Chalk Painted Furniture IN How to Remove Chalk Paint from Wood

How to Remove Chalk Paint from Wood

The prevalence and influence of paints on humanity cannot be overstated; they protect, decorate, mark, preserve, and conceal imperfections.

Paints have been used since time immemorial; there were a few types, but in modern times they abound in variety and have conquered almost every aspect of our lives.

Today, we’ll focus on paint removal techniques, to wit: how to remove chalk paint from wood.

Chalk paint removal techniques include physical/mechanical methods and chemical-based methods.

Physical methods include:

  • Using water: you can use a power washer, pressure washer, or scrub with a water-soaked rag
  • Sandpaper (electric, handheld, sanding sponge), steel wool
  • Scraping
  • Heating

Chemical methods include:

  • Using solvents
  • Use of caustics

There are also other components that you can add to the chemicals above to enhance chalk paint removal.

I’ll give the procedural details of the above methods as we carry on with the discussion. Read on.

What Is Chalk Paint?

Image of a Chalk PaintTo be unequivocal, chalk paint, chalky finish, chalk-style paint, and chalked paint are all under one category; they are different from chalkboard paint, be mindful of this.

That said, what is chalk paint?

Annie Sloan, a British author-cum-color expert, pioneered chalk paint in 1990.

It is a water-based coloring agent applied to substrates like furniture, wood floors, plaster, glass, composite boards, walls, and fabric.

The paint consists of pulverized calcium carbonate/plaster of Paris and water; acrylic paint is also added for pigmentation. It often requires a top coat like wax or varnish to prevent flaking.

However, some painters deliberately leave out the top coating part; it’s part of the art.

Following its conception in 1990, Annie Sloan indexed the label “chalk paint” as a trademark; companies intending to manufacture the same product were forced to adopt discrete names like chalky paint, chalked finish, and chalk-style paint.

It was all on legal and marketing grounds. As a result, the brand chalk paint is exclusively sold under Annie Sloan as specified on their labels.

Chalkboard paint is impertinent to this discussion. However, I’ll define it to offset the confusion of purchasing chalk paint and its congeners.

It is a specialized paint that creates a writing board finish on which you can write the same way as the conventional chalkboard or blackboard.

Why Use Chalk Paint On Wood?

As said earlier, there are countless paint types in today’s world. Each paint is unique in its appearance, attributes, ease of use, paint-substrate compatibility, etc.

The differences determine which kind of paint to use on what substrate. So, why use chalk paint on wood?

The paint mentioned above suits wood for the following reasons:

  • It can achieve a vintage or shabby chic finish
  • Chalk paint is ideal for simple decoration
  • You can bypass the priming and sanding protocols
  • To attain a matte finish
  • Chalk paint is eco-friendly and innocuous to human health
  • To achieve a rough or textured feel
  • It’s more affordable than other paint types
  • For urgently-needed restorations: because chalk paint needs less preparation and dries quickly

The reasons are so many, I’ve only mentioned the main ones.

From the above, it’s easy to deduce why chalk paint is quite popular among professionals, homeowners, and DIY enthusiasts.

How to Remove Chalk Paint from Wood

We’ve now come to the gist of the matter, i.e., how to remove chalk paint from wood. It’s best if you read this segment intently to gain maximally.

Physical methods

The above entails using abrasive/scrubbing exertions, heat, and water to remove the chalky finish.

Procedure Using Water

Take a rag and dip it in clean water, preferably warm.

Wipe your furniture or wooden floor with the wet rag gently, ensuring you cover all the painted areas.

Let it sit for 8 to 10 minutes to enable water to weaken the chalk paint-substrate linkages.

Next, take the same rag and wipe the substrate, this time with more pressure; this is like scrubbing.

Wipe repeatedly until all the chalk paint comes off.

Then, let the furniture dry before wiping it with a dry, lint-free cloth. This final wiping removes any clinging paint debris.

This process works best on surfaces where the paint is heavily chipped and distressed.

In this case, its adhesive power is significantly reduced and can come off quickly.

You need rougher or more invasive alternatives to remove firmly attached paint.

Using Sandpapers

Use handheld sandpaper if your workpiece is a small piece of furniture.

Use larger sandpaper mounted on a sanding machine if it’s a wooden floor with a large surface area.

In this procedure, our workpiece is a wooden floor.

Start by cleaning the floor; use a hard-bristle broom for this.

Cleaning removes foreign materials that might interfere with the sanding process. It also scuffs the chalky finish further to enhance sanding.

Woodworker using Rigid, the Best Cordless Random Orbital SanderThen, take handheld sandpaper and sand the floor edges near walls and corners.

