A Tale of Two Strippers

By Kate Riley March 1, 2010

So I bought this little dresser many months ago from Craigslist for twenty buckaroos.   It was the perfect fit for my mud room niche by the back door.  I needed its drawers to store all sorts of family things like those gym membership cards I rarely use, or the computer cords that belong to some contraption lost somewhere in my house. 

I also needed it to store winter scarves, hats, mittens and other seasonal items.  This dresser’s proportions were perfect and its price was right !  So I brought it home and tolerated its chippy white paint job for many moons until it dawned on me. 

This dresser was the perfect candidate for a little experiment I call ‘The Patina Project’.   I wanted to transform this little dresser into something with a little more personality and a Provencal feel.  I also wanted to find out just how two strippers would match up in the ring.  Old school chemicals vs. nouveau citrus paint peelers. 

The victim:   

craigslist dresser


There were several layers of paint all over this baby, and I had no idea what kind of paint it was.  Since my ultimate plan was to give it a rustic antique French country look, I boldly decided to strip all those layers off.   To me, painting over it would have felt like putting on dirty socks after a shower.  Or clean socks on muddy feet.  Or something sort of like that. 

Enter the two contenders.  In the left corner, weighing in at 32 fluid ounces was the old school KleanStrip, famous for its speed and paint crushing abilities.  Dangerous.  Flammable.  Unpopular with the greener public for its toxic reputation and the methylene chloride pumping through its veins. 

In the right corner, weighing in at 32 fluid ounces, was the young newcomer Citristrip.  A kinder smelling non-caustic version missing the methylene chloride, daring to challenge the old school establishment.  

 stripper v citrusstrip 

Why would I go to all this trouble if I’m just going to glaze/paint it again ?  Well, I’m not a big believer in adding layer upon layer of paint to furniture.  But don’t quote me on that.  In fact, I may have violated that guideline sometime in the past.  Or perhaps I might in the future.  Oh forget it.  In this case I wasn’t comfortable adding yet another layer of paint to this particular dresser since I wanted some parts of the wood to show through.  So I stripped.

When engaging in any form of stripping, furniture or otherwise, it’s a good idea to use protection.  I highly recommend these.

safety mask and gloves

Safety goggles too. 

To the drawers I applied the Citristrip.  It was pleasant smelling, squishy, and a strangely attractive color, unlike anything you’d expect in a paint stripper. 

apply citrus strip

Then I let it sit for several hours to do its business undisturbed. 

strip drawers

After about four hours, this started to happen. 

citrusstrip 4 hours

So I tried this. 

citrusstrip on dresser 

Then this.

peeling paint 

Lemme guess.  Latex paint.  Good sign.

For the tougher spots, I used my five-in-one tool to scrape.  Underneath was what I was looking for, a nice honey tone wood.  More on why later. 

 5 in 1 tool


To the top and sides of the dresser, I applied the old school KleanStrip.  I’ve used this product in the past with great success to remove a thin layer of paint.  But this time, I was dealing with multiple layers. 



After about 15 minutes, this started to happen.

kleanstrip on top

The five-in-one came in handy again to scrape most of the paint off the top. 

dresser top

Getting in the crevices is not so easy, nor fun.   After one application of the KleanStrip, all I accomplished was this. 

one layer kleanstrip

Then I tried this little stainless steel brush and it helped a lot, but not quite enough.

stainless steel brush

I got rather frustrated with the Kleanstrip this time around.  It dried out rather quickly in comparison, and smelled just awful.  Nauseating at times.  It also didn’t cling as well to the vertical sides of the dresser in my opinion.*   So after I had finished scraping, and the dresser had fully dried, the next day I attacked with even more Citristrip.

Awww yeah.

much better with citristrip

Many of you are thinking by now, geez louise, that looks like one big messy project.  And it was.  Those of you who have stripped paint before know this is not any fun by any definition.  It requires plenty of care for proper disposal of the paint scrapings and stripper residue.  Not only that, stripping paint is extremely labor intensive – this project took at least five hours just to scrape off all these layers of paint. 

