How to Remove Oil-based Stain from Wood Before Applying New Stain?

March 26, 2022

Applying new layer of oil-based stain on deck.

One easy way to stuff your home with furniture is by buying secondhand pieces of furniture from estate sales, garage sales, and antique stores. I used to do that, and I often chanced upon a lovely piece of furniture that needs a bit of refinishing. Using my woodworking knowledge, I removed the oil-based stain or whatever stain it has and applied the stain that satisfies me. If you are a DIY woodworker, you will also find satisfaction in transforming seemingly trashy furniture into something awesomely new. 

Some of the old furniture you will find have an oil-based stain. Oil-based wood stains, of course, look good when newly applied, but more often, you need to remove this oil-based stain in favor of something better. If you wish to remove an oil-based stain, you need to know the dos and don’ts when removing an oil-based stain before applying a new stain.

Steps on Removing an Oil-based Stain

If you don’t know how to remove an oil-based stain, you may end up affecting the grains of the wood and damaging the furniture itself. So, to help you breeze through the process of removing an oil-based stain, you can follow the following proven steps:

Step 1: Prepare the Place Where You Will Work and the Materials You Will Need

Before engaging in oil-based stain removal, you should prepare the place where you will work. It should be free from pedestrians, and it should be well-ventilated, for you might be using chemicals that elicit a strong smell. It will also help if you prepare the materials you will use for removing the oil-based stain beforehand. Position the furniture over a protective cloth to prevent spillage from staining the floor.

Step 2: Know the Safety Precaution When Removing Oil-based Stain

When refinishing, you should know the safety tips. You should wear a mask and gloves, for example, to protect yourself. You should also choose a quality wood stripper. Refer to the product label and calculate the surface area of the furniture you would like to work on to know how much wood stripper you will need. 

When using a wood stripper product, it will be best to know the instructions in its manual. Don’t deviate from the instructions to ensure that you will use the product correctly. 

You should also protect anything within your reach like bricks, stones, concrete, vegetations, and sidings from being stained or damaged while you work. You can cover them with plastic, cloth, or any other cover.

Step 3: Start Cleaning the Furniture

To start removing the oil-based stain, you need to prepare your absorbent powder. You can rub it or pour it over the oil-based stain. In this way, you can remove the excess oil. Absorbent powders may come in the form of baking soda or sawdust. 

Pour the absorbent until it reaches around a quarter of an inch thick. Allow the powder to remain over the stain overnight. Then, in the morning of the following day, sweep them away. Check if the stain was altered. 

Another option is you can use a pressure washer to remove excess stain. A pressure washer with 1200PSI can do the job for you. Move the water jet over the board’s length, not over the board’s width. Once you’ve removed the residue, dry away any remaining moisture on the wood’s surface. Check if there are any residue or spots with residual stain. Apply stripper on those areas and redo the steps.

Step 4: Repeat the Cleaning Steps If the Stain is Too Stubborn

There will be instances when the stain will be stubborn. Don’t worry! You only need to repeat the cleaning steps until the stubborn stain is gone. You need to patiently repeat the cleaning process if you want a better refinishing result.

Step 5: In Case the Stain is Really Stubborn, You Can Iron the Area

If the stain doesn’t go away after repeating the cleaning steps, you can be tough with the stain, and use a brown paper bag and an iron. Place the brown paper bag over the stain, then get hold of the iron. Set it at its lowest heat level. Then, get hold of its handle and roll it over the paper bag precisely at the spot of the stubborn stain to melt the stain. 

The oil-based stain will usually liquefy, and the brown paper will absorb them up. You will notice that the oil stain will saturate the brown paper bag. You can replace the paper bag with a new one if the first paper bag gets completely saturated.

Step 6: Check If the Ironing Process is Effective

At this point, you better step back a bit and assess what had happened to the remaining stain. If the paper did not do well in absorbing the remaining stain, you can apply absorbent powder on the remaining oil to ensure that everything is cleaned. You can also mix water and dish liquid in a bowl. Mix thoroughly until the suds appear profusely. 

You can scoop the suds from the bowl and put them over the area you want to treat. Using a scrub, you can clean the surface. Do not be tough when scrubbing the surface, for you may scratch the wood’s surface. When done, you can use a dry rag or cloth to do away with the soap.

Step 7: Consider Using Mineral Spirit If the Stain Gets Really Stubborn

You will sometimes encounter persistent stains that never want to go away using the previous removal methods. In such a case, you can use mineral spirits. The mineral spirit should be your ultimate option to remove a stain. The reason for this is that it can damage the finish afterward. 

You can mix the absorbent powder with mineral spirits to create a paste. Then, spread this paste over the surface with stain. Let it stay up to two hours before removing it. 

Another caveat when cleaning the wood is to never soak the wood too much in water or avoid soaking the surface at all if the first layer of the oil stain has been removed. Otherwise, you may end up with a warped and cracked wood surface. Moreover, you should refrain from using mineral spirits because of the risks concomitant with their use.

Step 8: You can Apply Oxalic Acid Mixture to Neutralize the Effects of the Stripper

Once done with removing the oil-based stain, you are almost halfway through the process. But before you apply the new stain, make sure that you neutralize the effect of the stripper. You can use oxalic acid to brighten the surface of the wood. In this way, you can restore the wood’s original color and avoid any damage due to the stripping ingredients. 

You can mix the oxalic acid with hot water. Afterward, you can apply the mixture over the whole area that you would like to refinish. You can also use a sprayer to apply the mixture onto the surface.

Step 9: Let the Surface Dry

So, after applying the oxalic acid mixture, you can let the surface dry out first. This is necessary if you will refinish the surface with a semi-transparent oil-based stain. You can use a moisture meter to figure out the moisture level of the wood. Ideally, the wood should at least have 12 percent or less moisture before applying the new stain. 

You should not skip this step, for it will play a crucial role in defining the result of your refinishing. The oil-based stain would penetrate well if you have achieved this moisture level before applying the new oil-based stain.


Oil-based stains usually appear darker than the natural color of the wood. But they will indeed look good on the wood. They also offer extra protection to the wood surface. Nevertheless, there are instances when you would want to remove oil-based stains, just like in the case of refinishing or if you want to replace it with another type of stain. 

You can remove an oil-based stain without shelling out money for the service of a handyman. You can do it yourself, provided you know and follow the simple steps mentioned above and you have enough time to do the project. Of course, removing oil-based stain may take time and effort, but if you do it right, you can produce a very satisfying finish for your furniture.  

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