Instagram has me totally hyped about using oven cleaner to strip furniture! It. Works. So. Well. Want to see how it’s done?
When I first saw this on Instagram, I was mesmerized by the look it gave the wood. It was almost like the wood was bleached. I also was totally inspired to do some of the pieces that I have been avoiding refinishing…you know the ones with nooks and crannies that you’ll never get the finish off?
I’ve had adorable mismatched black chairs in my dining room for about 6 years. It was a great option to have a ton of chairs and not spend a lot of money. But I was getting sort of tired of them and wanted to make a change.
Then I remembered that I was at a friend’s house when her neighbor came over and offered her these chairs. So ugly, but the BONES are stunning!!! He offered them to me too and I took them in a heartbeat!
I can tell you that my husband was thrilled that I brought 6 chairs home and then left them in the basement for multiple years. (can you feel my sarcasm?!) But that story ends today! I decided I if you could use oven cleaner to strip furniture, then I would use that method to make these beautiful!
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How to know if a piece is right for the oven cleaner method:
I have normally used Citristrip in the past when I’ve stripped furniture. It works so well for big surfaces – like tables. But for something like chairs that have so many twists and turns and tiny spots, oven cleaner is perfect.
I’ve used it on 2 projects, and walked a friend through the process as well. She’s a wedding planner, so she refinished this piece to use as a wedding rental. Isn’t it stunning?
So her project turned out beautifully. The chairs were perfect. They were flawless. I couldn’t have asked for a better first project.
My second project was awful. I chose a redwood table. It had great lines but I didn’t like the finish. It was that highly lacquered red look. I had such high hopes! After 2 rounds of oven cleaner, that red was not budging. Not even a little bit! I decided to not waste much more time with that piece, because I’m not sure if it will EVER come off!
AFTER 2 ROUNDS OF OVEN CLEANER AND SCRUBBING
But it was worth a try! So this is my advice. Highly lacquered pieces might not work because you’ll spend the first few rounds just taking off the super thick clear coat. But it might work! So maybe try it and have a backup plan!
What you’ll need to use oven cleaner to strip furniture:
Oven Cleaner – Easy Off is what everyone on Instagram says you should use. But I’m frugal. I ended up using the Walmart brand and it worked perfectly!
When I was redoing my chairs, I used about 1 1/4-1 1/2 cans per chair. I had a lot of nooks and crannies and I’m a perfectionist, so I did about 3 coats on each chair.
Scrub brush – I used a couple different brushes when I did this job. My favorite brush was one in the set I linked here. It has a handle which was so helpful when I was scrubbing. It also had a big end and a small end. I felt like that aided me in getting into the smaller nooks.
At the end of the job, I needed to use an old toothbrush because I had some spots that I couldn’t get with any of the brushes I had.
Mask – Don’t be dumb like me and try to go mask free. My lungs killed for days afterward and I spent so much time googling to see if I ruined my lungs forever. I will never do this again without having a mask on my face to keep the fumes out.
Rubber gloves – These are a must! That oven cleaner is super damaging to your skin. Make sure you’re using rubber gloves. Again, I didn’t do this at the beginning, but I could tell it was not reacting well with my skin, so I busted out the rubber gloves and used them after that.
Blue Dawn Dish Detergent:
Blue Dawn Dish Detergent – I never ever substitute this part. I don’t know what in the world they put in this stuff but it’s AMAZING! So get yourself some because you’ll need it!
Sandpaper – the scrubbing and water tends to make the wood feel a little rough. I know other people don’t do this, but if I’m going to spend all this time refinishing chairs, they are going to feel amazing when you touch them. If you’re doing a piece people don’t put their hands on, you might be ok skipping this step. I used around 220 just to get it smooth.
Top Coat – General Finishes Water Based Satin Topcoat is my obsession. I used it in my floating shelves in my kitchen (you can see that project Here!) and also on my bathroom vanity. Both of them have such heavy use and have held up beautifully. So I decided to use it again here.
Lots of people use the General Finishes Flat Out Flat topcoat and it’s stunning. It doesn’t look like it has any topcoat on it at all! But it still has all the protection of a poly topcoat. I think it’s a great option.
How to choose a piece of furniture to strip with oven cleaner
I thought I’d show you a few lovely before pictures from these chairs, along with a few close up afters. The finish was SO ugly! But train your eye to look beyond what you see – to actually see the lines of the piece. Look for furniture that is well made and has interesting features.
My goal is to have a unique home that doesn’t look like other people’s homes. And I don’t want it to look like a showroom floor from 2022. Mixing in these old pieces that are renovated to today’s styles are the way to make your home stand out from everyone else’s!
Do you notice the graceful curve of the front legs? That lovely line of the wood across the front of the chair? I knew those would all pop when the ugliness of dated stain and fabric disappeared.
