Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag Trick

PinExt Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag Trick

If you’ve ever had to strip a piece of furniture, with layer upon layer of paint, you know it can be a beast of a job. Half way through, when your hands are numb from scrapping, you just want to give up.

Well I have the tip of all tips. This will change your furniture refinishing life.

First I love using Citrustrip. It’s a non-caustic stripper that is safe enough to use indoors. But it does take longer to work ( up to 24 hours). So you normally apply it and then leave it overnight.

citrustrip Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag Trick

Centsational Girl wrote the best side-by-side comparison of the normal smelly, caustic, chemical strippers vs Citrustrip. You can read her A Tale of Two Strippers blog post here.

So now that you’re convinced that Citrustrip is the only way to go. Go grab that old piece of painted furniture from your Grandma’s basement, some Citrustrip and a garbage bag. Don’t forget the garbage bag, it’s important.

how to strip painted furniture Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickHere is the little cabinet I picked up for $40 at a flea market last year for my birthday. It’s been almost a year and it’s still in my garage. Yes I’m an old painted furniture hoarder.

The cabinet is old and has layers of paint (I counted at least 5 while stripping it). And with so many detailed areas this piece could take hours to strip. But it didn’t!

Step 1: Apply the stripper

citrustrip best paint stripper Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickI poured some of the Citrustrip into a small metal bucket I had. The directions recommended a metal bucket so that’s what I use. I’m a follow the rules kind of gal.

It’s totally not what you expect when you pour it out of the bottle. Its kind of like a thick orange toothpaste.

how to apply citrustrip Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickTake an old nasty paint brush that you have lying around (I always hang onto those old brushes for jobs like this) and apply a layer wherever you want the paint removed. I actually applied it a bit thicker than what you see in the above photo.

Step 2: The Garbage Bag Phase

simple trick for stripping painted furniture Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickNow take a garbage bag and stick it directly to the sides of the furniture (the Citrustrip should still be wet). Pat it down and make sure it’s ‘stuck’ to the sides. The photo above looks like the garbage bag is loose but it was a really windy day and the top layer of the garbage bag kept blowing around (but the other side of the garbage bag was stuck to it).

For this demonstration I only covered one side and the front with a garbage bag. I left one side alone (just had Citrustrip on it) to show you the difference.

Step 3: Scrapping

diy stripping painted furniture Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickWait up to 24 hours and then remove those garbage bags. And jump up and down when you see the paint nearly falling right off on its own. It’s the little things in life.

how to use citrustrip Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickThis is the side that I DID NOT put a garbage bag on, and you can see there are just a few small areas that bubbled the paint off. That still means a lot of work. Can you imagine if that was the whole cabinet?

paint scrapping Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickThis was after scrapping 4 or 5 times (on the side that did not get covered in a garbage bag). That’s not very exciting for an impatient person like myself.

easy way to strip paint Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickNow look at how easy it was on the side where it was covered with a garbage bag. Seriously I was going over it with one scrape and all the layers were just sliding off.

refinishing furniture Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickThis method works really well on any flat surface. But the detailed areas will still need a good scraping. But I think that’s really to be expected. You can see in the above photo how the flat areas are just peeling off but the drawer pulls, and detailed moldings still have lots of paint.

Step 4: Clean-up

diy furniture refinishing Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickCabinet After

using mineral spirits Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag TrickOnce you have as much paint off as you can use a rag to apply mineral spirits just to remove any leftover Citrustrip and bits of oil based paint.

At this stage I give the piece a sanding to get rid of any last paint (I still need to do this).

Hopefully I’ll have this little cabinet done soon and can share how it looks. Oh yeah and I need to figure something out for the top (it came topless).

So what are your tricks for stripping painted furniture?

Maybe the best advice is just not to start these types of jobs in the first place!

PinExt Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag Trick
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122 thoughts on “Stripping Painted Furniture: The Garbage Bag Trick

  1. Thank you for the tips!I did not know the garbage bag trick! I am on my way to Lowe’s right now they better have it, you know when you want something it has to be now! Funny thing I have almost the same dresser that was in the same blue color that someone already stripped, but inside is still blue.Would you believe it’s missing it’s top too, (is this yours hehe) I have been looking for something to put on top. I’m too cheap to buy a nice piece of wood.Tell me what you come up with! PLEASE! Thanks, Ava

  2. I know this is years after your post, but hoping you have some advice. I went into a local hardware store intending to buy citristrip, but they didn’t have it and suggested another citrus based product. I had two little side tables with mixed results and not the proper tools to deal with the legs. Now I have a half stripped mess, the stripper is dried on because I didn’t plan on all of the excess time it would take and went out of town. I’d like to throw in the towel and just sand the whole thing. Can I sand the stripper I didn’t remove that is dried on? Or should I use mineral spirits to wipe down first? I did buy some legit citristrip, so I could try stripping again with that, using your bag method. Doing non flat surfaces just seems impossible to scrape down.