Remember to sand along the wood grain for effortless paint removal and to avoid destroying the substrate.

Next, attach a 180-grit sanding sheet to a sanding machine; you can purchase a sanding machine or hire one from local depots.

Power up the sanding machine and sand the main floor according to the instructions guide (you should read the user manual before operating the machine). 

Sweep the floor to remove the debris, then follow through with a vacuum cleaner to remove the finer bits of dust

Inspect the floor for paint patches left or missed by the sanding machine; if you find any, remove them using handheld sandpaper or a scraping knife. 

Vacuum the floor for the last time leaving bare wood. 

This is good enough, but you can wipe the floor with a clean, damp rag and let it dry for good measure.

At this point, your floor is ready to handle your new project.

Sanding, using a machine or handheld sandpaper, is perfect for detaching firmly attached chalk paint, e.g., those that have been top-coated with wax, varnish, or glaze.

Using a Scraping Knife

The scraping knife has different aliases in various parts of the world; some refer to it as a putty knife, and others refer to it as a scraping blade or knife scraper.

It’s technically the same tool, and it physically removes chalk paint by scratching or scraping it off the wood. Follow this lead:

Clean up the wood or furniture using clean water and a hard-bristled brush.

Cleaning removes foreign bodies and initiates bond weakening between the paint and the substrate.

Next, come in with a scraping blade and hold it in a slanting position (45 degrees) against the workpiece.

Push or pull the scraping tool, depending on its design, on the surface to undo the chalk paint.

Dust off or sweep the surface to remove the undone paint; this enables you to identify any left patches.

Repeat the scraping process above until all the chalk paint comes off.

Clean the wood floor or furniture in readiness for the new painting project.

Heating

Heating uses an electric or battery-driven appliance called a heat gun. It’s an economical, quick, and less messy chalk paint-removal technique than chemical methods.

It’s not only limited to chalky paints; you can use it to remove oil-based paints, acrylics, and latex.

Image of Heat Gun In WoodworkingIt also works on various substrates like wood, metal, composite materials, aluminum, and glass. You can use it on indoor/interior and outdoor/exterior surfaces.

A heat gun doesn’t remove the paint by itself; it works in conjunction with a scraping blade or a putty knife.

Follow the guide below:

Before using a heat gun, wear heat-resistant gloves to protect your hand or fingers from burns.

The best gloves for this task are either neoprene or kevlar-made. 

Clamp the appropriate nozzle before turning on the machine; the best for most paint removal tasks is the wide-flare nozzle.

The round nozzle (smaller than the wide flare) is suitable for localized heat.

The best heat gun for this task is the SEEKONE 1800W Heavy Duty Hot Air Gun. It has the following desirable features:

  • It has variable temperature regulation and overload protection.
  • The heat gun is ergonomically designed for easy use.
  • The machine comes with four nozzle accessories, i.e., a deflector nozzle, two concentrator nozzles, and a reflector nozzle.
  • Seekone heat gun has a strong power output with two modes.

Turn on the unit and let it warm up for about 30 seconds.

Aim at the substrate using the heat gun with the nozzle 1 to 2 inches from the surface.

Ensure you hover the machine around each part to avoid charring your furniture or wood floor.

When the chalk paint begins to blister or bubble, scrape it off with the putty knife or a similarly-functioning scraping blade.

If you let the paint cool before scraping, it will harden again.

You should always hold the heat gun in one hand and the scraping blade in the other.

When scraping, release the trigger/power button to switch off the machine and keep holding it suspended in the air until you start the next round of heating.

Dropping the device on the floor is risky as the nozzle is still hot enough to be considered a fire hazard.

Work on one portion at a time until you’re done with the entire workpiece.

When finished, sweep the floor and vacuum it to remove accumulated debris.

A heat gun is a simple tool to use. Remember to read the owner’s manual before operating because the machines often vary slightly.

Chemical Methods

Chemical methods involve the use of caustics and solvents to remove chalk paint. These agents are collectively called paint strippers or paint removers.

The paint strippers detach paint, coatings, and finishes and simultaneously clean the surface underneath. The efficiency of these chemicals depends on the type of finish and type of substrate.

Each product contains data sheets that provide more safety details than their labels; ensure you go through them to get the right agent and make your work easier.

Below is a brief description of paint removers and the procedure for removing chalk paint:

Solvents

Solvent paint removers work by penetrating layers of chalky paint and breaking the bonds between paint and wood; this swells the paint. It’s the active ingredient(s) that do the penetration.

