15. Trying to remove paint around some interior window sills to seal and stain them back to its original wood. Will Citristrip damage vinyl windows?

    1. Hi Eric,
      Truthfully, we don’t work with vinyl windows because our specialty is in historic windows. Hopefully the fine print on the label can provide some insight for you with this question.
      Good luck and thank you so much for writing!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  16. Hello ~ thanks for the article! I have a dresser that I am going to be refinishing it is painted white, but paint is chipping so I wanted to start all over. It’s not multi-layered paint so I’m wondering if I need citistrip or if I could use a liquid sander? I’ve seen videos that use both so I’m not sure what to do here.

    Thank you!!

  17. Hello ~ thanks for the article! I have a dresser that I am going to be refinishing it is painted white, but paint is chipping so I wanted to start all over. It’s not multi-layered paint so I’m wondering if I need citistrip or if I could use a liquid sander? I’ve seen videos that use both so I’m not sure what to do here.

    Thank you!!

  18. How does this work on cured epoxy? I have a black walnut bar in my basement that I want to strip and refinish. It has an epoxy pour on it that is ~1/8 thick. The epoxy did not turn out as planned and I want to go in another direction.

  19. I used a watered down chalk paint, sealed by a varnish on a pair of original unfinished pine nightstands. I’m not entirely happy with the color and how they turned out and would like to strip them and stain with an actual stain. Could this be used for that?

  20. I want to try this to strip water based sealer from patio pavers. This is next to my lawn. Will this harm my lawn when I rinse it off?

  21. My son used Citristrip on pipes that carry hot water to our furnace. He sanded it down & when we turned the furnace back on, there is a funny smell/Oder. Is this safe or dangerous.

    1. Citristrip shouldn’t be used on plastic so if they were PVC or CPVC then that may have done some damage. As for the smell I’m not sure. I would scrub the pipes with mineral spirits to make sure all the stripper is off and see if that doesn’t remedy the smell.

    1. Apply another layer of Citristrip on top of the dried layer and it will re-hydrate the dry layer.

  22. I am using this on my fireplace mantel, I got the first layer of latex paint off. Now Every time I scrap it is just gummy and looks like it is repainting my mantel. I am losing my mind. Am I doing something wrong?

    1. I’m also attempting to strip our mantle and having the same problem. It’s gummy and a CHORE to remove the Citristrip, then the wood mantle (seems to be a varnish or epoxy or something?) looks exactly the same. Please help!

    2. I had the exact same problem. Extremely frustrating, waste of time and throwing my project schedule off. Did a lot of research and heard that denatured alcohol and 000 steel wool is the way to go.

    3. I am also losing my mind with the gummy paint after using the stripper. Then I started wet sanding but it’s got gummy spots. I wiped it down with water very well before sanding. I fear my fireplace mantel is ruined! Reason for repainting was former owners never used fireplace and when we bought house we did. Well, paint on mantel bubbles up! No protective heat shield and likely not heat resistant paint. Please someone smart reply! Tell me what to do!

  23. I’m using this on a bathtub that was painted over with epoxy paint. It’s working great so far but I did have a question that I couldnt find the answer to: Can you rinse the CitriStrip residue (sans paint chips, of course) down the drain?

  24. Any tips for using Citristrip on ceiling beams (or some other product) that cannot be taken down easily? It seems like this product might be too thin for a vertical surface. Thanks!

  25. Thanks for posting this! Just wanted to add…
    I just used Citristrip on my 100-year-old built-ins. They originally had shellac, but a previous owner had “fixed” the flaking finish and marred stain job by wiping some kind of varnish over it. Sanding wasn’t working as that varnish just gummed up the paper, so I tried Citristrip. BUT. What I mostly got was a gummy, gooey mess that wouldn’t scrape off. I ended up using denatured alcohol with 000 steel wool, and now I’ve got bare wood, ready for stain. (I tried the alcohol by itself initially, but of course, that didn’t work – but the Citristrip + alcohol combo worked like gangbusters).

  26. Great decision to post, proves you work in the real world! I’ve shied away from chemical strippers. Will nonetheless try this stripper on an upcoming project. …Rich

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