I’m completely new to all of this but have researched as much as I can in the last couple months. Please bear with me if I sound uninformed. I’m definitely willing to learn.

I got a cheap mango wood desk/console table that appeared to have been finished with poly-something over the bare wood. I like the desk and thought it a good piece for learning as I go before trying other projects. It’s not so important to me that I can’t make mistakes.

I stripped the clear finish off using Citristrip. I know that’s far from the best choice but I’m in an apartment and was concerned about fumes. The Citristrip seems to have done a decent job of removing whatever the clear finish was, but I was interrupted before I was satisfied, and I know there are some spots of it left. I also think just because it’s Citristrip, the wood really needs to be prepared with something to get all residue off.

On the inside of the desk there are two areas where there was no finish at all where I sanded to 180, and tried out some water based stain. I’d like to try staining the whole piece with this and then follow with a finish.

That’s the background for my question. I think mineral spirits are usually recommended to clean off strippers as well as to highlight where some finish might remain, but mineral spirits are not for use before a water based stain. Would I be okay to use something else—maybe denatured alcohol? Or use the mineral spirits, then wash that off when I’m done? I realize Citristrip is not a preferred stripper, and I don’t want to use it again due to the mess it created, but for now, this is what I’ve got.

1 Answer 1


The citristrip seems to have done a decent job of removing whatever the clear finish was, but I was interrupted before I was satisfied, and I know there are some spots of it left.

In addition to there being some Citristrip residue you know you need to deal with, it is vital to check there's no finish residue as you refer to later. It seems to be one of the least-mentioned bits of stripping advice but it's a cornerstone of finish removal that one should never expect stripper (even one much stronger/more efficient than Citristrip) to get every trace of finish off in a single application. You might get lucky and one treatment does it, but never expect it (even on pieces where the finish appears to be thin and is in poor condition — worn through in areas, weakened by age, cleaning, light exposure, all of the above.)

I think mineral spirits are usually recommended to clean off strippers

But what do Citristrip's instructions say to use?

As always with generic advice it can be of little help when it comes to specifics. And I know/know of many users who would not use mineral spirits regardless of the stripper used1.

as well as to highlight where some finish might remain

Yup, but actually any clear liquid will do the same — water, isopropanol, vodka (not kidding), denatured alcohol (UK: methylated spirits), xylene or naphtha, acetone or lacquer thinner (UK: cellulose thinners). Someone out there will make use of one of these for this purpose, depending on personal preference and sometimes just what is most conveniently at hand.

but mineral spirits are not for use before a water based stain.

You can use mineral spirits before a waterbased stain, but you will have an easier time if you use something else. In addition to not having to worry about beading, you'll be able to proceed much faster so win-win.

denatured alcohol?

Yes that would have been what I would have suggested you try first anyway since it will probably work well to lift Citristrip residue without being overly toxic, plus it's relatively cheap and widely available.

Once you're sure you've removed all the residue you'll probably need to sand a bit (this is normal) and it would be best to do this fairly uniformly over the entire piece.

And after that I recommend you also wipe down with water. You can do this as a final check for finish residue, but when using a waterbased stain it's advisable to dampen the wood beforehand to pre-raise the grain anyway2.

I don’t want to use it again due to the mess it created

Not that I particularly want to defend Citristrip (I have specific reservations about it, and other similar strippers) but to be fair all stripping is inherently a messy, dirty business. However, if good procedures are adopted3 dealing with the mess can be relatively painless..... at least on flat surfaces, carved work and detailed spindles/turnings are a different story LOL

1 For various reasons, e.g. because of the smell, preferring to use something that evaporates faster, wanting to use something that stands a chance of further dissolving any remaining traces of finish clinging to the wood.

2 You then lightly sand before staining; you're looking to sand off the raised grain only, that's it. Resist the temptation to sand any more than that!

3 Including not letting the stripper dry on the surface, wetting it again if it did dry out anywhere, scraping off the bulk of the sludge and using stiff brushes for inside corners and other tight spots.

  • Thank you so much. I have been reading your posts here a lot and am so grateful! This has become the only site I regularly use for information, and I specifically look for your answers. The directions on the Citristrip label for removing:
    – KFitz
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 23:30
  • “ Use a paint stripper wash to loosen remaining residue and then mineral spirits to prepare surface for painting. Surface should be completely clean and dry before refinishing.” My concern now is that I’ve made things worse because there are some spots where it did dry, about the size of a dime. (I don’t know how to reply and use paragraph breaks, sorry.)
    – KFitz
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 23:37
  • 1
    Isopropyl alcohol works similarly to DA, which is mostly ethanol. Either can work OK to lift stripper residue (which more than likely consists of dissolved finish and the wax from the stripper). Spot-sanding is risky since it can leave a noticeable low spot despite being careful, so I'd suggest trying on 1 spot and see how easily it comes off (it might, after being weakened by the stripper, but sometimes these remaining bits can be remarkably stubborn!). But you can spot-strip remaining finish in case that wasn't clear from anything you've read, let the Citristrip do most of the work for you.
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 7:44
  • 1
    If you'd like to try scraping instead of sanding to tackle individual spots, scraping is generally very effective and controllable, and far better than sanding as a result. You'll want to investigate various ways to scrape if you want to get into more furniture refurbs/refinishing (card scraper, paint scraper, sharp knives, razor blades). Sometimes you can scrape off all prior finish, requires effort but the whole process is dry :-) and in the absence of old-style methylene chloride strippers — the really effective, but slightly dangerous, ones — this is the fastest way to take off old finish.
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 7:58
  • 1
    Yes the carbide strippers are one good option for heavy removal. The larger ones with the two-handed grips can be a bit of a blunt instrument, although that's definitely something that the user plays a part in since you can just slow down and use any tool with more finesse. P.S. carbide blades should last a long, long time as you might expect and while replacement blades are available they're not cheap, so I should mentioned that carbide is easily sharpenable with diamonds. If you want to get into that, cheap diamond plates ($5 or less!) are freely available on AliExpress [contd]
    – Graphus
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 14:04

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