How do I strip wood trim without using toxic chemicals?

Asked by Andrea, Vancouver, BC, Canada

I'd like to keep the current trim in our house, but I want to expose the natural wood. How do I strip the wood without using nasty chemicals? I can't use a planer because the trim has curved grooves and raised edges, and has nice character because of that.


Piper Kujac

Answered by Piper Kujac

San Francisco, CA

Piper Kujac Sustainable Design Consulting

March 8, 2007

I’m afraid the healthiest options may take a bit longer and require more attention—but it will be satisfying when you’ve salvaged wood without causing damage along the way. Franmar makes citrus- and soy-based gel paint strippers that may have to sit on the wood longer than the "nasty chemical" types, but will be just as effective. A slightly more aggressive product is Amteco BST-100 Biodegradable Stripper, which eco-friendly woodworker Mike Kerwin of Lorax Development uses because it is fast drying and does not darken or damage the wood. The stripper is greater than 50 percent biodegradable oxygen demand (BOD) in composition, which means that it will be largely removed in a wastewater treatment plant.

Richard McFarland of TerraMai, a salvaged-wood company, recommends using a profile power sander with a pliable foam head for irregular surfaces. Once you’ve got much of the original coating off, you can pull out the hand-sanding devices or use steel wool on smaller crevices. A combination of all three of these techniques will yield the best results.

Even with healthier options you'll need to take safety precautions, such as wearing protective gloves and eyewear. Many older paints are lead based and should be disposed of at a waste treatment center.

Tagged In: home air quality

Do you have a question about greening your home? GreenHomeGuide invites you to Ask A Pro. Let our network of experienced green building professionals – architects, designers, contractors, electricians, energy experts, landscapers, tile & stone specialists, and more – help you find the right solution.