After it was completely stripped, I took to my sander to give the dresser a smooth-as-a-baby’s bottom finish and prep it for its new paint job.  


Now before all of you wood lovers go crazy on me, note that in several spots there was damage uncovered underneath all this paint, despite my gentle bedside manner. 

damage to dresser  

So I have no regrets deciding to paint it again.  I just filled all the holes with paintable wood filler, then sanded the putty down after it was dry. 

wood filler for damage

Conclusion:  after these two strippers duked it out on the same layers of paint, I have to vote Citristrip for all my future uses, even though it takes a lot longer to work (up to 24 hours). 

Bottom line, I’m channeling Scarlett O’Hara, and raising my fist to the air . . . “If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill . . .  As God as my witness . . . I’ll never use KleanStrip again !”  

Cue Tara’s Theme and sunset backdrop. 


Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic.  In somber conclusion, no more methylene chloride for me. 

Now for Step Two of my ‘Patina Project’.  I’m out to make this dresser look like a less rustic version of this: 

distressed dresser  

Wish me luck  . . .  the saga continues.


*Necessary disclaimer to CMA: This is NOT a paid endorsement of Citristrip.  This is simply my humble but sometimes loudmouth opinion of a comparison of these two products in these circumstances.  Please don’t sue me, I have no money anyway.  Follow all manufacturer guidelines when using either of these products for your safety.  It’s also a brilliant idea to test for lead paint and follow all precautions in its removal.  Lead very bad.  And for further information, or a cure for your insomnia, please refer to my blog policies.


  1. For a west coast girl, you do a great Scarlet O impression! Thanks for doing this for us…I hate stripping using that chemical stuff so I’ll give the Citristrip a try. And can’t wait to see the finished product!

  2. wow that does seem messy, but thanks for finding out which works better! I’m looking forward to the results :D

  3. thank you thank you thank you for posting this! i am just about to strip an old farm table i have to refinish in a rustic feel as well. i have used zip-strip and refinisher before and though they work i can feel the insides of my nose burning and i know that is not a good sign. i am going to try the citrus one as well. thanks for doing the test work for me so i know it will work! and my table has no lead- i bought a lead test. woo-hoo!

  4. I am totally a fan of the Citristrip stuff too. I did my kitchen table, in place, and everyone tolerated it fine. Love the stuff.

  5. I’ve never tried Citristrip before, but I’m going to look for it the next time I have to strip any furniture. Can’t wait to see the after picture!

  6. I am so grateful for your info…is someone paying you for this or are you normally so generous with your time & effort???!! YOU”RE THE BEST!!!

  7. Wish I had tried Citristrip a few years ago. I had a great armoire, and it was so tough to strip…the table that is. :) I can’t wait to see the end result!

  8. Great post! You crack me up. I am a Scarlett girl through and through so I truly appreciated her interjection on the matter.
    (It’s my favorite movie of all time.)
    Anyway, great stripping info. My husband will appreciate it. :)
    Can’t wait to see the final product.

  9. Thanks for doing this! Once the weather breaks, I want to strip & repaint EVERYTHING :)
    I just had flashbacks of stripping a table with a thousand crevices, though-so nothing with crevices ;)

  10. You are brave and I am in awe…..but more impressively, girl, you can write. I also appreciate your correct word usage/spelling. My pet peeve is when one uses “there” for “their”, “your” for “you’re”, etc. So much to my delight when I read “its drawers to store…”, “its chippy white paint job…” You’d be amaze how many awful blog writers are out there! So thank you…you rock!
    P.S. I appreciate all the creativity, too:)

  11. I can see why you bought this wonderful little dresser. I have tackled many a paint project and agree with the idea of taking the paint off before adding more on top. Looking forward to seeing it all finished.

  12. What a great post! I love your humor and it makes reading through your posts that much more enjoyable. Such good info for my future endeavors too. Thanks!

  13. I can’t wait to see you work your magic on the dresser. I recently used a water based stripper I got at Wal Mart (can’t think of the name) that worked wonders on a sideboard I recently stripped and painted. I highly recommend it.

