We asked furniture restoration experts to weigh in on this growing trend.
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Wooden chair ready for stain stripped of paint
Credit: Morsa Images / Getty Images

At first thought, staining your furniture may seem like an easy DIY project—one that can be done in a snap. All you really need is a few coats of stain, a protective layer, and your piece is as good as new, right? Well, not quite. Not only does the refinishing process require a lot of time—it can sometimes take days for a project to dry—but you'll also need a ventilated spot to tackle this task. And don't forget: Before you make headway with your restoration project, you'll have to use a lot of elbow grease to sand away your furniture's old stain.

Recently, however, a shortcut designed to streamline the stripping process has been making waves on social media. The method's secret ingredient? Something you very likely have on hand: oven cleaner. There's no denying that this household formula is a force to be reckoned with; most iterations are packed with dissolving solvents and sodium hydroxide, which is regarded as one of the toughest cleaning agents around. In fact, sodium hydroxide is often found in drain cleaners—so if it can take on clogged pipes and stubborn food particles, it's not too out of line to think it can tackle a few paint or stain layers, too.

The Risks of Using Oven Cleaner as a Furniture Stain Stripper

It is an oven cleaner's potency that gives professional restoration experts pause. "Oven cleaners have lye, ethylene glycol, and methanol, which can be very toxic," says Mark Knutson, a Seattle-based refurbishment expert for Oliver Space, a direct-to-consumer furniture startup offering new and refurbished items. "[This method is] not for the faint of heart or the general consumer in my opinion."

Health Risks

Depending on your oven cleaner's exact makeup, the formula can cause irritations and burns when exposed to the eyes and skin. (Additionally, some of its other chemicals can be toxic if ingested—so take particular care if you have little ones or pets in the house.)

Risks for Wood Furniture

If the agent's health hazards aren't enough of a red flag, the harsh solution might also throw a wrench in your wood DIY project before it truly begins. "Oven cleaners will most definitely dry out wood—eventually resulting in splits [and] veneer separation," says Alton Syrus, Oliver Space's Los Angeles refurbishment expert. "I think it's fair to expect a bleaching effect, as well, with oven cleaners."

Instead, Syrus turns to gel strippers that have "less splash, better accumulation, and are fairly inexpensive" when working on any wooden pieces.

Risks for Non-Wood Furniture

Oliver Space's Miguel Chairez questions if the risk is worth the reward if you're working with a piece that is either not wood (think metal) or composed of a wood alternative; for example, your oven cleaner formula might not even be able to cut through a laminate piece's paint or varnish in the first place. "For a piece that is not solid wood, I would not be on board with using [oven cleaner]," the Dallas-based refurbishment expert explains. "The payoff isn't significant enough. You can use a furniture stripper or a graining liquid that would work more effectively and for about the same cost."

How to Strip Furniture Stain with Oven Cleaner

Content creator and DIY enthusiast Jessica Graham—who has tested this method—says that using oven cleaner to strip paint and stain is as "labor-intensive as sanding, but not as messy as a paint stripper." She admits, however, that the DIY isn't as foolproof as it might seem on your feed. "I've had excellent results and also complete failures," the InstaGrahamHome founder says. "I think it depends on the type of wood and finish. [With that said], I have tried bargain brand oven cleaner, but suggest buying the name brand one for best results!"

Despite the skepticism, you may still want to give this method a try. For the best results, Graham recommends testing your oven cleaner on a small area first—and then following the steps below:

  1. Clean the piece to remove dirt, debris, and grease. Though there are fume-free oven cleaners, it's best to take on this DIY project in a dry, ventilated space.
  2. Cover the entire item with oven cleaner and wait 30 minutes. "Then, scrub the piece with a brush and dish soap," Graham says; she recommends Dawn ($4.99, target.com).
  3. Hose off the piece to wash away the oven cleaner—and hopefully the stain along with it. "It usually takes about two to three rounds of this to finish," she adds.

Whether you choose to try the oven cleaner trick or stick with a traditional stain stripper, it's important to err on the side of caution. (After all, many refinishing materials can be toxic or flammable when wet.) To keep risk to a minimum, read all directions thoroughly, conduct your DIY project in a well-ventilated space, and wear protective goggles, gloves, or masks as you see fit. With any luck, taking the proper protocol will give you some peace of mind to re-stain your furniture with confidence.

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