  3. I’m a bit confused so I need some clarification. After you’ve used a chemical stripper like Citristrip or Soy Gel, and after you’ve followed instructions for neutralizing, do you need to sand the wood? If so, what kind of sanding is best?
    I believe you said somewhere else that sanding is good “insurance” against peeling paint. Prep work is essential…against unnecessary paint failure, as we both know. But maybe the chemical stripper makes sanding unnecessary? Or maybe not?

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  5. Will that work on my kitchen cabinets ??
    I bought a house build in 1927, and the cabinets are painted in a ugly dark brown; and I would love to just stripp and re-paint them.

    • If you remove the doors and bag them, it will strip OK. You can wrap plastic around the frame of the cabinet and tape it back in order to finish.

      • I am so excited to try this for my kitchen; I have literally been so depressed from worrying over how to keep the cabinets that I have and not buy new ones because they are big and perfect for the space…I used to want to expand the kitchen but as I’m getting older now, I’m growing increasingly content in its current layout – I’m so hoping beyond hope that your method works…I’ll save your location and update later!

  6. That’s great information. Thanks for sharing this blog. I did a search and found your blog and glowing review. It’s been a big help! Thanx!
    Everything I fully expected of these tools. Great review!

    • I see no reason why it wouldn’t. It won’t hurt the metal so it should take the paint right off. It’s important that this stuff sits for several hours, even over night. It did a good job for me a couple years ago. Give it plenty of time to work and put it on thicker than you think it needs to be. I don’t think you can put it on too thick.

  7. Danielle,

    If I applied the Citristrip to a bookcase I would like to refinish and I could not get to the paint removal for a few days after the application, would that be OK?

    • By now you have probably finished your project. But if anyone else is reading this, I used this a couple years ago. I spread a thick layer on the top of my dresser, laid a garbage bag over it to leave it overnight but next day something came up and I couldn’t do it for a couple more days. When I finally got to it I pulled off the plastic and a lot of the paint came with it. A little scraping and the rest was off too. Didn’t hurt it.

  8. Someone told me about this striper and my question is does it work on wicker furniture as well I want to strip the top of a small wicker dresser

  9. Lordy! I needed this stuff when I stripped an antique door a couple of weeks ago. I used a gallon of Stripeaze AND a half gallon of Cutzit. It had a finish of maybe a varnish, a couple coats of white, and lastly, a coat of ivory. After the evil removers :) I use acetone and steel wool to clean the wood. You have to work fast because it evaporates really fast. It cleans the wood down to a slick feel. Buy a set of bristle brushes, looks like toothbrushes. Don’t use the brass one, it cuts into the wood. The stainless and plastic ones are the best for all those grooves and spots that are hard to reach. Yep, will be looking for this on my next strip job. Oh yeah, I was thinking about painting it after I stripped it. Once I ran my hands over it sans peeling paint. Left her bare. Beautiful. Looking for this stuff on my next trip to Lowes or Home Depot. Thanks!

  10. I have been stripping furniture for years and yes guilty of using the harsh stuff and I wrap or cover the entire area with cheap plastic painters drop sheets home depot has them in different thickness, the slightly thicker one is easier to handle and you should cut it to size so you can use the left over to use later. My trick is to re-apply stripper after an hour or after it starts bubling you can see it working better when using clear plastic sheets. Do not scrape when re-applying stripper let the stripper do the job as it bubbles and cracks the re-applying allows it to penetrate getting beneath. Another way to wipe away residue really fast is using acetone the they sell in home depot next to the paint thinners works fast and evaporates quickly you use fine steel wool for stuborn areas with the acetone.

