How To Remove Paint Residue From Cement, Stone or Brick

Using something that you probably already have in your cupboard

How To, Removing Paint,

After you have stripped paint off of a stone fireplace, you know how you are usually left with a fine film of paint residue? And it just won’t quite go away no matter how much paint stripper you use? Plain, white vinegar, any brand, will instantly remove the paint residue and brighten your masonry.

A few years ago I worked on a project that had a painted fireplace. The fireplace had an attached screen on it. Once the screen was removed the homeowner could see how nice the original stone looked, and was excited to return the fireplace to its original state.

After the fireplace was stripped with a chemical paint remover there was still a little bit of paint residue and a light film the covering the stone.

Our contractor told me how vinegar would remove the paint film. It is such an easy and affordable solution that really works! Vinegar also brightened the stone.

Comments { 19 } July 15, 2010

House Color Inspiration

Historic Shingle Stain Colors

Inspiration, Stain,

Shingle Stain Colors from 1912,

I recently stumbled across, a site that provides information on historic paint and stain colors. Boy, would this have been helpful a few years ago when we were painting the exterior of our house!

Our house was originally stained a bright green color very similar to the brightest green stain sample.

I particularly enjoyed Restoring the Colors of a 1912 Arts & Crafts House: Shingle Stains of 1912, an article on the exterior restoration of a beautiful Arts & Crafts home designed by a Pasadena architect.

Comments { 2 } June 18, 2010

Tinted Varnish

Solution for when your stain color is too light

Restoration Diary,


The faded woodwork debacle left us feeling discouraged. If it had been a bedroom insead of a hallway that we pass through several times a day, we might have just shut the door on the room and our project for a few months.

Pablo mixed stain into varnish and sprayed that on our woodwork with a paint sprayer. No one was sure if this idea was even going to work or how well it would turn out. It took several tries to get the color right, but the end result looked much better then we had hoped for.

The downside was that the varnish tinted more then our woodwork. Right now we have a pink bathtub, toilet, sink, fishtank, computer desk, computer monitor, mirrors and anything else we forgot to cover. It should have occured to one of us to cover these things in plastic before we turned on the paint sprayer.

Good thing we already needed to repaint the hallway.

Comments { 1 } December 3, 2006

Our Stained Woodwork Faded

Trying to figure out why the stain color faded after the wood had been sealed with varnish

Restoration Diary,

In every project there is always that “Oh, crap!” moment. Our “Crappity, crap, crap” moment is almost unbelievable. The stain color has faded, wait for it…AFTER the wood has been sealed with varnish. Several coats of varnish. It gets even better…A FEW WEEKS after the wood had been stained and sealed. “Oh, crap!” indeed.

We are just scratching our heads (it’s better then beating our heads against the wall) wondering how this happened? It wasn’t a slow, gradual fade. One day the stain color was dark and rich, the next day it wasn’t. We went to bed to dark woodwork and a project that was almost completed. The next morning we awoke to woodwork that looks faded out and a project that refuses to end. What cruel joke is this?

The only thing we can think of is that the wood has absorbed the stain…? Because the wood was dry? Because the wood was originally painted? Because we didn’t condition the wood prior to staining? Because someone in this house has really bad karma? All of the above?

Now, what to do about it?

1) Tried putting a little stain over the varnish, knowing that wouldn’t work, but hoping against hope it would. It didn’t.

2) Know that the “right thing” to do is to sand off the layers of varnish from all the woodwork and restain. I think about the amount of time and mess this would cause, after the amount of mess and work it took to even get to this point, and decide stabbing myself in the eye with a fork seems more appealing.

3) We are going to try to tint the varnish with a little stain color and have Pablo spray it on the woodwork.

Comments { 11 } November 27, 2006

The Staining Begins

Staining our Douglas fir woodwork

Restoration Diary, Stain,


Matching the new stain color with the existing dining room stain color. Just look at all that dust from sanding the wood on the window ledge and my kitchen floor.

The wood grain in the door trim is particularly nice.

The cherry wood stairs have been masked off to protect them from stain.

The fumes from the stain and varnish have driven us to sleep on the pull out bed in the den. Oh, the things we do for our houses…

Comments { 5 } November 9, 2006

And, So It Begins

Starting our bungalow hallway restoration project

Removing Paint, Restoration Diary

I find living without doors oddly liberating, allowing us to move unencumbered from room to room. Although, after a few days of bathing in front of an audience of animals I can attest to the necessity of doors.

Living without doors.

