The most effective way to make wood look better is to use lacquer. Along with varnish and similar types of paint, they make wood look superb.
But over time, these coats start to wear off or simply look stained. And when that happens, you’ll have to learn how to remove lacquer.
Even though applying the lacquer in the wood is easy, removing it is not. As lacquer adheres powerfully to the wood, getting it off the surface can take a lot of time and effort.
Don’t worry, though – we have the perfect solutions for that.
Whether it is because you want to use the wood for something else or just reapply the lacquer to renew it – this article will help you do so. So, keep reading!
We’re going to show you a few methods you can use to get rid of lacquer. Pay close attention to the details and make sure to read everything before following any of the steps.
Prepare Yourself and The Work Area Before Removing Lacquer From Furniture
If you want to remove lacquer finish from wood, you’ll have to gather a few items and tidy up the work area.
This will help you remove the lacquer more quickly, save time, effort, and eventually get the job done more effectively. Here’s how to proceed:
Gather All the Necessary Items
First and foremost, make sure you have all the items required to get the job done. We’ll put them all together no matter the method of your choosing. It is very likely you’ll end up doing both anyway.
Here are some of the items we recommend to get rid of lacquer:
- Old Paintbrush (small for small woods, large for large woods)
- Hard-brittle brush or steel wool
- Coarse cloth
- Putty or plastic knife
- Sandpaper (80-grit, 150-grit, and/or 220-grit)
- Sanding machine (optional)
- Denatured alcohol (for DIY solvent)
- Lacquer thinner (for DIY solvent)
- Lacquer solvent (if possible)
These items will be enough to remove the lacquer from any piece of wood with the methods we’ll show you later.
Find a Ventilated Place
After gathering all the necessary items, you need to look for a ventilated area to work on.
This is required because it contains strong chemicals that can cause damage to your lungs. If you don’t find a place with enough ventilation, then all the fumes from the chemicals may get into your organs.
On top of that, concentrated fumes can be damaging to other people as well as animals. Finding an open place or an outdoor area can be an excellent choice.
In case you need to work indoors, then use fans and open all windows and doors. This will prevent the fumes from concentrating and getting harmful.
Gather Cleaning Items
Once you’re done removing the lacquer, you’ll be left with tons of residues. Therefore, it is crucial to have all the necessary cleaning items ready, so you can clean everything afterward.
Among these items you can find:
- Bucket with water
- Soap or detergent
- A scrub brush
- Vacuum (optional)
Wear Safety Gear
Once you have the cleaning items ready and you’ve found a perfect place to work, then you need to find the necessary safety gear. Remember, lacquer can be toxic, so getting it on your skin, eyes, mouth, or even just breathing chemical fumes can be dangerous.
So, here’s a list of protective gear you can use:
- Respirator or dust mask
- Safety glasses
- Safety or rubber gloves
- Long-sleeved shirt
- Long pants
- Safety boots
Keep them on at all times while removing the lacquer. Otherwise, you may easily breathe or come in contact with the chemicals that can be awfully dangerous.
Protect Other Areas and Furniture
Now you’re almost ready to start. But first, let’s prepare everything around, so you don’t end up damaging the floor, garden, furniture, or other stuff around. Here’s how:
- Anything from doors to windows, walls, floors – try to protect them with either newspaper or cloths. Use duct tape to hold the protective layer and prevent anything from touching the surface.
- At the same time, remove everything from the piece of wood you’re removing the lacquer from. If it is a door, for example, you’ll have to get rid of the doorknob, hinges, screws, nails, and other parts.
- If you’re working on a garden or outdoor area, protect plants and other surfaces as well. Keep cloths and trash bags below, so any chemical or lacquer falls directly into the protective layer.
This should be enough to prevent any eventual damage to stuff you don’t want to be fixing later.
Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty!
How to Remove Lacquer from Wood: Easy Methods For Beginners
Method 1: Remove Lacquer with a Solvent
The first method and best way to remove lacquer from wood are by using a solvent.
Because lacquer is an alcohol-based finish, a solvent gets rid of the finish without causing any damage to the wood. At the same time, it makes the lacquer come right off without much hassle.
Here’s how to do it:
Prepare or Buy the Solvent
You may be able to find lacquer solvents directly on hardware stores. But in some cases, you may not find the solvent alone, but as a lacquer thinner.
Thinner is way milder than solvent. But it can work well with denatured alcohol to get rid of the lacquer in wood.
Do this to Prepare Your Own Solvent:
- Get a bottle of the lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol.
- Grab equal part of denatured alcohol and thinner and pour them on a bowl or pot.
- Mix them deeply until the mix thickens up a little.
You have the solvent ready to clean the lacquer off.