The volume increase/swelling strains the chalk paint internally and weakens its adhesion to the wood, leading to separation from the substrate.

The active component in the most effective solvent strippers is dichloromethane (methylene chloride). 

This ingredient poses serious health risks due to its carcinogenic effects, and it’s no surprise it has been outlawed for consumer use in some countries.

Nonetheless, deaths are infrequent (2.4 cases annually) and are associated with negligence on the user’s side.

Other constituents of solvent strippers are limonene from orange peels, n-methyl pyrrolidone, dibasic esters (mainly dimethyl esters of short dicarboxylic acids, e.g., adipic acid), dimethylformamide, aromatic hydrocarbons, and others.

Alternative solvent formulas are nitromethane which is fairly common, and dimethyl sulfoxide, which is less toxic.

The drawback of the said alternatives is that they are less effective in removing chalk paint compared to dichloromethane-based formulations.

They either take an awfully long time to act, or they remove trace amounts of paint.

Solvent paint strippers come in liquid or thixotropic/gel forms that can cling to vertical surfaces.

Here’s How to Remove Chalk Paint from Wood:

Requirements for Chalk Paint Removal Using Solvents

  • Dichloromethane-based solvent
  • Protective gloves
  • Full face cover
  • Dry lint-free rags
  • Protective sheet
  • Soapy water
  • Putty knife or scraper

Procedure

First, assemble all the requirements listed above.

Next, cover any exposed furniture materials that you don’t want the chemical to spill or splatter on; alternatively, you can move them to safer places.

Then, wear all the protective gear and ventilate your workspace.

Next, apply copious amounts of the dichloromethane-based stripper to the furniture or wooden floor; use a paintbrush or a rag to spread it evenly.

Let the chemical sit on the surface for the duration specified by the manufacturer; it’s usually 30 minutes to 1 hour. 

The best stripper in this category is the WM Barr Goof Off Pro Strength Remover. It removes chalk paint, latex paint, asphalt, adhesives, and other stains.

The agent is easy to use and works on several surfaces, including wood, glass, concrete, bricks, and baseboards. Plus, the remover comes at an affordable price for its work.

The chalk paint will start creasing after around 1 hour.

Afterward, take a scraper/putty knife and lift off as much paint as possible; the best scraping technique requires gentle but firm pressure on the substrate.

Remove the accumulated paint debris using a vacuum cleaner or just wiping off.

Next, clean the wood using a clean rag soaked in soapy water; this removes the chemical residues left on the furniture or floor. Remember, dichloromethane is toxic.

Then, wipe the workpiece with another rag soaked in clean water and let it dry.

Caustics

The most common caustic paint removers comprise sodium hydroxide (colloquially known as caustic soda or lye).

It works by hydrolyzing the chain bonds of paint polymers, including chalk paint; this breaks the linkages for paint-paint cohesion and paint-substrate adhesion.

The chalk paint ultimately comes off.

Caution: Contact with high concentrations of lye, either through skin or inhalation, leads to severe burns to the skin, eyes, airway, and digestive tract irritation and damage.

Little wonder it’s called caustic soda.

Caustic connotes being able to wear down or burn organic tissues through chemical action.

All sodium hydroxide-containing formulations are highly regulated and screened for concentrations to mitigate harmful effects. So rest assured the caustic paint stripper is safe.

Another point worth mentioning before we proceed to the procedure is that antique dealers usually use caustic removers for old furniture restoration; they do so by stripping out worn paint. 

Requirements For Paint Removal Using Lye

  • Lye powder or beads: Comstar Pure Lye
  • Clean water
  • Scraping blade
  • Clean rags
  • Tarp or drop cloth
  • Safety gear (latex/rubber glover and a full face cover)

Procedure

Start by assembling all of the materials named above.

Then, evacuate all the surrounding materials at risk of accidental spills or spatter from lye.

You can cover the immovable materials using a tarp.

Alternatively, you can carry out your project outside or in an open space.

Next, ensure there is proper air circulation in the room and put on all the safety gear.

A full-face cover comprises safety goggles and a respirator. If possible, wear old clothes on top of your regular clothing.

Then, mix the lye powder with clean water in a mixing container. Mix according to the specified ratios by the manufacturer.

The best caustic soda agent for this undertaking is the ComStar Pure Lye.

It comes in solid beads or powder form, is readily soluble in water, and is budget-friendly. The agent is also odorless for the convenience of use.

Dip a clean rag into the solution and apply it to the wood in copious amounts.

Let it sit for 40 minutes. The caustic soda solution will crease up the paint during the 40 minutes.

Lift off the weakened chalk paint using the scraping blade.

