How to Remove Polyurethane from Wood

How to Remove Polyurethane from Wood – Quick Polyurethane Stripping

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As a DIY enthusiast, esteemed hobbyist, or just an every now and then crafter, you are likely to come across polyurethane at some point along the way. So, learning how to work with polyurethane and in particular, how to clean polyurethane, or how to remove polyurethane from wood, is a question that many have been dying to accomplish. This tutorial will teach you how to remove polyurethane, and what the best polyurethane remover is. Keep reading for some seriously extensive knowledge on how to get polyurethane off wood and other surfaces.



Polyurethane Explained

In order to understand how to remove polyurethane from wood or other surfaces, one must first understand what polyurethane really is. If you have ever seen those stunning wooden items that have this professionally-made feel to them? More than likely, it has been coated in polyurethane. Polyurethane is a layering of something similar to varnish, it promises great protection against friction from use, or weather conditions that threaten the longevity of its life. Of course, you have the option to use either an oil-based product, or you can use a water-based product, either one is perfect for the project that you have in store. If you prefer a polyurethane product that is less harmful to the environment and your health, we recommend getting a water-based option, because they contain far fewer VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds).

Polyurethane Coating on Wood


Choosing Water- or Oil-Based Polyurethane

Let us begin by explaining the polyurethane that is based in water. This is the lesser of the two when it comes to weather protection. It is not able to do as great a job as the oil-based polyurethanes would do if the item were to be left outside to brace the climate. Strong heat and humidity will eventually corrode your wooden piece if you use this type of polyurethane unless you find one that offers a bit more resistance. Water-based polyurethane is a great option for painting your smaller wooden items that will be indoors, like frames of pictures.

Oil-based polyurethanes have some serious ability to intensify the color of the wood by adding a tint, more so than water-based polyurethane. Not only that, but it has brilliant protection against the harsh weather conditions of whatever climate you are living in, as well as damage due to constant usage. This type of polyurethane is great to use for your outdoor furniture, or window frames, countertops, or decking. The only downside to oil-based polyurethane is that it can fade into a more yellow tinge over some time.

Polyurethane for Harsh Climate



Recommended Polyurethane Strippers

So, now that we have covered the basics of the two variations of polyurethanes, it is important that we now get into the business of how to get polyurethane off the wood. The best way to do this is by using a sufficient polyurethane remover. If you have a wooden item that has been coated in either a water-based or oil-based polyurethane, then you will need to remove said polyurethane with one of these products that we have listed below.

In our list below, we have compiled comprehensive descriptions of each product, including instructions for how to use them. Not only that, but we have also compiled a few advantages and disadvantages that will help you make your own more informed decision by comparing the differences.


Fast Acting Polyurethane Stripper: SUNNYSIDE CORPORATION Paint and Varnish Two-Minute Remover Advanced Gel Formula

Based on the name of this product, you can gather what this product offers, but there is so much more to it than its name. This product acts amazingly fast, taking one to two minutes to remove polyurethane from whatever wooden surface you want, no matter the number of layers the polyurethane was painted with. This product does a good job in removing about one hundred square feet, and it can also remove polyurethane from other surface finishes like lacquers or even oil-based paint, making it very versatile.

SUNNYSIDE CORPORATION Paint and Varnish Two-Minute Remover
  • Removes multiple layers of paint or varnish in one application
  • Won't damage wood, metal, masonry, marine, or automotive finishes
  • Removes all paint types, lacquer, shellac, varnish, epoxy, and polyurethane
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  • Methylene chloride free
  • Works with various surface finishes
  • Acts within two minutes
  • Works best as a polyurethane remover
  • Removes polyurethane from vertical surfaces
  • Messy to use


Most Eco-Conscious Polyurethane Stripper: DUMOND CHEMICALS Smart Strip Advanced Paint and Varnish Remover

In addition to being kind to the environment, Dumond’s Smart Strip product also has the ability to remove multiple layers of paint varnish, shellac, and polyurethane from wooden surfaces. pH-neutral paint strippers do not require any neutralization after stripping. The Smart Strip from Dumond Chemicals is 100% biodegradable and does not contain any volatile organic compounds, so it is perfectly safe to use around plants and animals. In addition to being odor-free, the formulation is made from water and is free of caustic chemicals or intense solvents.

