How to Remove Varnish & Paint From a Wooden Banister

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Things You'll Need

  • Tarps

  • Fans

  • Protective eyewear

  • Long-sleeve shirt

  • Rubber gloves

  • Paint remover or stripper

  • Metal can

  • Paintbrush

  • Paint scraper

  • Disposable container

  • Steel wool

  • Abrasive pads


Sanding is another option to remove paint and varnish; however, it also may remove portions of the wood from the banister. Chemicals work faster and require less time to complete the job.

Each state has different laws for disposing of chemicals. Contact your local authority on the proper way to discard the used paint, varnish and chemical paint remover or stripper in your area.

Chemical paint removers and strippers will not damage the wood that lies beneath paint and varnish.

If you want to showcase the natural beauty of your wooden banister you have to remove the paint and varnish that covers the wood. Fortunately, removing the paint and varnish from wood surfaces is a simple do-it-yourself project that can be completed in an afternoon. All materials required to remove the layers of paint and varnish can be found at any hardware or home store.


Step 1

Prepare the work area by putting down tarps and ventilating the area. The chemicals which remove the paint and varnish are toxic. The tarps will protect other sensitive areas such as carpet or other flooring types from damage by these chemicals. Open windows and doors if possible to help ventilate the area. Set up any fans you have to keep air moving through the work area.

Step 2

Wear protective clothing while working with the chemicals. These items include protective eyewear, long-sleeve shirts and rubber gloves. If you are sensitive to the fumes, invest in a respirator which will filter out the toxins from the air as you breath.


Step 3

Place the paint remover or stripper into a small metal container. Removers and strippers come in either thick paste-like formulas or thinner liquid forms. Paste removers are best for jobs in which many layers of paint and varnish need to be removed. These products evaporate slowly and work through all layers of paint and varnish. Liquid removers are best for removing just a few layers, evaporate quicker and are good for detailed work around corners and hard-to-reach spots.

Step 4

Apply the remover to the banister with a paintbrush. Apply the remover as evenly as possible over all surfaces. Keep the brush strokes going in one direction and do not apply more remover to an area that has already had the chemical applied.


Step 5

Follow the manufacturer's instructions for how long the remover needs to sit prior to being removed. Some removers required being covered in wax paper and left alone for 15 to 30 minutes, while others require just a few minutes to work. The paint and varnish will begin to form blisters as the chemicals work through the layers of paint and varnish.

Step 6

Remove the paint and varnish from the wood banister using a paint scraper. The paint should come off fairly easily. Place the removed paint and varnish into another container which can be discarded later. Work quickly to remove as much paint and varnish as you can while the remover remains dry and the paint is easy to remove.


Step 7

Remove the hard-to-get-off sections of paint and varnish with steel wool or abrasive pads. If needed, dip the steel wool or pad into remover to remove the remaining paint and varnish. Be careful not to push too hard or you may risk scratching into the wood beneath.

Step 8

Apply additional coats of remover as necessary and repeat steps 4 through 7 until the banister is down to bare wood.



Michael E Carpenter

Michael Carpenter has been writing blogs since 2007. He is a mortgage specialist with over 12 years of experience as well as an expert in financing, credit, budgeting and real estate. Michael holds licenses in both real estate and life and health insurance.