Next, remove the debris by sweeping or vacuuming the wood surface.

Then, clean the wood by wiping it with a water-soaked rag.

Afterward, let it dry before applying new paint.

Pro tip: If the caustic soda solution is too concentrated, you can neutralize it by adding vinegar, citric acid, or dilute hydrochloric acid.

The acids work faster and more efficiently than water.

You can add other components to solvents and caustics to help enhance their paint removal abilities.

Some of the said agents include cosolvents, activators, surfactants, thickeners, sequestrants/chelating agents, and corrosion inhibitors.

Adding a cosolvent to the main active ingredient helps it penetrate the chalk paint. Examples of cosolvents are benzyl alcohol, cresols, and phenols.

Activators also increase the paint penetration rate. The best activator for dichloromethane-based solvents is water; others include strong alkalis, amines, or strong acids.

The activator promotes penetration by disrupting the molecular and intermolecular linkages in the paint film to make them weak.

For lye, we use sodium hydroxide-based activators.

Alkalis milder than inorganic hydroxides, and amine activators are ideal for removing chalk paint from substrates susceptible to corrosion by strong bases or acids.

Some cosolvents double up as activators for good measure, though they are rare.

Surfactants are also called wetting agents; they increase the solvents’ surface tension or wetting power to penetrate multiple chalk paint layers.

They are categorized into anionic, cationic surfactants, and non-ionic agents.

Anionic surfactants include sodium xylene sulfonate and dodecyl benzenesulfonate; these work well with acidic formulas.

Cationic surfactants are perfect for alkaline agents like caustic soda.

An added advantage of surfactant-containing paint strippers is that they are excellent brush and rag cleaners.

You can use them to clear the mess from your project.

Thickeners are used to alter the consistency of paint removers by forming gels.

Gels have high thickness and viscosity, meaning the paint stripper can now adhere better to vertical surfaces, and its evaporation is also reduced.

It prolongs the interaction time between the remover and the chalk paint for maximum effect.

Corrosion inhibitors protect the wooden substrate and the remover’s storage vessel from corrosion. 

When dichloromethane is stored for long and exposed to UV radiation, it decomposes to hydrochloric acid, which is corrosive.

It’s where the inhibitors like butylene oxide and propylene oxide come in; they readily react with the acid and remove it from the solution before it causes damage. 

Other corrosion inhibitors include polyphosphates, borates, silicates, chromate-based agents, and some antioxidants.

Chelating agents and sequestrants are used to precipitate metal ions that might be present in the paint stripper. In this case, the ions are regarded as contaminants, dampening the remover’s effectiveness.

Sequestrants also help in stain removal, especially metal-containing stains. Common chelating agents in paint strippers are EDTA, sodium phosphate, and tributyl phosphate.

Does Chalk Paint Wash Away?

As mentioned earlier, chalky paint is perfect for a distressed and vintage appearance. In exchange for the said look, does chalk paint wash away?

Compared to other paints, chalk paint peels, scratches, and washes away more quickly. But as I’d mentioned, the paint is often meant to produce a distressed, chippy look.

Some painters and artists go as far as scouring chalk paint a little bit to augment the substrate’s quaint appeal.

Contrariwise, the scuffed nature of chalky paint becomes a liability when you overdo it. The drawback gets compounded when your focus is on a long-lasting finish rather than the realms of rustic charm.

If you want a durable, scratch-free chalk paint finish that does not wash away, there are many approaches you can take.

Let’s march on to find out what these interventions are.

How to Prevent Chalk Paint From Washing Away

Generally speaking, chalky paint is a weaker formula than other paint types; additionally, it is water-based. It, therefore, shouldn’t be surprising that it’s more predisposed to washing off.

In this section, I’ll share with you a few simple approaches to preventing chalk paint from washing away.

Straight away, the solutions are:

Chalk Paint Wax

Top coating chalk paint with wax is a simple and easy way to avoid its raspiness.

The wax is water-resistant, inert, strong, and flexible; these attributes lead to a formidable shield that protects the underlying paint from chipping and washing away.

For convenience, use a wax brush to apply the wax; you also have the option of using a cloth.

The wax slightly darkens the paint, so be meticulous to ensure all parts are covered. Otherwise, some sections will appear paler than the rest.

If you accidentally apply too much wax, wipe off the excess using a lint=free cloth. Simply wipe lightly to get a matte finish or allow it to dry for 24 hours before polishing for a more lustrous finish.

Applying Multiple Coats

Applying more than one coat of chalk paint gives it additional structural strength on the wood; this lowers its tendency to wash away or scratch.