  11. I just started using Citristrip friday. I had no idea just what I was in for…(I need to find the painter who did this and give him worlds dumbest painting award). This beautiful build in floor to ceiling cubby/desk/book-shelving ornate piece was covered in all white paint, like the entire house we soon rented. After moving in, I realized the desk had a hinged center compartment which beheld a quaint little vanity w mirror and cubbies for whatever. It was not painted. I soon found that the paint in the entire house had been used the way it had was for lead paint sealer. Well, does no good when the painter neglects something like this. I began stripping away, and guess what I discovered…A beautiful white formica counter top as the wall length desktop, with tiny gold specks and faint pink swirl, very perfect for a young girls room. So, I took the entire compartment apart, hardware etc. I cleaned all the hardware and discovered that the hinges were these beautiful shiny steel, pristine! All painted over. You would be shocked at how many layers of paint I have found…it’s actually quite interesting, it’s like the paint layers tell a story of who lived in this child’s/teen bedroom. Layers from wood of the cupboards to outer-most paint layer: butter yellow, off-white, grey blue, green, red, lavender, tan, white, grey-white. No kidding. Still working on the final sanding process. Overall success with Citristrip and tons of scraping, peeling, waiting, scrubbing etc: 100%. My hands are raw, my shoulders and back hate me but, one weekend project done. Thanks for letting me share!

  12. Would this work on rugged furniture? I recently bought a farm table that has great bones but the too was painted a terrible color. Would it be too difficult to get the paint out of the nooks and crannies?

    • Honestly no matter what you do it will be a paint to get the paint out of all of those nooks and crannies. On my little cabinet there was some small detailed portions and I used the Citrustrip but went a bought a couple of paint stripping tools at Lowes to help scrap the paint out of the tiny places. I would start with Citrustrip, stick the plastic bag overtop, let it sit overnight and then try to strip it. Hopefully you wont have to go to the harsher stuff.

  13. I am buying a house with painted kitchen cabinets. Can I just take a moment to vent about how terrible these people were at painting. You should have to take a class. All of the rooms have bumpy walls and it’s not textured paint o.O. Anyways, I’m so glad to know this trick!! Maybe I won’t have to take all the cabinets off the walls! Yay!! Thanks so much!!

      • On the wall, yes. I will just need to sand them a bit. On the cabinets, stripping is about my only option. It looks pretty thick like this may have not been their first attempt. Who knows what I’ll find underneath!

  14. Maybe if I keep going in and asking for it, they’ll order it :) I’ve just found a post on Design Sponge (American) and it to recommended Citristrip – and for the same reason as you – less toxic than others.

  15. I cannot tell you how excited I am that I stumbled upon your blog. I bought a wood kid’s bed from a friend that was an ugly color and I could just hear it begging to be navy blue. It had a high-gloss sheen on it and both a guy from Home Depot and a guy from Lowe’s told me that I didn’t need to use anything on it – no sanding, no liquid sandpaper, no primer – I could just paint over the top of it. Well guess what? It’s been drying for 3 days (and I live in dry, hot AZ) and the paint comes right off when I scrape my fingernail across it :( I was so upset! I know how difficult stripping paint can be so I was dreading the process, but now I’m kind of excited to go for it! I’m hitting up my local Ace Hardware (still mad at Lowe’s and Home Depot) tomorrow and getting to work! Thank you!!!

    • Oh man I can’t believe they gave you that advice. I’m lazy when it comes to painting so I always use spray paint primer. Once you take the paint layer off I would buy a couple of cans of primer and spray the whole bed with the primer (it will be 10 minutes of extra work that will be well worth it). I’m sorry that happened I know how much work it is the scrape it all off. Now I just hope that Ace Hardware carries Citrustrip (I know that Lowes and Home Depot do).

      • It was a hard lesson to learn, BUT I’m just so thankful that I found your blog. Yes Ace carries the Citrusstrip (yay!) and I just got done scraping the bed rails…SO EASY thanks to the plastic trick! I used an old plastic drop cloth (well, I guess it’s not really cloth, but you know what I mean). I have one question for you though…how do you get off the stubborn parts that maybe didn’t get enough stripper on them? And how did you do the detailed parts? Did you still use a scraper or maybe steel wool? Thank you again for sharing this wonderful and very helpful tip!

        • For the detailed parts I bought a little metal scrapper at the hardware store and used that. I don’t think you’ll have to get every last bit of paint off since you’re going to prime it. I’d spray on 2 layers of primer and wait 24 hours to see if it comes off. I know you said the bed had a high gloss finish, it wasn’t oil based paint on it?

          • Sorry for the delay! Here you’re doing me a favor and I go and ignore you. I’m not sure what type of paint is underneath. I’m still in the process of stripping. It’s taking so long because there are so many pieces and I don’t have a lot of time at once to work on it at one time. I can’t imagine how long it would be taking me if I didn’t know the trash bag trick :) I have since decided that I love the wood color and I’m going to stain it. Have you ever stained anything? I’ll search your fabulous blog :) Thanks again!!!

