There are three and a half million occasions of a bit of acrylic paint end up on a piece of wood. Some of them are completely intentional (art and decoration, for instance), while others are completely unwanted.
And yes, this vague introduction means that I will explain how to remove acrylic paint from wood.
Tip. Also, you can read more about How to remove polyurethane from wood.
There are a lot of ways to do so, including some mechanical and chemical methods that will be covered later on.
Also, as usual, we’ll try to understand some of the processes behind wet paint drying and its removal, as well as respective safety measures. After reading this, you’ll know exactly how to remove acrylic paint from wood.
- 1 Basic features of acrylic paints
- 2 Common situations and suitable methods
- 3 Mechanical acrylic paint removal
- 4 Chemical removal of acrylic paint from wood
- 4.1 Option #1: Oils
- 4.2 Option #2: Alcohol-containing products
- 4.3 Option #3: Solvents, paint thinners, and mineral spirits
- 4.4 Option #4: Paint-strippers
- 5 Practical recommendations
- 6 Q&A Bit
- 7 Wrapping it up
Basic features of acrylic paints
Every acrylic paint is basically a mixture of a pigment and acrylic resin (hence the name) suspended in water. Unlike oil paints. There are other components, but we’re not going to produce any water-based acrylic paint, so they’re irrelevant.
When water dries, reaming resin starts to harden. It forms a firm film with pigment bound inside it. It sticks well to most surfaces, so wood acrylic paint is completely a thing.
And this process creates the most problems with removing paint. The hard acrylic film will stick to most surfaces including wood and is waterproof.
Pro-tip: If the acrylic paint just spilled on the wood, you can simply remove wet acrylic paint with a rag or paper towel with no visible traces.
Art-grade acrylic paint will become dry in 10-20 minutes after being put on a surface. This time, of course, depends on ambient humidity and some other conditions.
There are good chances to remove acrylic paint stains when they’re still fresh with just a bit of soapy water and a rag. Removing acrylic paint after it dries will require a bit more effort.
How does acrylic paint dry?
The acrylic paint is drying as the water evaporates out of it. A mixture of acrylic resin and a pigment begins to cure afterward.
At a certain stage, the acrylic paint is still wet, but there’s no water in it. During this stage, it is relatively easy to remove acrylic paint stains, as it is still tacky.
Thinner parts of a stain dry faster, which may result in the leftover outlines of acrylic paint that are being removed. So, in different parts of a stain, there are different stages of drying.
Thinner ones may cure already, while thicker ones still contain water. These areas will require a bit more effort to take care of.
The hard layer of acrylic paint is a film of completely cured resin. It has some sort of flexibility and adheres well to most surfaces, including wood.
Tip. Also, see my tips on How long does stain take to dry and why.
Dried layer of acrylic paint
A dried layer of acrylic paint is basically a thin polymer film that sits on top of a surface. At least, if that surface wasn’t primed.
So, there are two main ways of removing acrylic paint from wood: by mechanical destruction of said film or by breaking the bond with the underlying wooden surface. The bond is quite strong and that’s the reason why it is so hard to remove dried acrylic paint.
Common situations and suitable methods
As I mentioned before, there are a lot of situations where you need to remove acrylic paint from the wood. Nevertheless, there is a way to make some classifications for them too:
- Wet acrylic paint puddles, or splatters of acrylic paint.
- Old stains or splatters.
- An old coat needs to be removed for restoration purposes.
Also, there are different types of wooden surface underneath the acrylic paint: bare wood, primed wood, sealed wood, etc. In addition, future use of a piece of an object with a stain.
Pro-tip: You can use a putty knife or any other flat tool to peel off some really old and dry acrylic paint if it already started flaking on its own.
All those factors will determine the most suitable way to remove acrylic paint. I’ll cover the most suitable situation for every method of acrylic paint removal.
Tip. You can read my guide and learn more about How to get paint off wood floors.
Mechanical acrylic paint removal
Mechanical ways of removing acrylic paint from wood are related to the physical removal of wet acrylic paint or dried layers.
You might want to use various tools for that, ranging from a simple rag to a heat gun. And yes, soapy water is in this category as it is more of a physical process.
Option #1: Soapy water
This is the best option for removing acrylic paint stains of virtually any scale. Some scattered splatter or even a whole fresh coat will come off in a blink of an eye. This is mostly due to the water that is already contained in the acrylic paint.
