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How to Safely Strip Paint from Woodwork

Ask This Old House painter Mauro Henrique travels to Sacramento to show a homeowner the safe way to strip paint

Steps for stripping paint from woodwork

  1. Before doing any work, test the surface being stripped with a lead test kit. Follow the instructions that come with the packaging to confirm that there is no lead present.
  2. Starting from the top of the surface being stripped, apply a thick layer of the paint stripper using the paint brush.
  3. Cover each section with laminated paper to accelerate the curing time of the paint stripper. Cut off any excess paper with the utility knife. Allow each section to slightly overlap with previous sections to ensure full coverage.
  4. Wait for the laminated paper to turn brown. It should take somewhere between 20 to 40 minutes.
  5. Once the paper has turned brown, take the plastic putty knife and drag it underneath the laminated paper. Most of the paint should come off with it.
  6. Gently scrape the plastic putty knife across the surface to get any extra paint left behind.
  7. Soak a scrub pad in some warm water and scrub the surface to remove any leftover residue.


Paint stripping is a project that can be detrimental to a person’s health. For that reason, Mauro strongly advises that homeowners take a number of steps to protect themselves.

If there is a chance that any of the paint being stripped was applied before 1978, it needs to be tested for lead. Lead tests can be bought at most paint supply stores and home centers. Mauro used the LeadCheck Swabs test kit, manufactured by 3M.

When choosing a paint stripper, check the label closely and choose one that reads “Zero VOC.” “Low VOC” paint strippers can be misleading, since there are few regulations determining the concentration of VOCs that can be considered “low”. Mauro used Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover and laminated paper, both manufactured by Dumond.

The other materials required for paint stripping, including the plastic putty knife, drop cloths, disposable paint brush, mask and gloves, can all be found at home centers and paint supply stores.

Expert assistance with this segment was provided by Mauro’s Painting.