DUMOND CHEMICALS Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover
  • A safe and effective earth-friendly paint remover
  • Can remove up to 15 coats at a time
  • Non-toxic, non-caustic, water-based formula
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  • Free of chemicals
  • Free of VOCs
  • Able to remove many layers of polyurethane
  • Odorless
  • Water-based formula
  • You will need to use a large amount to be effective


Easiest to Use Polyurethane Stripper: SUNNYSIDE CORPORATION Hi-Speed Ready Strip Paint and Varnish Remover Trigger Spray

Sunnyside Corporation offers convenient spray paint and varnish stripper that is ideal for those who want to get the job done fast without having to use a paintbrush. This faster and safer formula is low odor and environmentally safe. The non-drip formula is great for vertical surfaces and it gets to work in 30 minutes. Sunnyside Corporation’s Hi-Speed Ready Strip is not only conveniently packaged in a trigger spray bottle but clean-up is also simple with just water. Looking for a convenient option? Choose Sunnyside Paint and Varnish Remover Trigger Spray!

If you are looking for a super-efficient polyurethane remover that is also super easy to use, then Sunnyside Corporation has the perfect option for you. This formula is applied by spraying from a canister, and this prevents the liquid from oozing or dripping down the sides, especially for vertically angled wooden items.  This product is water-based, making it easy to clean when you are done, as well as being environmentally friendly.

SUNNYSIDE CORPORATION Hi-Speed Ready Strip Paint and Varnish Remover
  • Removes up to 3 layers of oil or water based coating within 30 minutes
  • Removes paints, varnishes, latex, stains, lacquers, polyurethane, and enamels
  • Suitable for use on masonry, wood, metal, brick, and concrete
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  • Works for surfaces at a vertical angle
  • Spray mechanism makes for easy application
  • Minimal smell
  • Easy to wash up
  • Kind on the environment
  • Takes a while longer to work



Instructions for Removing Polyurethane from Wood

Now, let us get into the main reason you have come across our article, learning how to clean polyurethane, or how to remove polyurethane from wood. No matter what type of polyurethane is being removed, whether it is from an item of furniture, a door, or flooring, the process does not change. Apart from sanding down your wooden item to get the polyurethane off the wooden surface, using a stripper is more efficient at times, not to mention saving you a bunch of time!

Sanding Polyurethane from Table


Preparing the Item

When it comes to most DIY tasks, preparation is the most important step to achieve the best results. Before starting, make sure the area is protected by placing plastic sheets or newspaper down on the counter and the floor beneath you. This is especially important if you are trying to remove the polyurethane from a wooden door that is hung on hinges in the door frame. You may want to remove any features and fittings, like doorknobs, handles, or glass windows, that are in the way.

Removing Varnish from Wood


Applying the Stripper

The best advice is to use an old paintbrush – one you are not too attached to because you will have to toss it out when you have finished as the brush will get ruined. As a general rule, chemical-based polyurethane strippers are more efficient as compared to water-based strippers that are safer but can contain toxic methylene chloride, so they are not entirely safe. Remember that for polyurethane strippers based on water, a second application may be required.

Paint Stripper on Polyurethane

To remove polyurethane from wood, generously apply the stripper to the wood – do not be shy. We would like to state here that what I am trying to do is to apply a thick coating of Stripper over the entire polyurethane surface. Make sure you apply the paint stripper to tough to reach areas with the tip of your paintbrush. Having applied the polyurethane stripper, it is now the product’s turn to do its work and it will remove the polyurethane from the surface. But you will need to give it some time to do its job properly.