Just grab any detergent or even dish soap at hand, and prepare some soapy water. Then take a clean towel or fresh cloth. Prepare the mixture of water and liquid dish soap in a bucket or other container to make a basic acrylic paint wash. Proportions are not critical.
The further algorithm is pretty simple:
- Dampen the clean cloth in soapy water.
- Rub the stain gently with a damp cloth. Try not to smear the paint too much.
- Water will dilute the acrylic paint and soap will pick up pigment.
- Rinse the cloth from time to time to transfer as much acrylic paint as possible into a bucket.
- When the soapy rag seems to stop picking up any unwanted paint, change to a dry cloth or sponge to soak up all the leftover acrylic paint, water, and soap.
If everything went well, you’ll end up with a clean but wet wooden surface. Especially if the wood underneath the acrylic paint was clear-coated. Wait for it to dry before doing anything else with it.
Note: Bare wood tends to deform when introduced to significant moisture. Try to put as little water on it as possible. And keep an eye on it while it is drying.
If luck wasn’t on your side, then the stain left kind of outlines, formed by areas where it began to dry and adhere to the wood. In such a case, you’ll have to resort to one of the more radical methods of removing acrylic paint.
Option #2: Sanding away
Sanding is the best way of removing acrylic paint that had dried and cured from significant areas. It will work for smaller stains too, but you’ll have to refinish the piece after sanding it.
A sanding machine, free-hand sanding, or some paper on a block will work equally well. Using the machine is more time effective.
Pro-tip: Keep your sandpaper grit above 320 or even higher, to damage the underlying wooden surface as little as possible. If the layer of acrylic paint is thick or there are several of them, you can start with coarser paper to speed up the whole process.
You also will be going to need some sort of brush or a vac to remove the dust residue from the surface of your piece. Tack cloth will do the job too.
Protect your hands and breath ways from any damage and fine dust. It is better to work outside if the weather allows, or at least in a well-ventilated room. If you are using some sort of sanding machine, consider setting up a dust-collecting system.
- Before getting to the sanding, you have to sigh and crack your knuckles. It’s the rule, especially if you are sanding by hand.
- Start sanding. If there are areas of visible grain, it is better to follow the grain right away. If not, just sand a small area down to the grain and follow it from there.
- Carry on until there are no traces of acrylic paint on all visible surfaces.
- Clean the piece with a slightly wet cloth, brush, or vac.
After all of those manipulations, your piece is ready for any other treatment right away. Further sanding will be optional, especially if you had used some fine sandpaper.
Option #3: Heat gun
Heat guns are great tools to remove acrylic paint from wood. The heated area of the pain layer expands and releases from the surface. After that, you just need to use a paint scraper, putty knife, or similar tool to peel it off.
So, to do this kind of stuff you’ll need some protective gear, a heat gun, and some sort of putty knife, spatula, or another flat tool suitable for peeling off the acrylic paint.
Note: The heat gun will also damage the finish of the wood around the stain (if there is any). So use it only if you are planning to refinish your piece.
Consider using gloves and eye protection, as the heat gun and the acrylic paint will get really hot. Thick leather gloves will suit the best. Try to stick to the safe use of the heat gun in general to prevent burns and other harm.
There should be no harmful fumes due to heating up the acrylic paint, but you can go with a mask if it will feel more comfortable.
Note: The heat gun’s nozzle gets really hot while it works. Take care not to get burned or set anything on fire while operating it.
Peeling off the pain with a heat gun
The actual process is quite straightforward:
- Take the heat gun and put it in high-temperature mode. Put it around 4″ (10 cm) over the surface of the acrylic paint.
- Heat up some paint until it softens and forms bubbles. Slow circular movements of the gun’s nozzle are the best way. Try not to overheat and burn it.
- Peel the bubble off with a paint scraper and put it into a waste container. The acrylic paint should be quite soft, so you won’t need to use a lot of force.
Just try not to rush things up too much. And remember that the wood underneath will be hot too. After it cools down, you can use a piece of clean cloth to remove paint that didn’t come off.
The most stubborn areas of remaining paint may require additional treatment with some of the liquids mentioned here or good old sandpaper.
Chemical removal of acrylic paint from wood
Chemical removal of acrylic paint from wood implies utilizing certain chemical reactions to soften the acrylic paint or weaken its bond with the surface. Such processes are usually associated with harmful fumes, so stay safe.