  16. Danielle-
    I was starting to strip a coffee table that is red oak that has been stained, painted and then crackled with varnish on the top. I am going to try this stripper and your technique it should work pretty well since it is a parsons table with all flat surfaces. Do you think this stripper will raise the grain too much? Also when I am done I want to finish this table to have a lime finish. I purchased some briwax that has lime in it. Do you think because the table appears to be red oak that the lime wax will give me a pale pink color or grey like traditional lime??? You may not know the answer but your post was so helpful !thank you so much

    • I’m so glad I could help! The varnish may take a bit more work to take off. I’ve only ever used Citrustrip to remove paint, but I’m sure it will work too. I’m not sure about the lime I would give it a try on the underside of the table or something and see what happens. I love the look of grayish wood. I hope it works for you!

  17. i’ve never refinished any furniture before but I will bookmark your blog so I’ll remember to use this product you recommend. What size trash bag were you using, does it have to be clear or can you use the black also?
    Suppose the piece that you are stripping is larger than the trash bag, can you cut trash bags down the sides and lay them over each other like make a pretend seam?

    • Good question, you can use any size plastic bag. And for my piece I actually just laid the plastic bag over top of each side. So I didn’t actually open the bag and put the cabinet inside the bag. I think I ended up using 3 garbage bags and just stuck them to each side. It sticks really well once you have a good layer of the citrustrip on there. And you can use anything really, plastic sheets, grocery bags etc.

  18. Life Saver! I’ve been working on a difficult piece of furniture with loads of paint coats on it, until now I’ve never had a problem just sanding with an orbital.. But since am a beginner and where I live there is not many people that do this kind of things I was about to quit (or just try my luck going straight into priming it), then I found your blog, THANK YOU! I wont stop following your blog, is full of everything I must learn :)

    • Woohoo! It was the guy in the paint department at HOme Depot that told me about this trick and it worked so well. It’s still hard to get at the paint on a really detailed piece but on flat surfaces it’s amazing! So happy I could help Laura!

  19. we are citristrip users in my house too- but i hadn’t heard of the garbage bags!! awesome!! that is AMAZING and i wish you’d written this post like 18 months ago when we stripped and stripped and stripped some stuff for what seemed like a week. sigh.

  20. great tips and I have never heard of the product But, i am bookmarking this so I can come back when I get ready to do my first ever DIY stripping.

  21. We actually use this stripper! The old man loves it but I never heard of the trash bag part! I’m gonna have to tell him about it. I don’t mind when he uses this stuff cause it actually smells good.
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  22. Ohhh, I am so glad that I came by here today! My husband and I are big on remaking old furniture and we have many meaningful old family pieces in our home – we have had some professionally stripped and dipped, and some that he has remade himself. I’m going to show this to him AND go look at your other crafty goodness!!!
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  23. Danielle,

    Thanks for posting, this info is invaluable! Will be using this method to strip & repaint the original wood shutters on my house (because they are too expensive to replace). I had a thought after reading other comments: for spindles, try wrapping in a piece of SaranWrap. Same concept as trash bag, but cut to size. Also, the “trash bag method” works extremely well for cleaning dirty oven/grill racks. Simply coat racks well with oven cleaner, put racks in a trash bag, tie shut and place the trash bag outside (preferably in the sun) all day. May still require scrubbing, but minimal. Rinse outside with garden hose.

    • I promise this stuff really does work. It still obviously needs a bit of elbow grease but it’s drastically easier. A few years ago I spent almost an entire year stripping the stairs in our 100 year-old home and I so wish I had known about this then.Good luck with your projects!

  24. Great post- I grew up with parents who were antique dealers and my summer money always came from stripping…. pun totally intended. I refinished furniture during the summer-

    Meanwhile a few comments- NEVER sand old furniture that you are intending to stain or refinish to wood. The sanding will take all life out of your wood and leave you with exposed “new wood” that will be void of patina. Instead think of your piece like your skin and stripping is like exfoliation and then you need moisturizer!!! The other thing to remember is that a good healthy dose of soap and water is a great way to clean furniture- yup, out in the driveway with sponges and brushes and scrub away- rinse WELL and then the most important thing- dry it really well. Use old towels and wipe down all surfaces- leave drawers out and door open. If the piece is veneered, don’t use this step- it can release veneer that is loose. Have fun.

  25. I have a very old wrought iron coffee table with tons of paint on it. Can I use Citristrip on this or is it only for wood?

    • That’s a good question. I don’t have any in my garage right now to check the label. But I’m sure if you found a bottle it would tell you. I don’t see why you couldn’t use it on metal.

