TikTok and Instagram are awash with accounts featuring DIY and furniture flipping instructional videos that make refinishing thrift store finds into expensive-looking pieces look quick and easy. (Of course, when you edit four hours of paint-stripping and sanding down to two seconds, you can make any project seem quick and easy.)
Many of these videos demonstrate time-saving “hacks” that supposedly got them through the project in record time. A recent example of this is using oven cleaner to strip wood. While this viral trick can get the job done, it’s not a fit for every project, and can sometimes do more harm than good to your furniture. Here’s what to know.
Oven cleaner can effectively remove some stains and varnishes from certain types of solid wood furniture (i.e. not wood veneers or laminates). It works because most oven cleaners and dedicating stripping products contain sodium hydroxide (also known as lye or caustic soda). Though some people have had success using oven cleaner on painted furniture, the method tends not to work as well as it does with stains and varnishes.
If you’re really stuck and don’t have other options, using oven cleaner as a wood stripper may be worth a shot (as long as you use it safely—more on that in a minute). But if you’re going to the store and purchasing a new product, you might as well go with the one that was formulated specifically for stripping stain, varnish, or paint.
Using oven cleaner to strip wood will dry its fibers out, leaving the wood brittle and increasing the chances of it splitting. It will also gradually bleach the wood—although that might be something you want, depending on the look you’re after.
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Whether you’re using oven cleaner to strip wood or clean an oven, don’t forget that it contains harsh chemicals, and you should take all proper safety precautions when using with it. This means working in a (very) well-ventilated space (ideally outside, but a garage or shed with the doors open can work, too), wearing gloves, eye protection, and a face mask—even if the product is labeled as being “fume-free.”
While oven cleaner comes in multiple forms (i.e. powders, gels, liquids), it tends to be easiest to use a spray-on version. Here’s what to do:
- Start by thoroughly cleaning the furniture to remove any dust, dirt, sticky stains, or other debris.
- Then, in your well-ventilated space, cover the piece in a layer of oven cleaner.
- Wait 30 minutes.
- Scrub it using a brush and dish soap.
- Rinse it off using a hose.
It may take multiple rounds of this process to remove the stain or varnish from the item.
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