    Hurry up so we can see the dresser!

  14. wow, I am so glad to see this post…I bought some of the citristrip because I was hoping to strip and refinish my piano. I tested a small inconspicuous area…but I did not have great results. paint, I’m sure is different than varnish. Maybe I’ll give it another go…that is when I have about 200 hours of spare time! :)

  15. Really good to know about Citristrip, and yet again, I’m uber jealous of your TWENTY DOLLAR thrift store find! The details on that beauty, I’m practically crying over here!! I’m on the hunt for a dresser like that for the bedroom… no luck yet.

  16. yeay citristrip!! can i just say i am smitten? i love how it look going on – so fun, like an adult version of Gak. and then that sheet of latex pulling off? that could get addicting!

  17. stripping is a dirty business, but someone’s gotta do it! : )
    your hard work will certainly be worth it when you finish- you’d pay tons of money for that look from a store. and this way you get the fun of making it EXACTLY what you want!
    happy painting!

  18. OH that brings back bad memories of stripping the antique desk. I can’t tell you how many endless hours were spent stripping the layers and layers but so worth it! Can’t wait to see your finished product!

  19. I wish I knew about this before. I tried to strip paint of a table I had and I hated the whole operation I ended up junking the table- right to the trash.

  20. Thanks for the comparison. I usually use KleanStrip but I want to try the other kind now too. I think it’ll look really cool when you’re done. I can’t wait to see it.

  21. Thanks so much for introducing me to the kinder, gentler stripper! (Oh oh, will I start getting even more spam now that I typed the word, “stripper”??) Great to know that there are products out there that take paint layers off of your dresser without taking years off of your life!!

  22. so glad you made the comparison on one piece of furniture. I have so often stood in the paint aisle and debated on which products to buy/try. I am usualy into instant gratification, but for all the right reasons, I would be willing to wait (even 24 hours) for a great result.
    Anxious to see the end result in this little beauty!
    love your blog!

  23. Ooh, I just love the dresser – and how I love awesome Craig’s List finds! Thanks for using it as the guinea pig to compare strippers. Good to know that the kinder, safer stripper won out. Shouldn’t it always be that way?

  24. looks like it was coming off really well. Amazing. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

  25. that’s just awesome! i cannnnot wait to see the outcome. i have a dresser that i would LOVE LOVE to do this to but i’m a total chicken and big projects using stripper stuff make me scared. ugh. i need confidence. thank you for this boost!!!

  26. I am so happy you posted this! I have an entire bedroom set to refinish and both types are sitting in my basement to try. I was planning on doing a “test” to figure out which one to use and now you saved me the trouble. Thanks!

  27. That will look great! Unfortunately, after reading about your labors, I can understand why furniture gets painted over and over and over again. Good to know what you found about the strippers though. If I ever tackle a project that needs it, I’d hate to use the one that you had a problem with on the sides, in addition to the smell. I’d definitely go with the other.

  28. So funny, I am getting ready to show a post about this very stripper…citistrip…I love it! I redid some shutters for my kitchen and was so impressed at how well it did. I loved that it wasn’t too strong and safer than other strippers. Great job and loved the title! lol


  29. I tried a similar product to the Citristrip a while back and liked it — mine said it would work within minutes and it didn’t…but with some patience it did well. :) This is a beautiful dresser!

  30. Oh, seeing the picture of the goopy mess after trying KleanStrip brought back so many memories of trying to strip paint from the baseboards & stair railings in my house! Good to know there’s a better option! Hopefully one involving less swearing & throwing of tools! :)

  31. What a great post Kate! Count me as another fan who is grateful to you for doing this comparison test. I have a project I’ve been waiting to do, it involves stripping – now, I can jump in and do it with confidence!

    Looking forward to seeing the new and improved dresser.

  32. I hate paint strippers. Ugh, the horror stories! I am glad you found one you like (if I’m brave enough, I’ll follow your lead!).