    • Amy that’s so awesome that it worked so well. The table looks amazing, and I love the little mickey’s, so clever. And I had no idea they sold citrus strip in a spray can! I haven’t seen it at Home Depot but I’ll have to check out Wal-mart. I love anything you can just spray on. Thanks for sharing with me.

  26. I have 4 maple chairs that have 7 layers of paint from what I can tell. I have worn myself out trying to strip them. Yes, I have used the Citristrip but without the trash bags. They are “spindle backed” and have two spindles across the bottom between the legs. Will I need to wrap each spindle individually? I guess I could cut up the trash bag into pieces if I do. Or can I just cover the chair with an extra large bag and press it against the parts of the chair where it touches? Thanks!

    • Yeah getting it off the spindles will be hard (on the areas of my cabinet that had a lot of detail I still had to do a bit of scraping). But if you try the garbage bag I think you’ll be ok to just take a garbage bag (you may need a couple on each chair) and just kind of press it against the spindles. I would wait closer to the 24 hour mark before removing them and stripping. Good luck. I know how hard it is working with detailed spindles!

  27. The only thing I would caution is this stuff raises the grain MUCH more than other non water-based strippers. That means you’ll need to spend a LOT of time sanding. It does minimize the off gasses, though so you’ll need to decide which you dislike more.

    • Thanks Heidi, it really did make a huge difference. But I wouldn’t use a garbage bag with regular strippers because I would imagine it would destroy the garbage bag. And you would just be left with a big old mess.

  28. Were you spying on me last weekend as I was using Citrustrip in the driveway to remove layers of paint from a buffet. Wish I’d known about the garbage bag trick then. Ingenious.

    Actually, I found that the paint came off pretty easily, and I didn’t even have to wait that long for it to happen. The problem was that I got all the gooey stuff all over my driveway and there were layers and layers to tackle.

    You should have seen how dirty I was and how dirty my driveway was. I’m still sporting a funny little tan, too, in that little spot of arm between my sleeves and my gloves. I’m calling it a stripper’s tan!
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    • Karen I just stuck them right to the wet Citrustrip. They stayed on with no problem (even with all the wind that day). Although I wasn’t using the heavy duty garbage bags that are heavier.

  29. I once stripped a flea market dresser outside my apartment in NYC. It was so awful and toxic..took forever… I’m surprised I wasn’t arrested for the mess.

    You did a fantastic job with this piece. Can’t wait to see it painted!
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  30. That is amazing!!! I have refinished many cabinets with too many layers of paint….so wish I knew this trick! I have even used gasoline to try to strip an old cabinet in my house when no other store bought stripper worked!lol

  31. Thank you for this! I have had a porch swing for over a year waiting for me to do this. How much of the citrusstripper did you need? Did have a lol left over? How did you manage to strip the detailed areas? Thanks again! As soon as we have weather over 70 I’m doing this!

    • I’d say about 1/4 of the bottle was used (maybe not that much). And for the detailed areas I have a brush (that’s made for stripping furniture) that I picked up for a few bucks at Lowes (it has fine metal bristles) and I used that to scrap the detailed areas. I used a lot of the citrustrip on these areas and did these areas a few times (apply citrustrip, scrap off, re-apply citrustrip, scrap off again etc). It actually wasn’t as much work as I thought with those detailed areas. The flat areas were a breeze. Good luck with your porch swing!

  32. Danielle that is an absolutely brilliant idea. I have used Citristrip before (one of my favorite strippers) but never the garbage bag method. I would have been terrified to try it thinking the Citristrip would eat the plastic and I would have a big mess. Thanks, can’t wait to try this method. Looking forward to seeing what you do with the cabinet.

    • Micki the citrustrip should be perfect because you can use it indoors. I stripped an old staircase in my home years ago and used a chemical stripper and it was a bit of a mess. Good luck I know how much work it is to strip a staircase but it’s so worth it.

  33. What a great tip Danielle! We have only used poly-stripa and the smell limits you to using it outdoors in fairly good weather (so, less than half the year up here). I will have to check if they sell Citristrip in Canada. I am a total furniture hoarder too… have three cabinets and two chairs in the garage right now waiting to be dealt with! I can’t wait to see what you do with your cabinet, it has such unique lines!!
    Thanks for sharing your great tip:)
    Krista @thehappyhousie

      • Today I finally committed to stripping an old kitchen table and its four chairs. I came straight to this tutorial to know where to start. I had to take a quick trip to Home Depot for all the supplies and found out that Citristrip is only sold in the US :(

        • A friend in Guelph told me that she couldn’t find it anywhere either. I’m surprised since it’s not nearly as toxic as the other paint stripers. It’s sold in all hardware stores here. I’m sorry about that.

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