Removing Paint or Stain from Furniture with Oven Cleaner? Think Again!

There seems to be a thousand and one DIY furniture restorers or upcyclers using oven cleaner to strip paint and stain from furniture on social media at the moment and every time I see a video of someone using it, I have to cringe and shake my head. Why? Well, for a start, it’s one of the most toxic and caustic products you can buy. I don’t even use it on my oven for this reason (I have a relatively new SMEG oven that has a vapour clean function and I used natural products to remove baked-on grime).

I refuse to use toxic chemicals in my home for health reasons. Toxins can build up in your home and make you ill with symptoms ranging from nasal congestion, aggravated asthma or allergies and sinus infections. Cognitive Issues like foggy thinking, sleep disturbance, and frequent headaches. Mood changes such as feeling agitated or depressed. Or there may be stomach discomfort, muscle aches, fatigue, rashes and sore throat.

Most oven cleaners have dissolving solvents, sodium hydroxide, lye, ethylene glycol, and methanol, which can be very toxic. Users can end up with breathing difficulties, irritation and burns to the skin and eyes.

Other than the toxicity of the product that I mentioned above, there are a few other reasons why you shouldn’t use oven cleaner as a stripper:

Environmental impact

As mentioned above, oven cleaner is highly toxic. Can you imagine the environmental impact of washing it off in your backyard and letting it run into the stormwater drain or leeching into your garden? Not good, is it? Even diluted with water, the chemicals are still present.

It ends up damaging the wood/veneer

Oven cleaner not only removes the paint or stain but it can dry out the wood and lead to splitting and it can damage the wood or veneer. It may look good after using it but considering it takes 21-28 days for furniture pieces to dry out after using wet products on them (even paint, oils and stains can take a week to fully cure), you may not see any damage until a month later. A lot of upcyclers haven’t been using wax or sealant (top coat or stain) after stripping the furniture with oven cleaner either, which will cause the wood to dry out even more. Having said that, if you did use a sealant such as wax or stain over the top, it will trap the moisture/ cleaner in the wood and will cause issues later on. Oven cleaner also bleaches the wood, which will yellow over time.

You really shouldn’t be using water on indoor furniture

To rid the furniture piece of the oven cleaner, you have to wash off the cleaner with water or water and soap. Wood used for indoor furniture is not made to get wet, as it isn’t treated for moisture, which is why indoor pieces need to be protected with stain, wax, a clear coat or paint. The water will damage the wood, produce mould or split, warp or bubble the wood once it dries out. It will also make any adhesives used in the construction of the furniture weaken and nails or screws to rust.  Never clean wood furniture with water or solvent-based multipurpose cleaners either. Only use a microfibre cloth to dust or use furniture polish or oil to clean your furniture properly.

So what should you use?

I believe in the old adage “If you want something done right, do it properly” and use my Ryobi Orbital sander on large surfaces and Dremel tool on the more intricate areas for previously stained pieces. Nothing beats sanding for a perfect raw wood finish. However, if you’re short on time or trying to remove paint, gel strippers are highly recommended. Even better, you can purchase non-toxic gel strippers, such as CitriStrip (a citric acid-based product), Diggers Paint Stripper (low odour, biodegradable and Methylene Chloride free) and Bondall Waterbased Paint & Varnish Stripper (Non-caustic and methylene chloride free) which are available from Bunnings. As you can see, there are many different stain and paint remover options that are non-toxic and environmentally safe. Please do some research before copying trends off social media.

If you are going to repaint a piece of furniture, the easiest option is to sand off any rough patches/ flaking and rough up any shiny coatings, then use a paint primer over the top. Or try using chalk paint, which can be used on any surface.

We hope we’ve given you some ideas on how to prepare wood furniture pieces properly. Head to our Home and Garden section for more great ideas!