    When we first bought our house we started sanding the trim to prep for paint and it was chipping off so I (a completely inexperienced DIYer) decided “Hey, lets put paint stripper on ALL the door jambs” while my boyfriend was at work. I literally found myself crying in an unfinished closet that day. WORST IDEA EVER: listen people: NEVER ever get the hair-brained idea to put it on your door jambs. Especially not the cheap stuff haha, but lesson learned! Now I wish I had pictures to document my stupidity!

  33. I have been a KleanStrip girl all along because I knew it worked (for the most part) and was nervous about the non-chemical, citrius smelling stripper. I was excited to see this show up in my Google Reader this morning, and on my next stripping job I am going to use the CitriStrip! I just need to research if it can strip stained wood or not also to clean up some old dressers I have.

    Thanks for the review!!

  34. Your title had me smiling. :) I am so curious to see what sort of search engine hits this brings. ;)

    I know you’ll be rewarded for your hard work with a beautiful piece. I’ve never stripped (paint) before. ;) Can’t believe it took so many steps to get all that paint off! Good luck with the next step. :)

  35. Awesome! I’m glad to hear the more “natural” paint stripper worked so well (even though it took longer) Can’t wait to see what the finished dresser looks like. :-)

  36. Love it!! Never thought i’ld enjoy a post on strippers lol looking forward to the finished product!

  37. I’m another Citristrip-lover!!!! I recently used it on a small pedestool table I nabbed from a thrift store. It was fabulous! There were so many layers of paint that I think by the time I got down to the wood, the tables circumference was a full inch smaller. LOL Then I spray painted it a very shiny silver after seeing so many inspiration photos of such. It’s fabulos!

    I am looking forward to seeing your makeover!

    Plus, who doesn’t love a stripper with a heart of gold story?

  38. That post was perfect for me! I am getting ready to finish a piece of furniture I have that needs a new look. I will definitely be getting me some Citristrip. Not only was that post informative, but also very clever! I loved it! Thnx a bunch.

  39. Girl you can write!
    I love how you can tell the most boring task in a funny and inspiring way.
    Can’t wait to see the end result…

  40. Oh thanks!!! I haven’t stripped for years (LOL) but when I did I used the old stuff. Always felt I was shortening my life whenever I breathed the stuff. so glad to know of the new kid on the block. I will use it next time! Can’t wait to see finished proj.

  41. Love this post, too funny!
    If you want the citristrip to work better/faster just lay some plastic bags or plastic dropcloth right over the stripper. It keeps it damp longer and definitely speeds things up. Trust me on this one…I stripped all 23 doors in my house and had it down to a science on the last one. =-)

  42. I have been redoing a table and using some spray that is really strong but WORKS! I can’t think of the name of it but I am thinking that I will have to wait for it to warm up some before I finish it. It is just too cold in the garage.

  43. I love that you did this… I was just about to tackle a project and was wondering about Citristrip… My project is and old cabinet in the main bathroom.. there are layers upon layers and I soooo need to strip it.. problem being.. I cant take it out to do it and there are no windows in the room for proper ventilation!!! Love that you blogged on this… going to go and get me some so that I may tackle this project and check it off my list! Cant wait to see your finished paint job!

  44. I love that you did this… I was just about to tackle a project and was wondering about Citristrip… My project is and old cabinet in the main bathroom.. there are layers upon layers and I soooo need to strip it.. problem being.. I cant take it out to do it and there are no windows in the room for proper ventilation!!! Love that you blogged on this… going to go and get me some so that I may tackle this project and check it off my list! Cant wait to see your finished paint job!

  45. wow, so cool that citristrip worked for you…maybe I’ll try it again. I don’t know, last time I used it I found it to be next to useless. It would dry out before bubbling the paint and when I did scrape it off it left an oily residue so I couldn’t repaint my project for a week while I figured out how to get the residue off. It was a disaster!

  46. Very good to know. I just bought some Kleanstrip for an upcoming project, but may need to dig for the receipt so I can exchange it for the Citristrip.
    Oh, and I adore the inspiration photo for your final result. That will look fantastic!!

