Sanding vs Stripping Wood Furniture

Prepping the surface that you’re painting is an essential part of the painting process. Without the proper prep, your paint won’t adhere to your furniture well. 

Sanding scuffs up your furniture’s surface enough to let a new coat of paint or primer properly stick.

But sanding isn’t the only approach you can take to prep your wood furniture. Stripping can be just as effective, but there are certainly important differences between these approaches.

In this post, we’ll discuss sanding vs stripping wood furniture, and which approach is best for you.  


Sanding and stripping are two techniques for removing paint or finish from furniture. Each technique has its advantages and drawbacks. For example, sanding is less expensive but it often requires more effort and time. On the other hand, stripping requires less effort, but chemical strippers typically cost more than sandpaper.

Sanding vs Stripping Wood Furniture

Sanding and stripping are both techniques you can use to prep your furniture for a new coat of paint or primer.

Sanding requires fine grit sandpaper (180-220 grit), and you can use a power sander to lessen the effort and time required.

As for stripping, you’ll need a chemical stripper and a scraper tool such as a putty knife. 

While they both prep the surface for a new coat of paint, these approaches work differently. Sanding is primarily done to scuff up the surface and create a roughened texture. This way it it has a surface that a new coat of primer or paint can really stick to. This is especially important if the surface has a glossy finish, which might hinder the new coat of paint or primer from adhering properly. If the furniture is painted, sanding off the top layer of paint will ensure the new layer of paint adheres to the surface as strongly as possible.

On the other hand, stripping removes any old finish or paint by essentially dissolving it. This means old paint, primer, or top coat will be broken down and can be easily wiped off with a brush or cloth. 

Let’s discuss how the two techniques compare to each other in terms of time and efficiency, the effect on wood, safety, and cost.

Time and Efficiency

Sanding is more labor-intensive than stripping. You either have to manually sand the surface with sandpaper or use a power sander, which, while lessening the effort required, is still physically demanding. With sanding, you sometimes have to pass over areas multiple times to sufficiently roughen up an area, and that can take a lot of time and effort.

However, you also have to be meticulous with sanding or you might over-sand your wood furniture in some areas. This can create unevenness in the wood surface. 

Sanding can be particularly time-consuming if you’re scuffing up a surface with rounded features or intricate engravings. 

That said, there are areas that strippers can reach that sanding can’t. A chemical stripper can reach into crevices and has no trouble covering areas with intricate details. This makes stripping the more efficient option for wood furniture that has lots of details and crevices.

It’s also the more efficient option if you want to remove any old finish on the surface. Stripping requires much less effort than sanding. You only need to apply the chemical stripper on the surface, and then you can easily scrape off the paint with a scraper. This is the extent of the manual labor involved. 

The actual process of scraping off the old finish is quicker than sanding. However, there is a wait time for the chemical stripper to break down the old finish.

Although stripping is often more efficient, cleaning up the stripping residue can also be time-consuming in and of itself. 

The Effect on Wood

Sanding will always remove a small but negligible amount of wood from your furniture, no matter how careful you are. This small amount of wood that’s removed isn’t noticeable. However, over-sanding can lead to areas of unevenness on your wood furniture.

Super ough sandpaper (60-80 grit) can lead to scratches on your furniture that can show through the paint. Just be patient and extra careful when sanding to not over-sand the wood furniture.

Some would argue that stripping is safer and easier on the wood. All it does is weaken the bond between the wooden surface and the old finish. It doesn’t affect the wood grain itself.


We’ve talked about whether sanding or stripping is safe for the wood. But how does either technique hold up when it comes to your safety?

Whether you’re sanding or stripping, as long as you’re using the right protective gear, these approaches are equally safe. 

To be extra safe when stripping, wear rubber gloves and long-sleeve clothing so the substance doesn’t get on your skin. You might also want to wear masks so that you don’t inhale the fumes that the chemical stripper releases. Working in a well-ventilated area also helps.

Goggles are also a good idea to prevent the stripper from getting into your eyes accidentally. 

You can also consider using a non-toxic stripper such as Citristrip.

With sanding, you’ll be generating a lot of sand dust, which you can accidentally inhale if you’re not wearing protective gear. So while it may appear to be safer than stripping in that it doesn’t involve harsh chemicals, it really isn’t.

When sanding, make sure that you wear a safety mask so that you don’t inhale the paint or wood particles, and prevent them from reaching your eyes. 

Also, if the wood furniture was painted before 1978, the paint may contain lead. You shouldn’t sand it by yourself. Let a professional handle it.


Sandpaper is much more cost-efficient than chemical strippers. A few pieces of sandpaper is much more affordable than a container of stripper. Additionally, the same sandpaper can be used for several projects, unlike a chemical stripper which you can’t reuse once it’s been applied. 

Even if you factor in the cost of a power sander, sanding will still end up being more cost-efficient than stripping. You cannot “use up” a power sander, which makes it more of an investment rather than an expense. Additionally, you need to purchase brushes for stripping, which adds to the cost of stripping. 

All in all, stripping always ends up being more expensive than sanding.

Which Approach Is Easier? Which Is Better?

Stripping is often less time-consuming and less physically demanding, making it arguably the easier solution. 

It also is less messy for indoor use. Stripping can be smelly, and good ventilation is important, but the stripping substance can be easily contained and cleaned up. Sanding on the other hand should be done outside. Otherwise, it releases sand dust into the air and all around your house. 

Nevertheless, the best approach really depends on your project and budget. Does your wood furniture have lots of uneven surfaces and intricate details? Go with stripping as it’s the more efficient approach. Do you want a relatively cheaper solution? Sanding is certainly the more cost-effective option. 

Sanding Your Furniture: Tips and Tricks

  • Use a palm sander for efficiency
  • Always wear safety gear that can cover your eyes and nose. If using a power sander, consider using ear protection too (power sanders can be noisy).
  • Sand outside if possible to avoid releasing wood dust around your house. At the very least, sand in an open area with great ventilation. 
  • For the smoothest possible finish, always start with 180-220 grit sandpaper, and then finish off with super fine grit sandpaper (300+ grit)
  • Gently sand the surface back and forth with the grain of the wood. Aggressive sanding can lead to over-sanding the wood furniture.
  • If sanding by hand, use a sanding block to ensure that your surface is evenly sanded

Stripping Your Furniture: Tips and Tricks 

  • Use an environmentally safe chemical stripper such as Citristrip. These products are non-toxic and safer to work with.
  • Lay a drop cloth underneath your furniture to prevent runoff stripper solution from damaging your floor
  • Always wear gloves and a respirator mask when working with a chemical stripper indoors.
  • Test your stripper in an inconspicuous area to make sure it doesn’t discolor the wood underneath. If you plan on painting your furniture after stripping, this step isn’t needed. 
  • Don’t skimp on your application of your chemical stripper. Be generous as you apply it for maximum effectiveness. 
  • Keep your stripping solution on your furniture for at least half an hour. Generally, the longer you keep the solution on your furniture, the more effective it will be in removing the underlying stain, paint or finish. 
  • For stubborn stains, paints, or finishes, leave your stripping solution on your furniture overnight. Wrapping your furniture in plastic can help to prevent the solution from drying up and forming a tough residue.
  • Use a metal putty knife or plastic scraper to scrape off the old finish, and don’t rush it. Be careful to avoid damaging the wood.
  • Lightly clean your furniture after you strip it with a damp cloth to remove any stripper residue 



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