You can also use multiple coats of wax to seal the chalk paint.

Cleaning Frequency

As chalk paint is water-based, continual cleaning with soapy water loosens its adhesion to substrates; this worsens its already poor water-resistance profile.

To minimize the cleaning frequency, ensure you always keep the furniture in dust-free environments and handle it with clean hands.

Surface Prepping

While it’s okay not to prepare the substrate before applying chalk paint, I opine that prepping has a massive bearing on the outcome of your project.

If you want a wash-resistant, distress-free, and durable chalked paint finish, I advise you to prep through cleaning, sanding, and priming/sealing the surface before you paint.

The prep work lays the groundwork for the wood by increasing the bonding potential and substrate-chalk paint interaction.

This way, the paint won’t wash away easily. I should emphasize, however, that chalk paint still works well on unprepared surfaces.

Quality of Chalk Paint

This is a universal truth: All top standard results stem from an excellent and detailed input in the first! The same rule applies to chalk paints.

Poor-quality/shoddy chalky finishes wash away easily, fade fast, and chip off excessively. Instead of achieving a vintage look, the furniture will appear desecrated.

I urge you to purchase chalk paints from recognized brands to preclude the above misfortunes. The best chalky paint brands are as follows:

  • Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
  • Rust-Oleum Chalked Paint
  • Krylon Chalky Finish Paint
  • Behr Chalk Decorative Paint
  • Dixie Belle Chalk Finish Furniture Paint
  • KILZ Chalk Style Paint
  • Retique It Chalk Furniture Paint

When to Remove Chalk Paint From Wood

To apply new paint to a given surface, you must remove the existing one. It ensures the incoming paint lays down smoothly and adheres well.

In this segment, I’ll highlight the situations that prompt you to remove chalk paint from wood.

Without further ado, the situations include:

Excessive staining: Due to continual exposure to chemical spills like grease, oil, and dirty water. Some of the stains stick permanently.

Discoloration comes about due to acid spills, colored stains, and the accumulation of water that washes away paint.

Too much chipping and flaking: It’s due to physical or frictional damage, especially when the chalk paint is not top-coated with wax or varnish.

Additionally, it is in chalk paint’s idiosyncrasy to leave a chippy and distressed finish; this is part of its art.

Change of taste: Sometimes, you just need a new look for your furniture, so the chalk paint will have to fall victim to your makeover odyssey.

Paint aging: This weakens paint adhesion and makes them appear faded.

When replacing old wood/furniture or refurbishing: Sometimes, the problem is the substrate, not the chalky paint. Your substrate could either be too old or damaged. It leads to paint removal during restoration.

Due to wood bleeding, i.e., tannins and resins seeping through the chalk paint.

Pros and Cons of Chalk Paint

As with all other paints and products, chalk paint has pros and cons.

However, the benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the drawbacks; that’s why it has a global appeal. 

Pros

  • It has no odor
  • The paint has short drying times, i.e., around 40 minutes
  • It’s easy to apply
  • It’s eco-friendly with negligible VOC amounts
  • It only needs stirring before use
  • The paint comes at a pocket-friendly price
  • Chalk paint is easy to clean because it’s water-based

Cons

  • The paint comes pre-mixed; therefore, it’s not possible to customize colors
  • It is so thin with low viscosity
  • This paint requires several coats to cover the underlying substrate safely
  • Chalk paint can chip or flake excessively

Conclusion

To conclude, paints are arguably the most ubiquitous coating agents used by the human race; wherever you go, you’ll see several painted objects and surfaces.

As such, the paint has to serve its role in total capacity, whether it’s aesthetics, protection, or preservative.

It calls for regular removal and repainting of the substrates to keep the maintenance bar high.

In the above review, I’ve focused on removing chalk paint from wood. It’s because different paints require different removal mechanisms.

Paint removal, in and of itself, is an art; you need a systematic and targeted approach to be successful. 

Using the same removal technique for different paints will make it more difficult for some of them. Even worse, you may end up destroying your furniture or wooden floor. 

I’ve mentioned and analyzed various methods of removing chalk paint. In summary, they are:

Physical/Mechanical Methods

  • Using water
  • Using sandpapers
  • Heating
  • Scraping

Chemical Methods

  • Use of caustics
  • Using solvents

I’ve included other relevant information regarding chalk paint. 

The info includes:

  • The probability of chalk paint washing away and how to prevent this from happening.
  • When to remove chalk paint from wood
  • The pros and cons of chalk paint

After reading the above content, your mastery of chalk paint matters will be fine-tuned to that of the first water. Remember to share widely and interact with me in the comments section.

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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