How to Remove Paint from Wood with Vinegar

How to Remove Paint From Wood With Vinegar – Non-Toxic Paint Stripping

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Seeing your beloved furnishings lose their shine can be disheartening, especially if you’ve worked really hard to decorate them just the way you want them. Unfortunately, the passage of time takes no prisoners, but the good news is there’s something you can do about it! If the paint on your old furnishings is beginning to bubble and peel, you have the option of removing what is left of the current coating and replacing it with a new one. Usually, this involves using some paint stripper, a power washer, or a combination of the two. If you don’t have either of these at your disposal, you have the option of using vinegar too, but does it work as well as the other methods we’ve mentioned?



Does Vinegar Remove Paint From Wood?

Contrary to what you might think, removing paint from wood isn’t a new problem. Our ancestors loved painting things, and they were forced to work out ways of removing old paint from wood long before the mass production of wood stripping chemicals came along.

Old Paint on Antique Woodwork

So, through the tried and tested process of trial and error, they discovered that vinegar does a pretty good job of removing paint from wood surfaces. How does vinegar remove paint from wood though? Well, simply put, vinegar contains what’s known as acetic acid, which is what gives vinegar its tangy taste and makes foods a bit easier to digest.

Vinegar Adds Flavor and Aids Digestion

Even though this is a naturally occurring compound, it can cause corrosion to certain materials in large amounts, but since vinegar contains less than four percent of this substance, it works as a tasty condiment and a way of effectively removing paint from wood surfaces.

Vinegar Corrodes Surfaces

Does vinegar remove paint entirely from surfaces though? Well, no. Vinegar, when applied to painted surfaces, actually lifts the paint from the surface and causes it to scrunch up, effectively dissolving the adhesive bond it has with that surface or making it a bit easier for you to remove with a scraper or some steel wool.

Remove Paint with Vinegar and Steelwool

You could think of vinegar as a lighter type of paint stripper, and since it contains literally no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), it can be used both indoors and outdoors without having to worry about harmful fumes or residues while you’re working.

Vinegar isn’t limited to just removing paint from wood either, if you wanted to you could use it to remove wood treatments like varnish too as the same acid that allows you to remove paint from wood penetrates and removes the chemical that allows the varnish to adhere to the wood.

Vinegar is Acidic

It goes without saying to them that vinegar has the potential to be much more than the topping for your fish and chips and comes in handy if you can’t get your hands on some paint stripper, or simply don’t have the space or personal protective gear to use these chemicals.



How to Remove Paint From Wood With Vinegar

Now that you know removing paint from wood is possible, you might be wondering how to go about it. This is why we’ve taken it upon ourselves to provide you with a short tutorial detailing how to remove paint from wood with vinegar effectively, and with the least amount of elbow grease needed. Here are some of the things you’ll need:

  • Some white vinegar
  • A sponge/rag/steel wool
  • A paintbrush
  • Either putty knife or paint scraper

Use White Vinegar to Remove Paint


Prepare Your Vinegar

While it might be easier to simply throw some vinegar on your wooden workpiece and hope for the best, there is a better way to go about things. Add some vinegar to a measuring cup (glass or microwave-safe plastic will do) and heat it in a microwave. The trick to this is not to let the vinegar boil over; you just want to get it nice and hot.

Heat Vinegar Mixture for Stripping Paint

Once you’re satisfied with the temperature of the vinegar, add some water to it in a 1:3 ratio, with the majority being the water in this instance. Once they’re in the same container, ensure that you mix them together well while the temperature of the mixture is still nice and warm before moving on to the next step in the process.


Apply the Vinegar to Your Workpiece

Now for the easy part. Once you have your vinegar and water mixture to your liking, it’s time to get out your paintbrush or rag. Dip the applicator you have chosen into the mixture and allow it to soak in the goodness for a while, keep in mind that oversaturation is an advantage in this instance due to the mixture containing only a small amount of acetic acid.

Soak Paint in Vinegar Mixture

Once your applicator is sufficiently soaked, it’s time to apply your vinegar to the workpiece in question. Use your applicator to apply the mixture directly to the dried paint, following the direction of the grain as far as possible. If you’re working with a round, small, or abnormally shaped workpiece you can start at the center of the board and work your way toward the edges.

