Knotty Pine: How to Restore Orange Paneling

Knotty pine paneling that has turned orange
Restoring knotty pine paneling that has turned orange over the years is a difficult job, but it’s possible.


Linda in Tennessee wants to lighten the knotty pine paneling in her 1960s home. This is because the varnish, over the years, has caused it to turn orange.

She doesn’t want to paint her paneling, but she does want to freshen it up a little bit. There’s just one problem: It looks like the shellac, or varnish, has stained the knotty pine over the years. Linda’s just not sure what to do about it.

Knotty pine paneling has so many grooves, so the orange / yellowish varnish has certainly penetrated deep into the wood. In fact, if you take one of the pictures off the wall, it probably looks much different underneath, compared to the uncovered paneling.

Applying a chemical stripper to all of Linda’s knotty pine paneling, and sanding the surfaces, would help, but it would still be very hard to remove the orange / yellowish varnish from all of the grooves.

A great solution would be to try an environmentally safe, non-toxic citrus stripper called CitriStrip before staining the wood to brighten up the room.

The only other option — that would preserve the knotty pine — is to sand everything down, get down to the bare wood, and bleach the walls.

A popular alternative is to paint the wood. However, that’s only an option for homeowners who want a simple fix, and don’t mind covering up the paneling’s character.

But if you like the look of unfinished knotty pine, there’s just one thing to do: start stripping and sanding!

Listen to the embedded audio clip above for the full answer!

Read the blog from the Feb. 1 show and listen to the full broadcast here.

Further Reading:


    • Hi, Catherine,
      The backside of the paneling may not have the same profile (it’s usually flat with no molded details) and the chances of removing heart pine that’s that old without damaging it (due to splits, cracks and tool marks) are slim and none.
      Thanks for your question!

  1. I have the exact same dilemma as Linda, knotty pine walls that have oranged very dark over the years, and a ton of it. I have tested numerous different ways to try to lighten them without as much time and effort is needed in actually doing it the right way. I had a couple of spare pieces I didn’t need so I figured no harm in testing on them. I found that a small handheld clothes steamer actually pulled that orange out along with the shiny varnish like coating on the wood. I was wondering tho, if this is actually damaging the wood to much in the process. Any advice or recommendations on whether this method is even an option I can consider or just a big no-no, would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance.

    • Hi, Dawn,
      Need more information about this topic? Connect one-on-one with a home improvement pro immediately through JustAnswer, a Today’s Homeowner partner:
      Good luck with your knotty pine project! 🙂

  2. Do you use the CitriStrip first and then start sanding? I am wanting to lighten up tree knotty pine in my attic and wondering if I need to remove the varnish before sanding

    • Hi, Curiously,
      We haven’t seen your attic walls, but generally, here’s what we’d do.
      We would apply the Citristrip as directed, let it sit for a half-hour, and then gently remove the varnish with a putty knife.
      Then, we would remove the residue with mineral spirits and let dry.
      Finally, we’d sand as needed to prep it for refinishing.
      Good luck with your project!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here