Sep 14 2022
How to Strip and Bleach Wood Furniture
Post by sara albers

Learn our favorite methods to Strip and Bleach Wood Furniture.

side table

How to strip and bleach wood furniture

Do you have an old piece of furniture that you love but do not love the color of the stain or wood? Well, you can do something about it. Stripping the old varnish or stain might seem like a lot of work, but it really is not too bad!

Bleaching a piece of furniture changes the color of the wood. The bleaching process is easier than you might think. We have become obsessed with it, like with this table. The look of bleached wood is so on trend right now. And honestly, it never goes out of style.

We love the look of bleached light wood. Some refer to this look as the “Coastal Grandmother” or Serena and Lily aesthetic. The color of the wood becomes a natural look, giving the wood tone an almost light white color. You can take a darker wood furniture piece and give it a natural wood look using the process below.

bleached table

How to strip wood furniture

The easiest method we have found is to use oven cleaner spray. Yes, you heard us correctly, OVEN CLEANER! We love this Easy Off brand cleaner.

stained table

Oven Cleaner method

Supplies:

How to strip a wood table using oven cleaner

  • First, prep your piece of wood furniture. Wipe down the furniture piece to clear any cobwebs, dirt and grime with a damp cloth.
  • Now it is time for the oven cleaner. We recommend doing this outside! Make sure and read the label for details on usage. We like to be out in the fresh air when we strip the varnish. Spray the furniture all over with the cleaner. Allow to set for 20 minutes.

  • It is best to not be in direct sunlight. Let the oven cleaner work it’s magic for 20 minutes.
  • Use a scrub brush and scrub the entire piece to remove the old stain and varnish.

oven cleaner on wood table

  • Next dip the brush in soapy water and scrub again.
  • Rinse the furniture with a hose until the water runs clear.

  • Allow to dry in the sun.
  • After the piece is dry, use a power sander with 120 grit sand paper and sand the entire piece. You can get in the grovers using a sanding block or sand paper.
  • The final step, you can do the bleach method below if you are looking for a lighter color wood. Then seal with a sealant.

sanding block on wood table

What kind of furniture can you use oven cleaner on?

You will want to use real wood furniture. This stripping process does not work well with wood veneer pieces. It is too thin and can dry out too easily. A good rule of thumb is the lighter the wood is to start with the better the results. Meaning a dark cherry wood table will need multiple processes of oven cleaner and then bleach to get a light wood color because of the red undertones. Thus drying out the wood tremendously.

wood table

Citrus Strip method

Supplies

  1. Prep the furniture. Wipe it down, remove hardware, etc.
  2. Apply the stripping gel to the entire wood piece. Refer to the directions on the bottle for instructions. Make sure to use chemical-proof gloves when working with Citrus Strip.
  3. Brush the stripping gel all over the table and wrap in a plastic drop cloth. It is important to “wrap” the piece with the plastic because it will not dry the piece out. You want the gel to stay in gel form.
  4. Remove the plastic sheet and start scrapping! Scrap the gel off – and the varnish off!
  5. Next remove all remnants of the stripping agent. Mix equal parts denaturalized alcohol and clean water in a clean spray bottle and spray. Wipe with a clean rag, and then allow to dry overnight.
  6. Sand the furniture with a power sander (120-grit sandpaper). This will get you to the raw wood.
  7. You can do the bleach method below if you are looking for a lighter color wood. Then seal with a sealant.

wood table

How to bleach wood furniture

What type of bleach to use?

I am sharing the three different types of bleach you can use to bleach out the wood color of real wood furniture. These are three products that I have used below. I have outlined the types of bleaches you can use for furniture makeovers. As allows, you will want to work with the chemicals in a well-ventilated area.

Regular household bleach 

Yes, good ol’ clorox bleach can can remove the stain color of wood but cannot always effectively change the color of darker woods. Regular household bleach can work well with already lighter colored wood. I have found using household bleach to work best on lighter wood like pine. The mix of bleach and sunlight can really lighten the wood tremendously.

Oxalic acid can remove stains (like water and rust) and lighter wood. It typically comes in a powder form and you mix it with hot water. It is typically used with wood workers trying to get a more uniform color before re-staining a piece of wood furniture. You are to use it on bare wood only. You must follow the safety instructions on the packaging. This is an acid, so safety first!

“Two part” A/B peroxide-based bleaches – this type of wood bleach (also known as two-part bleach) comes with two bottles that you apply with gloves and sponges. They are sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and hydrogen peroxide. Using both chemicals causes a chemical reaction that removes the color from a previous stain or wood color. Zinsser wood bleach is a bit hard to find right now. I have had luck in Menards stores. We used this wood bleach on this table and loved the outcome of this furniture makeover!

bleached wood table

How to bleach furniture using household bleach

Supplies:

  • Household bleach
  • water
  • spray bottle
  • chemical proof gloves

Household bleach method

  1. After the wood furniture has been stripped and sanded, it is time to lighten that wood! Mix bleach and water (1:1 ratio) in a spray bottle.
  2. Spray the entire furniture piece and allow to sit in the sun for 15 – 20 mins. If you are wanting a lighter wood finish, do this process again.
  3. Then seal with a sealant. We recommend 2 – 3 coats. Allow to dry for an hour or two in between coats and lightly sand (400 grit) for a smooth finish.

bleach furniture

What type of sealant to use

There are many types of sealant that you can use on this type of project.

Polyurethane – You can find polyurethane in oil-based and water-based finishes. I find that the oil-based ones can leave an almost yellow/orange tint over time. I also find that a poly coat can make the bleached or lightened wood a little darker.

Polycrylic – this is a water-based finish. They have a much lower odor and I do love the finish. This polycrylic top coat is what I go for most often. It keeps a truer color of the wood. We love this sealant.

Clear wax – We like to use this one. It is a soft wax that goes on matte and dries hard. It protects and does not have a harsh smell. You can also use a white wax.

bleached wood table

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