Paint Stripping Problem: Stubborn Residue in Oak Grain

When traces of the lowest layer of paint on a piece don't want to come out of the grain, what are the options? June 22, 2012

I am starting to strip four old oak kitchen chairs. They are painted white but have 4 coats of paint underneath the topcoat. I have used chemical stripper and #3 steel wool to get to this point but the final green paint is into the wood itself. No matter how long I leave stripper on, it still does not come off. I have also used wire brushes and #3 dipped in stripper to remove it but it just won't budge. Any suggestions to remove this would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor B:
Sounds like your stripper is drying out before it has a chance to do much work. Try covering a chair with plastic so the solvents don't evaporate as fast, but understand that doing this may loosen the glue that's holding the joints. Oak is tough to get all the paint out, and you may have to power wash to get the paint out of the open grain.

From contributor G:
You could try Peel Away, environmentally friendly, non-drippy. I used it to remove grain filler on walnut that didn't take stain. Used a fine short napped gold wire brush, probably one from plumbing, and after an application wired with the grain. Saved the piece.

From contributor L:
If it is milk paint you may have trouble removing it.

From contributor K:
A sodium hydroxide (lye) solution will remove milk paint. Soaking and scrubbing may be necessary. Rinse with water. Afterwards, apply a solution of oxalic acid (sometimes labeled as "wood toner" or "wood brightener") to neutralize the lye and lighten the wood. Rinse with a solution of vinegar and water.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the responses. I think I may not have explained myself clearly. I have gotten most of the green paint off down to the bare wood, but there seems to be some hint of green still in the grain. If I go to stain this as is, I am afraid it won't look right. Do your responses still hold for this problem as further explained?

I tried another piece of oak with vinegar and water and the wood turned grey. Is this common? Also, I have let the stripper on (ZAR) for approximately 15 - 20 minutes in my attempts. Would another type of commercial chemical stripper do? I don't think it is milk paint.

From contributor R:
Use one of those brass bristle brushes that was mentioned earlier.

From contributor D:
There are some primers that don't respond well to removers, but will come off with lacquer thinner. Try scrubbing with a metal bristle toothbrush.