DIY · Home & Garden

How to Strip Paint from Wood Doors

The perfect guide for a beginner to learn how to strip paint from a wood door. This easy guide will help you refinish your door in no time.

A finished plum painted door after it’s been stripped.

Learning how to strip paint from a wood door may sound obvious and rather easy. To those well experienced in refinishing antiques, this may seem like a silly idea to teach.

However, if you are a newbie like I once was, it will be refreshing to know that you’re not alone in being clueless about stripping wood.

Beginners always need more guidance and details when learning a new skill. They also need things explained in layman’s terms. That’s what inspired me to write about the simple process of how to strip a wood door, specifically for beginners.

I’m pretty sure I can see my grandpa balking at this. How do you not know how to strip a door?

But if I asked him how to do it, he’d say “you just do it.”

And then he’d just do it… instead of explaining it and letting me learn for myself.

He’s a perfectionist, for sure, and I know I get many of my traits, including this one, from him. I am also stubborn and don’t want to have to rely on others to do things for me. Especially if I can easily learn to do it myself.

For those of us who have very little experience in woodworking or carpentry, we need a guide. A step-by-step guide that shows us exactly what certain processes mean and what the heck sandpaper grit is.

With my easy-to-follow guide, I’ll explain which supplies you’ll need, how to prep your work area, and exactly how to strip paint from an old door. Whether you’ll be staining it or painting it, stripping it first will allow the natural grain to show, creating a more sophisticated, authentic look.

Learn how to strip a door by following a few simple steps. A plum door is stunning in the sunlight after being refinished.

Supplies you’ll need to strip paint from wood

paint stripper (I used a nontoxic orange spray stripper that can be used indoors with ventilation, and I used 3 spray cans total to get through 3+ layers of paint)

120-grit sandpaper

plastic or metal scraper

drop cloth (not plastic)


Prepping your work area 

To prepare your work area, I recommend using a cloth drop cloth, not a plastic one. Set this dropcloth in the area you’ll be working in. I used a non-toxic stripper, so I was able to work indoors and keep my door on the hinge. This can be both a blessing and a curse. You’ll want your floors covered well, so stripper doesn’t damage them. Remove any decor from your door, along with any nails that could be in them from hanging decor. Tape around the doorknob and keyhole to prevent paint stripper from getting on it.

As always, be sure to properly ventilate the room you’re working in and always wear protective clothing. Wear gloves, closed-toe shoes and protective eyewear. Working with chemicals (yes, even the non-toxic paint stripper) can be dangerous if not properly used. Always be sure to read labels and follow precautions to prevent accidents. I personally propped my storm door open while I worked to let air inside.

How to strip paint from a wood door 

1. Apply the stripper

Begin spraying or spreading it out using a rag/paint brush to evenly coat the entire door. Initially I’d recommend working with the door open, so you can fully get the edges covered. When a door is closed the edges are covered. You don’t want any paint left around the edges. If you’re using the spray can, it may take quite a while to cover the entire door, with multiple applications. The paint stripper I used was safer in general, but it was a pain to work with and took many applications. If you’re using regular old paint stripper from a can then it’s a bit more efficient.

Orange paint stripper lays next to a scraper.

2. Let it sit

If you’re using the non-toxic spray paint stripper, let it sit for 1-4 hours to be fully effective. You can let it sit for as little as 30 minutes, but I preferred to let it soak in more. Just don’t go more than 24 hours. Standard paint stripper will take less time, usually minutes to strip paint. The paint will bubble up and look pretty ghastly when it’s ready to be removed with a scraper. It will make your door look unrecognizable if you’re stripping paint in particular. With all the many colors and layers of paint on our door, it created a very abstract, hideous piece of artwork for our neighbors to look at.

First coat of stripper.
Second coat of stripper.

3. Begin scraping and reapply stripper as needed

Go with the grain to prevent damage and scratching. Most of it should peel off fairly easily, depending on how many layers you’re removing. It may take several applications. As I began exhausting myself using the nontoxic spray paint stripper, my grandpa came to the rescue with his old-school stuff. He slapped some on and was able to get the remnants of what was left after I had already applied 3 applications. I can attest that the standard paint stripper does work better than the nontoxic kind if it doesn’t bother you to use it. It does get pretty messy since it drips more, so be sure to close the door and work from the outside after scraping off the edges. It’s much easier to clean up a porch outside than to repair damaged floors or decor inside.

After scraping the third time, using steel wool for the crevices.

4. Use steel wool

Get into any hard-to-reach crevices, like corners or decorative carvings, that some older doors may have by using steel wool.

5. Sand any remaining spots

There is a good chance that you’ll have a few stubborn spots. You can use sandpaper to get this off and remove these bits of paint. It’ll also help smooth over any spots that got nicked up from scraping, too. Again, be sure to sand with the grain of the wood to ensure no more scratches appear. Now your wood should be prepared for staining or painting.

We originally intended on staining our door, but there were a couple noticeable dark spots that we thought wouldn’t be disguised easily, so we ended up repainting instead.

Nevertheless, it needed to be stripped. There were so many sloppy coats of paint applied by previous owners. Now the door has a gorgeous wood grain that subtly shows through the deep purple paint we used. We are in love with this new look and feel confident in doing it again if it’s ever needed.

A finished plum-colored front door after being stripped.

More DIY Project Inspiration

How to Install a Pea Gravel Patio

How to Refinish a Bathtub in 3 Easy Steps

My Best Painting Tips for Beginners

How to Lay Hexagonal Floor Tiles

How to Make an Old Door Look New

6 thoughts on “How to Strip Paint from Wood Doors

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.