How To Remove Latex Paint From Wood Cabinets: 3 Easy Steps

Painting your kitchen cabinets allows you to change the aspect of your kitchen without breaking the bank. Problems may arise when you want to repaint the cabinets for the umpteenth time. Can you still apply a fresh coat over an old coat of latex paint, or would you better strip it? If so, how to remove it? 

The fastest way to remove latex paint from wood cabinets is with a chemical stripper. Most commercial products work well on all types of paint. Alternatively, you can use a paint scraper and heat gun or remove the old paint coat by sanding.

When You’ll Need to Strip Latex Paint From Kitchen Cabinets

Painting wood cabinets seems all fun and games until you realize that you have to strip off the old latex paint. But do you have to do it? 

If you want to paint wood cabinets for the first time or repaint over a properly applied layer, you don’t have to strip off the old paint. Use coarse sandpaper to remove the glossy finish and improve grip, then use a water-based primer and apply a new coat of paint. 

However, there are instances when removing old paint is necessary. Let’s have a look at them.

To Change the Finish

If your cabinets are painted in a solid color, but you’re tired of the look, you may want to strip off the old latex paint and switch to a pickled, whitewashed, or distressed finish. In this case, we recommend checking the quality of the wood and decide if the project is worth it.

To do that, use a paint scraper or chemical stripper to remove paint from a small, inconspicuous area. Inspect the wood underneath to make sure you’re happy with its aspect before proceeding.

To Improve the Look of Very Old Cabinets 

Kitchen cabinets that are very old and that have been painted several times already may benefit from stripping. Layering too many coats of paint will eventually stop the material from breathing, which could cause moisture retention problems. 

In time, too much moisture can cause the wood to swell and rot, damaging the cabinets. Moreover, it can provide the perfect environment for mold and mildew to grow. 

Another issue when painting over too many layers of paint is dealing with any imperfections of the old paint coats. Sanding can help you smooth the finish and remove superficial issues, but it can’t do miracles if the problem lies in the deeper layers.

To Fix Chipped or Peeling Paint

Another common problem with older layers of paint is represented by chipped and peeling paint. You can fix small damages without stripping the old paint completely. However, you will have to remove the old coat if the damage is extensive. 

On the bright side, stripping paint that is already peeling off is way easier than stripping an intact coat. 

When Changing from Darker to Lighter Paint 

Although stripping isn’t necessary when changing from one solid color to another, you may achieve better results when changing from a dark hue to a light one. This is particularly true if you have black, navy, dark green, or dark brown cabinets and want to paint them in white, pale blue, pale pink, or light cream.

Things You’ll Need to Remove Paint From Wood

Stripping latex paint from wood cabinets doesn’t sound like fun, but the process isn’t complicated. However, it could take time, and you may have to use some elbow grease, too, depending on the method you use. Here’s a list of things you’ll need before starting.

  • Chemical paint stripper or heat gun or sander 
  • Coarse sandpaper 
  • Paintbrush 
  • Paint scraper 
  • Plastic basin or bucket
  • Liquid deglosser 
  • Drop cloths 
  • Vacuum cleaner 
  • Rags 
  • Screwdriver 
  • Warm soapy water
  • Soft sponge
  • Painter’s tape
  • Rubber glove 
  • Goggles 
  • Face mask with respirator

3 Best Ways To Remove Latex Paint From Wood Cabinets

You can remove latex paint from wood cabinets in three ways: stripping it with a chemical stripper, removing the paint with a heat gun and paint scraper, or sanding it off. 

1. Stripping Latex Paint with a Chemical Stripper 

Stripping off paint is the fastest and easiest method. Chemical strippers release toxic fumes, so make sure to wear adequate equipment and work in a well-ventilated area (preferably outdoors). Here’s how to remove the paint.

  1. Remove the cabinet doors by taking them off the hinges. Remove the drawers as well and set them on sawhorses.
  2. Lay drop cloths under the work area. Open the doors and windows if working indoors. If you want to strip the interior of the cabinets, too, place drop cloths on the floor and counters to protect them from the chemicals.
  3. Use painter’s tape to cover all areas that you don’t plan to strip, such as hinges and other hardware that you can’t remove.
  4. Use a soft sponge and soapy water to clean the grime and grease from the cabinets. This step will facilitate the stripper’s penetration, quickening the process and improving the results. Let dry before proceeding
  5. If your cabinets have a glossy finish, wipe them with a rag soaked in liquid deglosser.
  6. Apply the chemical stripper with a paintbrush, starting from one corner and working in the direction of the wood grain. Let it sit for about 30-40 minutes (or the time indicated on the product’s label) until the bubbling stops.
  7. Use a paint scraper to scrape off the loosened layers of paint, then repeat steps 6 and 7 as many times as necessary until you’ve removed all old paint. When you’re happy with the result, wash the surface with soapy water again, rinse with clean water, and let the material dry completely before applying the new finish.

2. Stripping Latex Paint with a Heat Gun

A heat gun removes paint economically and with less mess than a chemical remover, but the process is slower because you have to work on small areas at a time.