Some chemicals will make the outer side of the polymer film expand, breaking its bond with the surface, while others will just straight up dissolve it. In any case, some persistence will let you clean the wood in no time.
Option #1: Oils
A thin layer of vegetable oil will soften the acrylic paint, but only if it hadn’t dried completely. Thick and old layers of acrylic paint are resistant to vegetable oil. It is the best way to remove acrylic paint in the form of scattered splatter, even if it was there for a long time.
This is the most suitable method if you ever wondered how to remove acrylic paint from wood without any dangerous chemicals. And it removes acrylic paint surprisingly well.
To clean acrylic paint from wood with acrylic paint wash you’ll be going to have some oil, paper towels, and a scraping tool of sorts. A plastic putty knife or even the blunt side of a box knife will do. Olive oil is the best option, though any vegetable oil will do.
Similar to other basic methods, this one is pretty simple too:
- Soak a paper towel with some olive oil.
- Lightly press the soaked towel against the paint stain. Make sure all of it is covered with oil.
- Let it sit for some time.
- Wipe everything with a clean towel
- Remove the leftover oil with soapy water or some rubbing alcohol.
Some bits of dried acrylic paint will stay there anyway, but they will be soft enough to scrape away with a plastic scraper or putty knife. Put gentle pressure while using metal tools to prevent damage to an underlying surface.
Option #2: Alcohol-containing products
Alcohol has great potential in dissolving acrylic paint. It is just the way alcohol reacts with the resin. This is the best way to remove paint from smaller pieces after it dried.
In some instances, you can even completely submerge them in rubbing alcohol. Just keep in mind that it can cause discoloration of the wood.
Denatured alcohol, rubbing alcohol (isopropyl), or even strong liquor will help in cleaning up. Just make sure there are no colorants in your product of choice, as they may dye the wood around the stain.
Safety note: Alcohol in general is very flammable. On top of it, denatured alcohol contains some additives that make it unsuitable for recreational use. Some of those have a very potent odor.
To remove acrylic paint from wood with rubbing alcohol you will be going to have the said alcohol, some paper towels, and a scraper.
The procedure is as follows:
- Scrape away the majority of acrylic paint if it is dry.
- Pour some rubbing alcohol over the stain. Alternatively, use a wet cloth with rubbing alcohol and just soak the dry acrylic paint.
- Let it soak for around 10 minutes.
- Wipe off or scrape away the softened residue.
The paint adheres to the wood quite firmly, so you might fail to remove all the paint in one go. Repeat the procedure couple of times. Just try to keep rubbing alcohol away from the unpainted wood, as it may dry it up too much.
Option #3: Solvents, paint thinners, and mineral spirits
Various solvents and paint thinners were purposely made to dissolve paint and make it thinner, respectively. It is a wide range of products that include nail polish removers and other specialized solutions.
Safety note: Solvents emit toxic fumes, have a potent odor, and are flammable, so it is better to use them outside or work in a well-ventilated room.
To use this method, you’ll need a solvent of your selection (designated paint thinner, acetone, lacquer thinner, or any other available solvent), protection gear, some rags, a scraper of sorts, and some rubbing alcohol to clean the surface after the cleaning.
If time allows, try to obtain some actual solvents for latex and acrylic paints. Those are available in many hardware stores. It will be much better than a lacquer thinner.
Having everything at hand and the work area prepared, you are ready to go:
- Scrape off as much dry paint as possible.
- Apply solvent with a clean rag.
- Let it sit and do its thing for about half an hour.
- Wipe or gently scrape all of the paint that had come loose.
- Repeat the process if necessary.
- Clean the surface with some alcohol to remove the residue.
It is the most balanced way in terms of safety and efficiency. Though, it’s not the best option to clean vast areas or whole pieces of wooden furniture.
Option #4: Paint-strippers
Paint strippers are the most efficient way to clean a lot of paint from wood. Those are designated chemical compounds that are suitable for paint on every surface (except some types of plastic). But such efficiency comes at a cost of high toxicity.
It will do the job on everything from a piece of wooden furniture up to a house facade or a deck, with no regard to the thickness of a paint layer or anything else. The toughest areas may require a second round of application, though.
Paint strippers are really toxic, so you would want to protect as much skin as possible, cover your eyes, and breathe ways. Always pay attention to safety instructions provided on the packaging of the product. Fortunately, paint strippers usually pose no fire hazards.