  47. I can’t wait to see the finished product! And thanks for the side by side review! I am going to have to give Citristrip a try!

  48. Great tutorial and funny! We used Citristrip on our kitchen floor that was covered in mastic and two VERY ugly layers of linoleum. The Citristrip cut that gooey mess and removed it. Now we have beautiful pine plank floors with lots of character. I vote for non-toxic hands down! You have to wait longer but your not decreasing your life span either!
    We have also used Back to Nature MultiStrip very successfully in our kitchen mini-redo & other projects. Check out my blog for more info.
    ~judi ;)

  49. I’m really glad you posted this. My husband just stripped 2 pieces of furniture…the old way, and I worry about those fumes. They give me an instant migraine. I’m glad to know there is another product that works. I’m anxious to see your finished product.

    Do you have any suggestions on what to do with an ornate antique framed mirror that was antiqued decades ago. I don’t exactly have the shabby look around here, but I was thinking of hanging it over my bed since my blogging friends told me my current picture no longer matches my changed up room.

  50. Good luck with the project. I was not sure what this post was about when I saw it in the reader but I am glad at least the citristrip worked for you. I love to paint furniture but I have never used anything to take the paint off. Note to self …use citristrip!

  51. Where was citristrip when I refinished my dinning room table and chairs!? I’m sure it was right next to the yucky kleanstrip I used. Ugh! I have recently discovered your blog and have been completely inspired and motivated to get moving on projects I have been putting off. Thanks for all the fabulous ideas!

  52. I’m about to take on a similar project for my new (old) dining room table! Thanks for the inspiration! I’ll be posting about the makeover soon!

  53. Whew!..I got tired looking at all that work.It reminds me of child birth.You see (man) Love (man) carry baby in tummy ,then strip down ( delivery room) & voila!! Hard work but the end product is Oh so Fabulous! Worth every minute:-)
    I’ll be working on my thrift find and send you a pic of end product.Thanks for the encouragement.

  54. Great post and super informative.
    How do you go about painting a vintage piece with a stain and poly finish?
    I usually just sand the heck out of it then prime and paint. I am wondering if there is a better way or if i’m on the right track.

    Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  55. Thanks for the tip. I’m in the midst of stripping-painting-finishing a vanity. Citristrip is going to be my new companion. I love the dresser look you’re going after, can’t wait for further instructions.

  56. Great comparison post! I scored an amazing antique desk on Craigslist and plan to strip it before repainting. I’ve printed your post and plan to go with the Citristrip.

    Now in the process of prettifying this piece, I hope you remember to lavish some attention on the inside, too!! We’re redoing a former junker of a desk for my college-aged niece. I did a quick, cheap and easy (all good things, right?) drawer liner that really makes the piece much more personal and fun. I’ve done a tutorial on it here: http://shannahhayley.blogspot.com/2010/03/pretty-drawers.html

  57. I am so glad I just read this! I was actually in home depot yesterday looking at both these products and trying to decide if the citristrip would work! I held off on buying as I have to strip the fabric off my flea market chairs first, but I will get the citristrip. Thank you!

  58. this makes me excited, since it’s been awhile since i’ve looked at paint strippers and i didn’t know there was an eco-friendly version out, *and* it works really well. i hate using something that’s toxic, and i’m extremely sensitive to the fumes from those things.

  59. I am going to try the Citrus one again…I used it on my daughter’s bedroom floor and it was really not great. But you have encouraged me…and I have my office floor to do. I need to get that black linoleum residue off of there somehow….I want to paint the floor white.

  60. I’m with Katie – has anyone used CitriStrip on stain/shiny finish of unknown origin (not painted)? Results?

    I have a little bedside cabinet project I keep delaying b/c I don’t want to break the furniture :-)

  61. The name of your post is comical! I love it! lol!! This may seem a bit odd but I actually like the look of the dresser after one application of Klean Strip! Now a photo and real life can differ very much so but I do like the funky look. Someone would enjoy the rustic verrry aged appeal I’m certain. But scrolling my way through to the end and landing upon the patina chest took my breath away. That style would make a nice statement piece in an otherwise neutral room! Don’t mind me if I save this photo for inspiration later down the road. I will be returning to this post when I tackle my vintage vanity and little matching bed. It’s so hard to pick and choose which pieces we are going to keep for ourselves and the ones to put out in our little shops. After spending so much time and putting so much love into a piece I get very attached. Does the same happen to you?