  1. Prepare the working area as explained above, removing the doors and handles, any hardware that you don’t want to strip, and cleaning the cabinets with soapy water. Cover any hardware that you can’t remove with aluminum foil to protect it from the heat.
  2. Plug in the heat gun and let it reach the max temperature. 
  3. When the heat gun is hot, hold it a few inches away from the surface and move it back and forth to prevent overheating the area. Wait until the paint starts to loosen – you’ll notice that it starts to bubble or change its shape. 
  4. At this point, use the paint scraper to scrape off the loosened layers. 
  5. Move to another area and repeat these steps until you’ve removed all the paint. 

Although latex paint is water-based and technically non-toxic, paint products applied before the 1980s could contain lead. For this reason, you should always wear a face mask with a respirator and work in a well-ventilated environment.

3. Stripping Latex Paint by Sanding It 

Sanding is an effective method for stripping paint off flat surfaces, but it produces a lot of dust. It is best if you could carry on this operation outdoors. Don’t forget to wear goggles and a face mask.

  1. Remove the cabinet doors and drawers, then thoroughly clean each surface using soapy water and a degreaser. Rinse with clean water and allow to dry.
  2. The easiest way to remove paint through sanding is with a palm or orbital sander. Start with coarse, 80-grit sandpaper and apply enough pressure to remove the paint.
  3. After you’ve removed most of the paint, use a vacuum cleaner to remove as much dust as possible, then move to sand with 150-grit sandpaper. 
  4. Vacuum away the dust, then remove any paint residues with fine sandpaper (220-grit). Brush away the dust each time you change the paper. 
  5. When satisfied, clean the surface with a damp rag and let it dry completely before priming and repainting it.

Remove Dried Latex Paint: Best Chemical Products 

Stripping old paint with chemical strippers is the preferred method, thanks to its speed and efficiency. To remove paint even faster, choose one of the products below. 

Eco-Friendly Paint Strippers 

Eco-friendly paint strippers like 3M’s Safest Stripper are the best choice if you want to strip paint off your cabinets indoors. These products contain dimethyl adipate and other non-toxic ingredients. You can use it safely around children and pets and don’t have to worry about any toxic fumes or health hazards. 

The main downside of these products is that they need quite a lot of time to strip off the paint. You’ll have to wait for up to three hours to remove one thin coat of paint. Stubborn coats or multilayered paints may require you to leave the stripper on for 12 to 24 hours.

N-Methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP) Strippers 

Perhaps the most popular type of strippers on the market, NMP strippers are harsher than the eco-friendly variant (and also toxic), but they can strip off paint much faster, usually in 40 minutes or less.

One of the most popular products in this category is Citrostrip, known for its pleasant citrus smell. Keep in mind, however, that its fumes aren’t safe, and you should wear a mask with a respirator from start to finish.

Methylene Chloride Strippers 

The most effective paint strippers out there, methylene chloride strippers, can help you get rid of stubborn paint in under half an hour, but they are nasty stuff. You should only use such a product if you’re a professional painter and know all about hazards and safety. Otherwise, steer clear from it, especially if you have pets, small kids, or can’t work in a well-ventilated environment.

If you decide to use this type of product anyway, make sure to cover all bits of exposed skin, open all doors and windows (or better yet, work outdoors), and wear a face mask with a respirator. 

You should also make sure that everyone in your household knows what you’re doing and stays away from the area where you’re working.

Frequently Asked Questions

Stripping latex paint from wood cabinets isn’t complicated, but you may still have unanswered questions. Check out the answers below.

How can you remove primer from kitchen cabinets?

Chemical strippers do an excellent job at removing latex and oil-based paints from wood and other surfaces. However, they generally struggle when it comes to removing primer from wood surfaces. The easiest way to remove primer from kitchen cabinets is through sending. Follow the quick steps below: 

  1. Remove the cabinet doors and drawers, take off the hardware, and clean all surfaces with soapy water. Dry with a towel before proceeding.
  2. Scrape off as much primer as you can with a paint scraper, paying attention to not damage the wood. 
  3. Sand off the primer coat with coarse sandpaper (40- to 60-grit). You can do that by attaching the sandpaper to a sanding block or using a palm or orbital sander. Start from a corner and work on small sections at a time, applying sufficient pressure to remove the primer coat. 
  4. Move to the next section only after you’ve removed all primer from the section you were working on. Wipe off the dust each time you change the sandpaper.
  5. When done, remove all dust with a vacuum cleaner and wipe the surface with a dry cloth. Sand the entire surface again with 220-grit sandpaper to smooth it before applying other paint products.

What dissolves latex paint?

Isopropyl and other types of denatured alcohol are excellent choices if you want to remove latex paint drops and splashes. Acetone also works, or you could try dissolving dry latex paint with vinegar. 

Final Thoughts

Removing latex paint from wood cabinets may take time, depending on the method you use, but the process isn’t complicated. Before you get to work, though, consider if stripping is really necessary or if you could achieve great results even if you skip it.

Have you ever tried removing latex paint from wood? Tell us your tips or ask a question in a comment.

Recent Posts