Work in a well-ventilated area such as your open garage or on an outdoor deck or patio. Make sure your work area is dry and dust-free. Use painter’s tape to secure a large drop cloth or tarp to the ground or floor to protect it against spills from chemical strippers and to make cleanup easier. Remove all furniture hardware, drawers, mirrors and doors with a screwdriver or another appropriate tool.
If you are refinishing trim or other semi-permanent pieces, decide whether it will be best to leave them in place to refinish or remove them to work on in your workshop or garage area. You will have more control over the process if you remove them to work on them. If you leave them in place, be sure to protect the floor and other surfaces with a drop cloth that is put securely in place so that dust, debris and chemical stripping agents don’t damage floors or other areas that you don’t want marred. If you’re refinishing banisters or other permanent pieces, open doors and windows to ventilate the room.
For painted surfaces, scrape paint from a small area of the wood with a paint scraper to see how many layers of paint are already on the piece. This will give you an idea of the job ahead and better prepare you for how you will strip the piece down to bare wood.
If you’re removing paint from old wood, the paint may contain lead. Lead is toxic, and scraping, sanding or removing old paint may release lead dust into the air. Children and women who are pregnant should stay away from the work area during this process. When you're working with lead dust, wear a NIOSH-approved respirator and clean all debris carefully with a HEPA filter-outfitted vacuum and a wet mop. Before you start, learn the proper methods to protect yourself by contacting the National Lead Hotline at 1-800-424-LEAD or visiting www.epa.gov/lead.
Clean wood with trisodium phosphate (TSP) and follow all manufacturer instructions. Use a sponge or spray bottle to apply the TSP solution and then wash all exterior surfaces. Let them dry completely.
Use TSP as directed by the manufacturer. TSP can corrode metal and damage finished wood. Be sure to wear protective clothing, eyewear and rubber gloves.