Wipe Vinegar on Paint with Cloth


Allow the Vinegar to Set In

This might take a little while or it could start working immediately depending on the size of the workpiece, the type of paint you’re trying to remove, and the acidic concentration in the brand of vinegar you’ve chosen to use. Allow the vinegar mixture to soak in for 15 to 30 minutes, at which point you should begin to see the paint rise and curl from the surface of the workpiece.

Vinegar Mixture Strips Paint from Wood

If the paint you’re trying to remove is particularly stubborn and you see no result after the aforementioned time period, you should probably repeat the process to increase the concentration of vinegar solution present on the surface of the workpiece. This will ensure deeper penetration but should be done in moderation to avoid causing inadvertent damage to the surface of the wood. 

Vinegar will Lift Paint Off Wood


Remove the Paint From the Wood Surface

Once the vinegar has had a chance to do its thing it is time to remove it from the surface of the wood. You can go about this the same way you would if you used a conventional paint stripper, simply get a paint scraper, and remove all of the paint that has curled up and/or bubbled on the surface of the wood. Be careful not to scrape too hard or you might damage the wood underneath!

Remove Paint from Wood with Vinegar and Scraper

Once all of the paint has been removed from the surface of the wood it’s time for you to neutralize any vinegar leftover from the removal process. Use a clean, damp cloth and give the wood surface a once-over to ensure that any lingering vinegar in addition to any stray paint particles is removed from the wood’s surface.

Clean Wood After Vinegar Paint Removal



How to Remove Varnish From Wooden Surfaces Using Vinegar

Now that you know how to go about cleaning painted wood with vinegar, it’s worthwhile learning how to remove varnish from wood using vinegar too. How does vinegar remove varnish from wood? Well, much in the same way the acidic properties of vinegar dissolve the bond paint has with wood, it does the same with varnish, although it does have a slightly different reaction compared to the one it has with wood. This process is much the same as the one detailing how to go about cleaning painted wood with vinegar, but with some added steps to protect the wood itself. Here is what you’ll need:

  • White vinegar
  • Boiling water
  • Cold water
  • Baking soda
  • Ammonia
  • Paintbrush
  • Cloth

How to Remove Paint from Wood with Vinegar


Boil Your Water

Much like you did when you popped some water in the microwave when you were removing paint from wood, you’re going to need to get the water you’re using to remove varnish nice and hot before you’ll be able to use it (roughly four cups). Why? When water is heated and/or brought to a boil the molecules get excited to have trouble sticking together, this is usually where they become airborne in the form of a gas, better known as steam.

Boiling Water for Vinegar Mix Removes Varnish

When water is in this state, it happens to be a bit more receptive to additives, as some of the things you’ll be adding to it in a minute. A great example of this is how tea or coffee is easier to make the higher the water temperature. Once your water has reached boiling point remove your pot from the stovetop. (don’t forget to turn your burner off!)


Mix Your Ingredients

Now that you have your boiling water nice and ready, pour it into a separate container and add some of the following. Add a quarter cup of baking soda, about a half cup of ammonia, and roughly a tablespoon of white vinegar and mix them together well. Once you have those together, get a separate container and mix half a cup of cold water and a full cup of corn-starch together.

Cornflour, Ammonia and Vinegar Strips Varnish

Add the cornstarch to the container of boiling water and mix these together really well. As you’ve probably guessed by now, removing varnish requires a bit more effort compared to removing paint, this is because the paint is a surface coating and varnish is a wood treatment, which seeps deeper into a given wood’s fibers compared to paint.


Apply Your Vinegar Mixture

Once you have your mixture ready, get your paintbrush and dip it into the container. Allow it to soak up as much of the mixture as possible, and then remove it and begin applying it to the wooden surface. Ensure that you cover all of the bits of the wooden surface with varnish on it, then allow the mixture to set into the surface for around 15 minutes. You should be able to see and smell the varnish reacting with vinegar and ammonia.

Leve Vinegar Mix on Varnish


Once it’s had a chance to set into the varnish, grab a clean cloth and soak it in hot water. Once it’s thoroughly wet, use the rag (with some gloves to avoid burning yourself) to rub the varnish off your workpiece. If there’s still a noticeable amount of varnish present on your workpiece, simply repeat the process until you’re satisfied with the result.