  62. I’d like to offer a suggestion to your readers……if you’re ever in a bind and need to clean a brush DO NOT use the stripper on the Left to attempt this! Holy moly will that brush ever be the biggest goopie mess you’ve ever seen in your life!

    Don’t ask me what the hairy heck I was thinking when I tried this but it was late, everything was closed and I probably had inhaled far to many paint fumes that evening.

    Blessings to you and yours!

  63. I used citristrip to strip the carpet adhesive off hardwood floors in 4 rooms and a hallway. I am totally in love with it! The original hardwood floors not only had adhesive but layers and layers of paint in some spots and it all came up insanely easy!

  64. Thanks so much for doing this little experiment and sharing the results. I shared this tip and linked to your site in my blog post today. (http://www.snugasabugbaby.com/?p=1105) I am planning on using Citristrip on my next project (my first project that has required paint stripping).

    Again, thanks for the advice. I love your blog!

  65. I know this in an old post, but I have a piece of furniture that I plan to strip and I was wondering if you have used a heat gun to strip vs. chemical methods and what do you think about it?

  66. After you apply the stripper, lay a piece of plastic wrap over it. It allows the stripper to work longer before it dries/evaporates. Then go back awhile later and lift the plastic wrap off. Lots of painty guck (hopefully most of it) should be stuck to it. I removed very resistant paint with this method.

  67. Thank you so much for the excellent tutorial, CG!! And, Cindy T, thanks for the bonus tip of adding plastic wrap over the top to discourage evaporation. I happen to have a bottle of the “orange goodness” in my garage and a few huge projects to use it on. My other thought is to purchase a heat gun for door frames. The previous owner painted something wrong over something wrong without the proper prep, and the paint is peeling away in big chunks like a bad sunburn. Anyway, I’ll start with Citristrip. Wish me luck!!

    Have you ever used a heat gun, CG? The You Tube videos make it look relatively easy.

  68. Your website is awesome. Your sense of humor and writing ability are even better. Thank you!!!!!

  69. I also did this as an experiment and found the same results and conclusions. I always use citristrip. I really enjoy your blog. Good hints and tips and entertaining writing Thanks

  70. Your Kleanstrip experience is what I am currently dealing with in my garage. It’s taking forever to get old paint off a desk I am re-doing. I am surrounded with gobs of sticky paint and a sore hand from trying to scrub it all off. Thank you for your inspirational site and next time I’m just going to Home Depot with your products rec’s.

  71. thank you! I just purchased a dresser off Craig’s List and was wondering where to get started. I love your patina dresser and it sounds like I will be using Citristrip. Love your humor too!

  72. I love this story. I am getting ready to tackle a desk that I painted a long time ago and it peeled on the top. I am going to try the citristrip. Hopefully it will work for me? I love the dresser that you are trying to mimic. I also love the rustic look. Good luck on it and I hope it works out well for you. If it does then maybe I will try your technique? I’m not sure how to patina yet. New to all this painting stuff. LOL.

  73. Hi, I am in love with your site! I am currently redoing my stairs : pulling old carpet, sanding and the works. Well. The sander is not stripping away the plaster…. Do you recommend I use citrus trip for this?

  74. Hi Kate,
    Thanks so much for your input.

    I’m using citrus trip now but am having a rough time removing the excess, how do you remove the cacky mess?

  75. Citrustrip is a magical liquid! It completely removed all of the thick enamel coating on my birch wood cabinets. The longer you leave it on, the more it penetrates the coat, thus making it easier to scrape off. I used a tooth brush to remove the icky stuff. I’m thoroughly impressive with that pink stuff.

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