Do you see the gorgeous back of the chair? The routered detail inside that figure 8? The shape of the sides of the back, how they go in? They would look so stunning when all that reddish stain was removed. Boy, was I right!
So just train your eye to look beyond the cosmetic ugliness and see the potential in a piece. Stain and finish can change but the bones of the piece cannot.
How to use oven cleaner to strip furniture:
Make sure to remove the hardware and seats before you start this process. I keep the screws in a labeled baggie so I don’t lose them. I’ll teach you how to easily recover the seats in another post!
Step 1 – Spray furniture with oven cleaner
Spray the whole piece with oven cleaner. Use a mask. Don’t be cavalier like me and regret it! Cover the whole piece. I even put another coat on areas that didn’t look good and thick. Then let it sit!
I did this on the driveway because it kills the grass. I found that out the first day I worked on one of the chairs – in the grass…. Don’t do that. Learn from my mistakes!
Step 2 – Put it in a shady spot
You want to make sure you protect this from the sun. It’s not good for the oven cleaner to dry on the furniture. You want it just to sit there wet and do its work. Unfortunately, you need the sun for drying the pieces after they are rinsed, but you really need to find shade for this part! So after the furniture is sprayed with the oven cleaner, pop it into a shady spot to sit.
Step 3 – Wait 20-30 min.
Take my advice and set an alarm and wait the full amount of time. I got lazy one day and I think I had only been waiting 10-15 minutes and it was so frustrating because the finish didn’t come off no matter how hard I scrubbed!
And conversely, I was walking my friend through this project and she forgot about it and let the oven cleaner dry for hours – which turned out to be just as frustrating!
So set a timer and wait the full time.
Step 4 – Scrub a Dub
You’ll need to put some effort into this part. Grab a bucket and fill it with water and blue Dawn dish detergent and some rubber gloves (this is a chemical!). Then use that soapy water on a scrub brush and scrub, scrub, scrub.
Honestly, after doing this on six chairs, I woke up SO SORE the next morning! You seriously use muscles you didn’t realize you had!
I tried to scrub with the grain. I figured that it was a bad idea to go against the grain. Also, be careful! I did this on my driveway and I was flipping these onto the top to try to get the legs scrubbed. Unfortunately when I was sanding them at the end, I noticed that the delicate wood being ground into the cement was not a good idea. It left some scratched up areas that needed extra sanding. Be careful as you go. Realize this is raw wood and could get damaged.
Step 5 – Rinse
Use a hose to rinse off all the oven cleaner and old poly and stain. Sometimes as you go, you’ll see a cloudy area. I found that to be a sign that I didn’t get that spot well enough. So you can scrub that a little bit more as you rinse it and sometimes that saves you another coat of oven cleaner. Get it good and rinsed off.
Step 6 – Put it in a sunny spot
After you get all the oven cleaner rinsed off, dry it as fast as you can to keep it from getting water spots. I found that I only tried to do this on sunny days so that I could have the quickest drying effect. Wood doesn’t like water, so you want to dry it as fast as you can!
Step 7 – Repeat until all old stain and poly are removed
Once it’s totally dry, you can see the spots that still need work. I did about 3 coats on each of the chairs. The great thing is that if you get a vast majority of the finish off the first time around like I did on these chairs, you don’t need to spray the whole piece the next time.
On round 2 and 3, I only sprayed oven cleaner on the portion that needed it. Remembering where you sprayed can be a problem. Once you start rinsing it, everything is wet and looks the same!
Step 8 – Sand
I used 220 grit sandpaper and gave the pieces a light sanding until it was smooth to the touch.
Step 9 – Use a protective top coat
I’m obsessed with General Finishes Topcoat. I used the satin on mine and it definitely changed the color of the wood. You might want to try the General Finishes Flat out Flat if you want to try to maintain the same color of the wood. That is what I’ve seen in the past and it really seems to work.
I personally loved the color mine ended up because it blended with our floor and piano much better than the whiter wood. But use whatever you’d like to topcoat it!
I only used one coat to begin with, but I think I’m going to go back and lightly sand between layers and do another 2 coats. If this was just a regular piece of furniture, I would not bother. But after sitting in these chairs for a while, I think I want to make sure it’s utterly smooth to the touch.
Final thoughts on using oven cleaner to strip furniture
I am SO happy with how this project turned out! I loved using oven cleaner to strip furniture! After doing it the traditional way in the past, I am thrilled that this was so easy and turned out so beautifully.
The chairs are completely unique and nobody I know has anything like them…which I love! I even took them outside for an outdoor dinner using my new rewired chandelier (I show you how to do that easily in this post!). Aren’t they so pretty?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – and if you try it out, I’m all about feedback! How did it work for you?