How to Remove Paint From Wood Without Chemicals

Mark Morris

When most homeowners think of stripping paint, the first thing that comes to mind is the use of chemical strippers. These caustic chemicals can be hazardous to your health and are far from the only way to remove old paint from wood surfaces.

There are many ways to remove paint without chemicals.

Out of the many methods, three of the simplest and most accessible for the average do-it-yourselfer are sanding, water pressure and heat. Each has its own pros and cons.


  1. Install an 80-grit sandpaper belt on a belt sander. Make sure you have adequate extension cord length to safely reach the surface you will be working on and then connect the power.

  2. Place the sander firmly against the surface of the wood, holding it in both hands, and pull the trigger to start the sander. Maintain a firm grip; as the sander comes up to speed, it can pull fiercely.

  3. Sand with the grain. Avoid standing the sander in one place for too long, as this can cause dipping or gouging the face of the wood. Sand over the entire surface with this coarse belt to remove the bulk of the old paint.

  4. Remove remaining paint with an edge sander, sanding block or sanding sponge. Once all paint is gone, make a second pass with a finer, 120-grit sandpaper to prepare the surface for a new finish.

Pressure Washer

  1. Connect the water hose and turn it on. Connect the pressure washer to the power outlet and turn on the compressor. Put on goggles and heavy rubber gloves to prevent injuries. Set the pressure on a medium setting to start.

  2. Hold the nozzle of the pressure washer 10 to 12 inches from the surface of the wood. Keep a firm grip on the sprayer handle and pull the trigger.

  3. Work across the surface of the wood, angling the water jet to lift the old paint away. Watch for signs of damage, particularly if the wood is old. Work in rows to remove the paint, overlapping the spray slightly.

  4. Increase the pressure slightly to remove tougher spots. Be careful not to apply too much pressure, as it can tear the grain of the wood.

  5. Remove with a sander any paint the sprayer would not remove.

Heat Gun

  1. Plug the heat gun into an outlet. Wear heavy leather gloves and have a metal scraper with a wood handle ready.

  2. Turn the heat gun on at a medium setting to start. Hold the end of the gun 8 to 10 inches from the surface of the wood and allow the hot air to blow over a small area for 10 to 15 seconds. When the paint starts to bubble, move the heat to next area and scrape the melted paint away with the scraper.

  3. Work a small area at a time, heating and scraping. Watch for signs that the wood is darkening. It will catch fire if heated too much. Adjust the temperature as needed. Use steel wool to remove paint from corners and especially tough patches.

  4. Sand the surface lightly to smooth the grain once the paint is removed.