How to Strip Paint Off of Oak Cabinets

It is possible to remove paint from old oak furniture and cabinets, and even refinish them with beautiful stains. This task will take a few days and requires patience, but is not as difficult or daunting as many seem to feel. With care, time, and good safety measures, you can strip the paint off of oak cabinets and restore them to their most beautiful, natural oak finish. It is not expensive to do so, and the beauty of the cabinets will more than reward you for a few days' work.

  1. Choose a time when you can complete this project outdoors. Spring or summer when the weather is warm and dry are best, and autumn if you have an open barn or covered porch large enough to leave the oak cabinets overnight. This project is messy and the fumes in paint strippers are bad for breathing. Other necessary safety measures include eye goggles, waterproof gloves--neoprene are best--and long sleeves.

  2. Shop for ecologically friendly paint stripper. With the growing concern over global warming and the environment, a variety of eco-friendly products have been developed that are just as efficient as the more toxic variety. While less dangerous, it is still advisable to work in a well-ventilated area.

  3. Spread out newspaper, plastic sheeting, or even an old tarp. Place the oak cabinets on the ground cover. Follow the paint stripper manufacturer's instructions for applying the product to your oak cabinets. When finished, you will need to let the product sit for a short time, probably 5 to 20 minutes.

  4. When you return after the specified time, you will most likely see the paint curdled on the cabinets. Wearing your gloves and protective goggles, take a putty knife and carefully scrape away the paint. If some paint is still stuck on the cabinet and difficult to remove, do not use excessive force; you could damage the oak cabinet. Instead, apply a little more remover. As remover can evaporate, you may need to continue to apply as you work. After removing most of the paint with a putty knife, rub the oak with steel wool to scrape away small bits of leftover paint.

  5. If your oak cabinets have fancy detailing, use a narrower putty knife, or even an old butter knife, to gently remove the paint from the edging and detailing. Take your time and work carefully; the end result will be well worth your efforts, and you certainly don't want to scratch the oak cabinets. Use steel wool and then an old rag to help you brush away loose paint after scraping.

  6. If you have a stubborn spot on your cabinets and cannot seem to get all of the paint, you can also try dipping a rag into paint thinner and rubbing that on the difficult spot. Dump the rag into a bucket of water after use. Rinse the spot on the oak where you applied paint thinner.

  7. Thin some clean paint stripper with water and apply with an old paintbrush and wipe down with a rag. This is to ensure you remove any little pieces of paint. Allow your oak cabinets to dry in the shade.

  8. Gather up and dispose of the old newspaper with the scraped off paint. Rinse all of your tools thoroughly in cool water.


  • Do not leave paint on the oak cabinets with the intention of sanding it off later. This can damage your oak cabinets. Let the stripper do its job for you.

About the Author

Samantha Hanly is an organic vegetable gardener, greenhouse gardener and home canner. She grows a substantial portion of her family's food every year. After receiving her bachelor's degree, Hanly embarked on a career teaching dramatic arts, arts and crafts, and languages. She became a professional writer in 2000, writing curricula for use in classrooms and libraries.