How to Get Paint Off of Trim

Updated: Dec. 20, 2023

Remove dried paint drips

FH08MAY_DRIPAI_01-2 paint dripsFamily Handyman
Paint drips on your natural woodwork can be a real pain and a real eyesore. Don't despair. We'll show you how to get rid of those pesky drips without damaging the wood or the finish. Follow these four easy steps for a drip-free look.

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Remove the paint drips

How to Get Paint Off Wood Photo 1: Use a paint scraper

Drag the edge of the paint scraper across the old paint, angling it so it doesn’t dig into the wood.

How to Get Paint Off Wood Photo 2: Use a razor knife in corners

Scrape out paint drips in the corners and other tough spots with the edge of a razor knife. Angle it down as you scrape to avoid cutting the wood.

How to Get Paint Off Wood Photo 3: Rub with denatured alcohol

Rub off any remaining paint residue with a cotton rag wrapped around a paint scraper and dipped in denatured alcohol.

How to Get Paint Off Wood Photo 4: Use stain markers

Use stain markers for quick touchups where the finish has rubbed off.

A few dried paint drips on natural trim can make a whole room look shabby. But you don’t need to strip the woodwork to get rid of them. You can remove paint drips—and the streaks of old paint that make edges of trim so hard to repaint—just by scraping, even if the paint has been dry for years.

First, scrape the paint with a metal putty knife (Photo 1). Paint doesn’t stick well to varnish, and often the paint drips will pop right off. Use a razor knife for corners (Photo 2).

Finally, clean up any residue by rubbing the wood with denatured alcohol (Photo 3). Use matching stain or a stain marker to touch up any light spots (Photo 4).

Plus, learn how to paint a room without making a mess!

Dealing with stubborn drips

Photo 1: Tape and scrape

Apply painter’s tape on the wall to protect the paint. Then apply light pressure to a putty knife and scrape off the surface paint blobs.

Photo 2: Apply paint remover

Squirt a few drops of paint remover onto an old toothbrush and brush in the direction of the wood grain.

Scraping removes the big blotches but sometime leaves paint in the wood grain. For that, you may need to use a little paint remover. Start by taping off the wall and removing the largest blotches (Photo 1). Next, scrub off the remaining paint (Photo 2).

Avoid Drips as You Paint

Masking tape does a good job of protecting woodwork—if it’s applied well.

Clean off all the dirt and grime along the edge of the trim with a damp rag. Hold the tape tight against the wall and roll it out so the tape covers the edge. Press the tape against the wood with a putty knife along the entire length. Use painter’s tape that’s at least twice as wide as the trim and leave it flared out to protect the face of the trim from drips. When you’re done, either remove the tape immediately while the paint is still wet or wait until the next day when it’s totally dry. If you pull it free when the paint is partially dry, you may peel off bits of fresh paint along with the tape.

Required Tools for this how to get paint off wood project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Paint scraper
  • Utility knife
You’ll also need rubber gloves.

Required Materials for this how to get paint off wood project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Denatured alcohol
  • Paint remover
  • Stain marker
  • Toothbrush
  • Utility knife blades