Stripping paint is not a fun process. Stripping paint from woodwork that was originally painted is agony. I thought I knew all about paint stripping, but what I learned is that there is hell and then there is real H-E-L-L, all caps, please stop sticking bamboo shoots underneath my fingernails hell.

The paint has soaked into the grain of the wood and filled every tiny crevice.

If you desire hours of wretched torture and are crazy enough to attempt this at home, the Silent Paint Remover and/or a heat gun are the way to go. Chemical strippers, of which I am actually a big fan, took so much product to get down to the wood that it wasn’t cost effective.

All the different colors the upstairs bathroom was painted.

All of the woodwork upstairs was painted from day one with the exception of the window frames and trim. I have not seen the combination of painted wood and varnished wood in the same room before. The original paint color on the wood trim was a muted gold. I often see this color referred to as “wheat” in modern paint samples.

Getting down to the wood…finally.

The little back hallway should be hours of fun.

Comments { 20 } August 29, 2006

Den Almost Done

My favorite part of a restoration is seeing the room come together

Paint, Restoration Diary, Woodwork,

Well, the den is 95% finished. There is some touch up work here and there and we need to hang the light fixtures once they arrive.

My favorite part of a restoration is seeing the room come together, especially after it used to look so bad!

Comments { 1 } February 12, 2004

Stripping Paint and Refinishing Woodwork

Foolproof way to remove paint and stain wood

How To, Removing Paint, Stain, Woodwork

Dining Room Woodwork, Before + After
Dining Room Woodwork, Before + After

We have been asked a lot of questions about the process used to refinish our Douglas fir woodwork and have finally wised up enough to write it down!

Paint Removal
We tried many different methods to strip paint off the woodwork, everything from off the shelf Home Depot chemical strippers to the Silent Paint Remover.

Although we really liked The Silent Paint Remover, it was too bulky to fit into small corners and I had difficulty using it on surfaces that weren’t flat. In the end, a chemical paint stripper called Master Strip, Formula A Remover sold in 5 gallon drums from the McBride company (Los Angeles, CA 818.507.8900) was the weapon of choice. Be sure to wear a respirator and to have good ventilation because this stuff is toxic.

The stripper was brushed on with a paint brush, allowed to sit until it started to work and scrapped off with a wide putty knife. This process is repeated until all the paint was removed.

Here is a trick to remove any paint residue left on the wood. Brush on the paint stripper and use steel wool to wipe it off. This will also help to sand down any of the wood grain that was raised by the chemical paint stripper.

It is difficult to remove paint from cracks or crevices. People with the patience of Saints use dental tools to go in and chip out all the particles of paint. That didn’t happen at our house. A good effort was made to remove all visible paint but the paint in cracks and crevices was dealt with after the wood was stained and I’ll explain the way that was handled once we get through the staining process.

Any cracks, holes or gouges in the wood were filled in with *gasp* Bondo Body Filler, which is normally used in car repair. Bondo has several things going for it. It’s cheaper and more pliable than wood fillers and putties. It is also a brown-red color that blends in well and is barely notable once the wood is stained.

Finally, lightly sand the wood with a handheld sander.

Wood That Was Originally Painted (instead of stained)
If the woodwork you are stripping was originally painted, the wood will need heavy sanding prior to staining.

To bleach or not to bleach…ah, that is the question.

This step is not necessary in many cases. It really depends on your situation and the type of look you are after.

The original finish on our woodwork was very dark, almost black. If our woodwork had never been touched and was in original pristine condition, I would have learned to live with the dark wood, although it’s not my taste. But our woodwork had been touched, many times. We decided to refinish the wood in a lighter tone more to our liking.

Perhaps because our woodwork was originally so dark the grain of the wood stood out and was considerably darker after stain was applied. We wanted a more uniform finish so a bleaching product was applied. This allowed the wood to accept the stain evenly.

Woodwork that has been bleached
Woodwork that has been bleached

A word of caution, be sure to tape off the edges of the floor with several layers of painter’s tape because the bleach will run off the baseboards and onto the floor. We found this out the hard way.

A furniture wood bleach product was used. It comes in a bag and you follow the directions on the bag regarding mixing the product and the amount of time to leave it on. You will need to wear a respirator, goggles to protect your eyes and gloves to protect your skin.

The bleach is brushed on and left per the manufacturer’s instructions. Bleach was left on our wood for a few hours. The bleach is washed off with water soaked rags and a bucket of water. You will need to change the water bucket often and to rinse the wood several times to be sure all the bleach is removed.

Let the wood dry overnight.

Wood That Was Originally Painted
The bleaching step was skipped for our upstairs woodwork which was originally painted. Bleach was not necessary to get an even stain coverage.