Polyurethane Removal from Wood

Depending on what you are using to remove the paint, it may take as little as 10 minutes to see some results, however, if you are using a water-based stripper you may have to wait much longer. In the event that you feel that the project will take more than six hours to complete, it would be beneficial to cover the area with a plastic sheet or even newspaper. The purpose of this step is to prevent the polyurethane stripper from drying out. Paints, varnishes, and polyurethane strippers only work when they are moist, so keep this in mind.


Scrubbing and Scraping

Scrubbing and scraping is the technique you can use if you start to notice the little warped bubbles appearing on the wooden surface after you have applied the polyurethane remover and the product starts to work its magic. The bubbles form as a sign that the polyurethane is “lifting” off the surface and the scrubbing or scraping will help to get more of the polyurethane off.

Scrapers for Stripping Polyurethane

We advise that you work with the wood, and this means scraping the polyurethane off by going with the grain’s direction instead of against it. By doing this, you will not damage the surface, and you will maintain the surface of the wood that you are removing the polyurethane from. To do this you can either use a piece of steel wool or a scouring brush. For the smaller areas, a little brush with wire bristles will work fine.

Wire Brush for Removing Polyurethane

Do not be disheartened if you need to repeat this process, often one session is not enough, and you will need to wipe everything away, add more polyurethane remover, wait for it to activate, and then start scrubbing away again. When you are satisfied, make sure you have cleaned all of the remover off, as well as the remnants of the polyurethane. You can use water to wash it off. provided you used a water-based polyurethane, but an oil-based one will require solvents.

How to Clean Polyurethane


Finishing Off

If you use a water-based stripper, then you should have no problem cleaning up with water afterward. You can take away the drop cloth once you are satisfied that you have removed all the polyurethane from your project, as well as discard the stripper-soaked polyurethane gunk responsibly. You will need to sand the entire surface before you intend to apply any stain, varnish, or paint to the bare wood before you refinish it with a stain, varnish, or paint – just make sure the surface is properly dry from being cleaned before you start to sand.

Sand Wood after Removing Polyurethane



Our Final Suggestions for Polyurethane Stripping

Also, something to consider, you can use vinegar to remove polyurethane from wood. It is likely to be found in most houses and it is an amazingly environmentally friendly option. Be advised that an oil-based polyurethane remover is much stronger than a water-based one because they contain various chemicals Additionally, you will only be able to use a gel stain if you do not want to remove the polyurethane from the surface of the wood because the polyurethane clogs up the pores and prevents the stain from being absorbed by the wood. Do not forget to test a small unnoticeable area of the wood with some acetone to make sure you really are dealing with polyurethane.



Now that you are all clued up on how to get polyurethane off wood, we hope that our suggestions for the various techniques we have mentioned above will help you with your removal of polyurethane DIY project.



Frequently Asked Questions


How to Get Polyurethane off Skin?

It is possible to remove from the skin. Polyurethane can be removed from your skin with naturally derived oils. If you accidentally spill polyurethane on your skin, you can rub vegetable oil or peanut butter on the dried polyurethane to remove it from your body.


What Is the Best Way to Clean Polyurethane?

For polyurethane surfaces, it is best to avoid using detergents containing alcohol or ammonia. Alcohol is corrosive to polyurethane and ammonia can damage it over time. The best option would be to use natural-based cleaning detergents or simply use a damp cloth to clean the surface.


Is It Possible to Sand Polyurethane?

The polyurethane can be removed from wood by sanding it using sandpaper. However, this can be time-consuming and requires a large amount of effort on your part. For faster and easier progress as well as making it easier on the elbow, you may want to use a random orbital sander.


How Do I Remove Polyurethane From Wood?

You will need to either sand down the surface with a piece of sandpaper or a power-sanding machine, or you can use some polyurethane stripper or remover. This will loosen the dried polyurethane and lift it from the wood.


Should I Remove Polyurethane From Wood Before Staining?

Polyurethane seals the grain and pores of wood, making it impenetrable to liquid. This means that stains will not adhere to the wooden surface, unless you use a gel stain, you will have to remove the polyurethane first.


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