With all the precautionary measures, the process is pretty simple:
- Hop into your protective gear and head to the workplace.
- Put some tray or film under the surface that will be covered with a paint stripper to be able to pick up everything that will fall.
- Take a brush and spread the paint remover over the painted area.
- Wait up to 5 minutes for the product to do its work. You will notice the bubbling of the paint.
- Remove softened paint with a putty knife or spatula and put it into a waste container.
- Repeat the procedure if needed.
- Deliberately wash the surface from the paint stripper residue.
All that’s left after that step is to wait for the surface to dry, and it is ready for further finishing or whatever you are planning to do with it.
Now you know how to remove acrylic paint from wood, but I have some little tips and tricks that will help you not mess up the wooden surface and just keep everything tidy while removing dried acrylic paint stains from the wood.
Scraping leftover dried paint
The best way to scrape off the remaining paint is to move your scraper toward the center of the acrylic stain.
This way you won’t smear the paint all over the place and won’t risk damaging the area that wasn’t affected by the paint.
Try to apply only the necessary amount of force to remove the dried paint, and don’t put your tool at an angle that is too sharp. This will prevent damage to the surface of the wood.
Wiping off paint
When wiping off the dissolved or diluted paint, try not to spread it around, as it will only create more mess to clean up.
Though, very diluted paint seems to flow all over the place. Fortunately, if it is in this state, it won’t stain the surface a lot.
Scraping off softened paint
Try to follow the grain while scraping off the paint softened by a heat gun or paint remover. This way the blade won’t raise any fiber and the surface will look tidier.
Also, make sure to prepare some container (at least a bag from your local supermarket) to put all the peeled paint into. The whole job will be much tidier.
With all that sorted out, let me answer some of the most frequent questions.
How do you get dried acrylic paint off wood?
There are several methods of how to remove acrylic paint from wood, covered above. The most suitable one depends on the area that should be cleaned, the type of surface underneath the paint, as well as what is going to be done to the surface after removing dried acrylic paint.
Light methods similar to oils and soapy water won’t do. The dry paint is waterproof. To go a bit more gentle on the surface of the wood, consider solvents or stronger alcohol-containing products.
But then again, they might be not enough to deal with a thicker layer of old paint.
Sanding, paint removers, and a heat gun are the most efficient ways to prepare the surface for repainting. The rest of the methods are great for removing paint.
Tip. By the way, you can read more about Woodworking when you live in an apartment.
What removes dried acrylic paint?
There are several options to go with to remove dried acrylic paint. Aside from good old sanding block or orbital sander, there are some liquids, both designated for this purpose and not (presented, starting with the weakest one):
- alcohol with a concentration above 70% (rubbing alcohol, for instance);
- acetone aka nail polish remover;
- mineral spirits;
- latex paint solvent (lacquer thinner);
- paint strippers.
The first three items will be great for thinner layers of paint. Whilst last, are capable of dealing with thicker layers. Paint removers will work for layers of any thickness, and even for multilayered coats.
Can acrylic paint come off of wood?
For sure, it can. In fact, if you let it sit outside long enough, it will start flaking off under the influence of the elements. But if there is a little less time, you can go with some of the methods mentioned above.
Just pick the one that will suit your case better. Remove the fresh acrylic paint stain with some cloth, or opt for good old sanding or paint stripper for a restoration project.
How do you remove paint from wood without ruining it?
All of the methods, except sanding or paint stripper, will work. Just don’t push too hard on your hand tools while scraping the paint off, and control the spreading of your chemicals.
If the surface underneath the stain has a topcoat, then mind the possible influence of a solvent or other products on it, and you’ll be fine.
Wrapping it up
Now you know it is absolutely possible to remove acrylic paint from wood and be completely prepared to take action in case of some unwanted acrylic paint on your wood surfaces, whether be it a few drops, a massive spill stain, or even a whole nasty old coat of paint.
It will be better to pick one suitable method of how to remove acrylic paint from wood, that will meet your requirements, prevent any damage to the surface, and save time.
My name is Alex Mashinsky
I am an enthusiastic woodworking hobbyist who created topwoodworkingtools.com to provide helpful information and advice to fellow woodworkers.
The goal of the website is to help readers make informed decisions about woodworking tools and materials, with the ultimate aim of ensuring that they achieve the best possible results from their projects.
My main focus is on offering accurate, honest, and well-reasoned opinions and advice to help readers choose the most suitable tools and materials for their particular needs.