Select several stain colors that you think you will like and apply the colors to your woodwork. Apply a large enough portion so that you can get a clear idea of what the different stains will look like. It is also good to view the stains at different times of the day because the color will shift depending on the light. Another thing to keep in mind is that the stain will get slightly darker after varnish is applied.

Don’t be afraid to mix different stains together to achieve just the right color. Be sure to write your formula down, especially if you are planning on doing another room in the future. Another lesson learned the hard way.

We have used Watco brand Danish oils and also a mixture of several Minwax stains with great success. I don’t see any benefit of using one over the other.

Woodwork after a few applications of wood stain
Woodwork after a few applications of wood stain. Several more coats were applied to achieve the desired look.

Apply a light coat of stain with a soft, clean rag. Let it sit on the wood for a little bit, then very lightly wipe it off with a clean rag. A cotton tee shirt type of material works well. After that coat dries, keep adding coats and letting them dry until you achieve the desired color.

The dining room which was done earlier is actually a slightly different color than the rest of the wood in the house. Another thing to keep in mind is that the color will get a little darker after the varnish is applied.

Here are the 2 “recipes” that were used in our house:
Dining Room:
Watco Danish Oils – 3 parts Dark Walnut to 1 part Cherry

Living Room, Den and Back Porch woodwork:
Minwax Stains – 2 parts Special Walnut, 1.5 parts Cherry, .5 Red Oak

Just mix all the colors up in a big bucket.

Touch Up
Now is the time to touch up any tiny places and specs where the paint wasn’t removed. The stain will make these areas stand out so they will be easy to see. Mix some paint until it is the color of the stain. With a small brush carefully paint over all the little spots where the paint wasn’t removed. Allow to dry.

The varnish was a mixture of 2 parts clear coat, one part semi gloss. This can be applied several ways. It can be lightly brushed on but you can end up with visible brush strokes. A better and faster way to get a smooth finish is to spray on the varnish using a paint sprayer.

Either approach will require 3 to 4 light coats of varnish. Allow the varnish to dry between coats.

After the final coat of varnish has dried overnight, lightly sand all the woodwork with a very fine grade of steel wool.

A lot of people have had good luck sealing their woodwork with shellac or Linseed oil instead of varnish.

Dining room woodwork after restoration
Dining room woodwork after restoration

It is best to strip off all the paint first. If you have layers of painted wallpaper covering your walls like we did, now is a good time to remove it and patch the walls. If you wait to work on the walls until after refinishing the wood, you risk damaging the finish on the woodwork.

After the wallpaper has been removed you can see if repair work is needed on your plaster walls. Once you have addressed your walls you can begin bleaching and/or staining your woodwork.

After the varnish has been applied and is dried, you can tape off the woodwork with painters tape, and prime and paint your ceiling and walls.

Comments { 56 } February 8, 2004

Den’s Paint Stripped

All the paint has been stripped off our Douglas fir woodwork

Removing Paint, Restoration Diary,

Juan’s team has made fast progress in the den. Most of the paint has been stripped off the woodwork. They will start removing wallpaper from the walls next. Hopefully, the walls in that room will be in better shape. Fingers crossed!

:: Learn more about how to strip paint and refinish woodwork ::

Not Lulu’s best look.

Comments { 8 } January 25, 2004

Woodwork Update

Staining our Douglas fir woodwork

Restoration Diary, Stain, Woodwork


Our douglas fir woodwork was been bleached with a wood and furniture bleaching agent to even out the wood grain. The bleach is brushed on, left over night and then washed off with water.

woodwork_02Woodwork after the bleaching

After the woodwork dries, stain is applied and then sealed with varnish. Read more about this process.

woodwork_03First coat of stain

We were trying to match the color of the woodwork in our dining room. The dining room, which is open to the living room, was worked on last spring. The stained living room woodwork matched the dining room almost exactly until the varnish was applied.

woodwork_04Layers of stain were applied to reach the desired color

After the varnish was added, the woodwork turned a different shade. The color is a deeper, richer red color, which I actually prefer. The woodwork in the dining room looks more yellow by comparison.

woodwork_05The color of the wood has turned redder after the varnish was applied

You only notice the difference in the color if you are a hypercritical homeowner and are standing in the dining room, looking into the living room. It’s not apparent from the living room looking into the dining room.


We are going to live with the difference since the only other option, stripping off the finish and starting over, really isn’t an option that I want to even imagine considering. The walls are primed and if we can decide on the exact color of yellow gold, they will be painted tomorrow.

Comments { 1 } January 19, 2004