Wear Gloves to Apply Vinegar to Wood



Are There Alternatives to Removing Paint From Wood?

The answer to the question “how does vinegar remove varnish from wood” is via its acidic properties, which are 100% natural. This being said, there are other methods that can be used to remove paint from wood even more effectively, so we’ve taken the time to list them for you in the event that your paint removal problems require a more robust solution.

MethodCan It Be Used to Remove Paint
Paint stripper
Power Washing
Sand Blasting
Heat Gun
Acid wash



What Common Mistakes Occur When Stripping Wood?

If you’re using chemical compounds like paint stripper or other synthetic chemicals to remove paint from wood, you should avoid some common mistakes. One of the most common mistakes that people make when using paint stripping chemicals is failing to neutralize these chemicals once the paint has been removed. This can cause the strip to continue to corrode the surface of the exposed wood, making it near impossible to re-coat. You can get specialist wood conditioner to use on your wood that works very much like the conditioner people use on their hair to protect it from damage.

Wood Conditioner Works Like Hair Conditioner

Another common mistake the first-time users of paint strippers make is allowing the paint stripper to set for far too long. This has the same effect that failing to neutralize these acidic agents does, and basically corrodes your surface to the point where it cannot be recoated in the future. This is why you should always follow the manufacturer’s recommended time period when working with these products.

Leve Paint Stripper for Stipulated Time

On the other end of the spectrum, first-time users also make the mistake of not waiting long enough for the paint stripper to set in. This results in poor removal and could make the current state of your workpiece even worse as the paint will only be removed practically, causing the paint that remains to be even more challenging to remove.

Finally, one of the most common mistakes that people make after successfully using a paint stripper on a wooden workpiece is forgetting to sand it afterward. It is impossible to re-coat a workpiece that has been stripped without sanding the surface, as this is the only way to expose fresh wood that has not been affected by the paint stripper.

Sand Wood Well After Stripping Paint or Varnish



Does Vinegar Damage Wood?

Does vinegar damage wood? This isn’t an easy question to answer because the answer is yes, but only if it’s misused. While it certainly won’t be causing gaping holes to appear in your wooden surfaces, it will abuse things like wooden flooring to lose the quality of the finish, making them appear discolored.

Leaving Vinegar Can Damage Wood

If you’re working with a surface that happens to be particularly greasy, adding vinegar will make the problem arguably worse as it won’t break the grease down sufficiently, instead causing a slimy mess all over the surface of your workpiece. 

Another instance in which vinegar might not be the best choice for your surfaces is if you’re working with surfaces with a wax coating, as it will dissolve the wax coating and essentially ruin your surface. The same is true if you have a stone, slate, or marble surface in the form of flooring or countertops, vinegar interacts pretty poorly with these surfaces and could cause them to corrode, which can cost a pretty penny to replace and/or repair. Despite this, if you are looking for a natural, yet highly effective cleaning solution, then vinegar is one of the most versatile substances around.



Now that you know whether or not vinegar can be used to remove paint from the wooden surface, whether it can be used to remove varnish from a surface, and how to use vinegar effectively to remove these substances from your wooden surfaces, is time for you to get out there and put your newfound knowledge to the test. Remember to monitor the amount of time you allow the vinegar to stay on your wooden surfaces and to always ensure that your surfaces are graded for contact with vinegar before applying it.



Frequently Asked Questions


Does Vinegar Damage Wood?

Does vinegar damage wood? While vinegar contains a relatively small number of acidic properties, if it is left on wooden surfaces for too long it can cause the wood to corrode. Additionally, if vinegar comes into contact with certain substances, it can cause a chemical reaction that has the potential to damage wooden surfaces.


What Can You Use When Removing Paint from Wood?

Removing paint from wood can be a labor-intensive process if you don’t have the right tools. Thankfully, you have lots of options for removing paint from wood including sandblasting, using a paint stripper, using a heat gun, and even using a power sander.


Does Vinegar Prevent Insect Infestation?

While it works as a good way to remove paint from wood if you ever find yourself in a pinch, using vinegar as an insect repellent won’t prove to be very effective. Vinegar contains acidic elements which could cause harm to your wooden surfaces and/or plant life if left on these surfaces for prolonged periods of time.                          

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