how to remove gel stain from wood
Kristina Davis

Wondering – how to remove gel stain from wood and if it’s even possible?

Stained wood offers a beautiful but finished look to your furniture and other wooden belongings.

But if you’ve decided the gel stain on your wood is no longer the right aesthetic, you may wonder if it’s possible to remove the gel stain from the wood!

Gel stains are different from typical wood stains that most people are familiar with.

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However, they have some benefits, making them the best choice for certain projects.

So whether you want to return your furniture to the look of raw wood or if you want to replace the stain with a new color and switch up your aesthetic, you’ll need to understand how to remove wood gel stains.

To learn some more about gel stains on wood and if you can remove them, read this article.

You can remove gel stains from wood with a whole lot of elbow grease. Use lacquer and paint thinners in conjunction with lint-free or microfiber rags.

What Is a Gel Stain?

whats a gel paint

Gel stains are a halfway point between paint and traditional wood stains. They have a thicker texture than other stains, which soak into the wood upon application.

Most standard stains require you to sand down the wood to remove the color, if you even can. Sometimes it seeps too deep, preventing you from sanding out the color.

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But gel stain sits on top of the wood while still allowing you to feel the texture of the wood.

Like paint, the gel is easier to remove as it sits on the surface of the wood rather than soaking it.

The thick gel won’t run down when you paint vertical surfaces, making it a popular choice for people staining furniture.

Gel stains also give furniture, and other wood surfaces a mild sheen, giving them a lustrous and expensive look rather than the rustic and earthy feel that standard stains offer.

It can also be difficult to cover a previous stain with another standard stain. Gel stain can be useful when covering up a prior color on the wood.

How to Remove Gel Stain From Wood

how to remove gel stains

Figuring out how to remove gel stain from wood panel doors and other belongings is probably easier than you think.

This task can be daunting, and it can be hard to know where you should start.

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The first step is determining if your gel stain is sealed or not.

A sealed stain means that there is an additional top layer that was added to the gel stain.

The topcoat is to prevent the wood from drying out. The seal locks in the stain, keeping it fresh and enhancing the sheen.

Tip: Seals are always clear in color and typically a type of wax that you rub over the gel stain.

The process to remove gel stain from wood differs slightly when it is sealed. Below are the steps for how to remove a sealed gel stain.

There are also steps to remove a gel stain that does not have a top coat seal.

If Not Sealed

not sealed woods

If your wood gel stain does not have a seal, it is much easier to remove the stain. Collect the materials listed below and follow the steps.

This task can be time-consuming. It may take a few days.

Tip: Ensure you use all the protective gear, or it may lead to health problems or a medical emergency.

Materials Needed

  • Respirator
  • Long sleeves
  • Rubber gloves
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Lint-free rags
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Follow these four quick instructions.

Gear Up

You should be wearing long sleeves, heavy-duty rubber gloves, and a respirator when you do this to ensure you protect yourself.

A paint thinner can be extremely toxic to inhale.

It can also absorb through your skin and enter your bloodstream if it sits on your hands.

Prepare Rag
get a rag

Take the lint-free rag and dip it into the lacquer thinner. You want the rag to be dampened with the thinner but not soaking.

Be careful not to spill the liquid anywhere or let it touch your skin.

Remove Gel Stain

Now, take the damp rag and firmly and rapidly rub the gel stain off. This task will take some elbow grease, so it’s okay to do this in multiple sessions or take breaks after a while.

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Continue doing this until the stain is completely gone. You will need to add lacquer thinner to the rag as you go and may need to use multiple rags to get the job done.

Dispose of Rags

This step is important as thinning substances are extremely toxic. You should check your local laws concerning thinner disposal and follow them.

Otherwise, an animal or human may eat or inhale the thinner which is practically poison.

If Sealed

sealed wood

The process of removing a sealed gel stain is slightly different.

Essentially, there is just another layer of coating to remove, and you need different products and materials to make this happen.

This process will take even longer because of this extra step. It makes sense to split this project up into at least two days.

Tip: Be prepared to do a lot of scrubbing and rubbing; your arms will likely get tired after a few hours. 

Materials Needed

  • Respirator
  • Long sleeves
  • Rubber gloves
  • Paint thinner
  • Hard toothbrush
  • Scrub pad or rough sponge
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Lint-free rags
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These steps are similar to the ones listed above, with a few caveats.

Gear Up
protective gears up

This step is the same whether the wood gel stain has a seal or not. Make sure you wear long sleeves, a respirator, and heavy-duty rubber gloves.

Remove Seal

Using one of the lint-free rags, douse and then squeeze it out using the paint thinner.

Paint thinner is just as toxic as lacquer thinner, so make sure you don’t spill any in your surroundings or yourself.

Rub the clear coat vigorously until it comes off on the rag. You can also pour the paint thinner directly onto the wood if you put a canvas or disposable tarp underneath the object.

If the rags are not enough, which they often aren’t, alternate between the scrub pad or sponge and the toothbrush.

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Continue doing this and adding thinner until the seal is completely gone.

Remove Gel Stain
remove the gel stain

Now that the seal is gone, you can remove the gel stain following the same steps as above.

So dampen a lint-free rag with the lacquer thinner and go to work.

Tip: You should not need a pad or toothbrush to do this.
Dispose of Items Used

Once again, make sure you dispose of any items that have thinner on them safely. Check your local laws on the proper way to get rid of these items.


related questions

Gel stains can be a new concept to many. To understand why gel stains are becoming common, read the frequently asked questions below.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Gel Stain?

People often prefer gel stain to standard stain because it doesn’t run due to its thickness, you can still feel the wood texture, it provides a luxurious sheen, and it can effectively hide the color of a previous stain.

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Do You Need to Seal Gel Stains?

No, it isn’t necessary to seal your gel-stained wood if you don’t want to.

But the seal can prevent the wood from drying out and adds that extra shine that many people appreciate.


If you’re staring at your beautiful wood dresser and hate the color of the stain, don’t worry.

Learning how to remove gel stain from wood isn’t a complicated process.

But as mentioned and exemplified, removing these heavy-duty stains does require a decent amount of time and effort.

But the most important aspect of this process is to make sure you protect yourself from the harmful chemicals you’re using.

Not using the proper gear and care can result in a headache or something worse.

Protect yourself when removing gel stains and any other time you need to handle harsh thinners.