Apply the Solvent
Once you have the lacquer remover or solvent, then you’re ready to start applying it. Here’s how to proceed:
- Grab the old paintbrush and dip it on the solvent. Then start spreading it around the wood surface with the lacquer.
- Spread the solvent in small sections. This will prevent it from drying up and not removing the lacquer correctly.
- Separate the wood surface in several parts, depending on its size. 1 square foot per section will be enough. Then apply the solvent accordingly.
This should help you apply the solvent consistently and cover the entire area where the lacquer is.
Let the Solvent Dry
Once you apply the solvent, it starts drying up in a question of minutes, and the lacquer will start coming off the wood surface.
You’ll have to wait for at least 2 minutes to see how the lacquer evaporates. Remember that the lacquer should dissolve completely. It won’t soften up or look cloudy, but instead come right off as liquid or slices/chips.
If it looks like a softer version and it doesn’t come right off the wood, then it probably means you need to apply more solvent. In the worst-case scenario, you didn’t make the proper mix. Luckily, adding more solvent will also solve the issue.
Remove the Solvent
The lacquer started to come right off all dissolved and in pieces. Now you’re ready to begin removing lacquer from wood.
- Grab the hard-brittle brush or steel wool. Then start scraping the surface with the lacquer. Do it in circles to start removing the extra solvent with the lacquer. It should come right off with a gentle brush.
- Make sure the liquid or solvent goes right into the trash bag or cloth below. Do not wipe too harshly as you could spread the solvent around by mistake.
- Once you’ve removed most of the solvent with the lacquer, then you can use an old rag or piece of fabric to get rid of the remaining solvent in the wood. In case the solvent is already dry, then you can brush further.
- If the solvent removed the lacquer, then you’ll start feeling the wood much coarser and rougher than before.
Now you’re almost ready to finish with the solvent method.
Remove the Remains
By now, you’re almost done. But some of the solvent likely dried up, and you can’t get it off with the brush or steel wool. If that’s the case, then do this:
- Grab the putty or plastic knife and try to get rid of the remains without scratching the wood. Follow the wood grain to prevent damage.
- Try to look for spots that still have some of the lacquer finish. You can ignore these, and only remove the cloudy or solvent-like areas.
This will make the wood look dry and almost uncolored. It means you’ve successfully removed most of the lacquer.
Reapply as Necessary
In case you saw some of the lacquer remaining, it means you need to repeat the process with the solvent. That will get rid of any lacquer that didn’t get off the first time.
- Apply the solvent with the paintbrush as before. But don’t let the solvent dry this time, use the steel wool and wipe the lacquer completely off immediately. This to be careful not to sparkle solvent around.
- Keep removing the remaining lacquer areas this way. Make sure the whole wood surface is free of any lacquer.
- You can always use an old rag or piece of fabric to remove the solvent if necessary. That will prevent any damage to the original wood surface.
If there aren’t more lacquered areas in the wood anymore, then that means you’ve successfully removed the lacquer using a solvent.
Method 2: Remove Lacquer by Sanding
Another method for lacquer removing from wood is to use sandpaper or a sanding machine. You may also use both to achieve a perfect result.
This process is more complicated than using a solvent. But it allows you to achieve a renewed finish on the wood, getting rid not only of the lacquer but the damaged, old, or just dry surface. Then, you can reapply the finish and achieve an even better result.
At the same time, you can proceed with this method if the first one wasn’t effective or didn’t get rid of all the lacquer.
Here’s how to do it:
Clean the Wood
Before you start sanding, we heavily recommend getting rid of any type of dust, debris, and other contaminants on the surface. In short, clean it thoroughly. Do this:
- Mix soap or detergent in a bowl of water for a door-sized piece of wood. If it is smaller, then a few cups of water will be enough. Then mix.
- With this soapy water, you need to start cleaning the surface. Use a hard-brittle brush to clean. Make sure to cover the whole surface and remove any stain and/or dust particles.
- If you can’t get rid of everything, then you can add some vinegar to the mix. This should clean even more deeply and get rid of the stain.
- Then grab an old rag or piece of fabric and dry the surface before sanding.
Let the wood dry for at least 5 minutes before you start sanding.
Remove the Finish
With the surface clean, you can start removing lacquer. This process requires a lot of effort, but it is fairly straightforward. Here’s how:
- Grab a sandpaper piece with an 80-grit surface. If you’re using a sanding machine like an orbital sander, power sander, or similar, then it should have a disk of this grit as well.
- We recommend using sandpaper for irregular areas where a machine wouldn’t work. For any other surface, use a sanding machine.
- If you’re using sandpaper, try sanding following the grain. For anyone using a machine, be consistent and gentle not to damage the wood surface instead of the finish. Go slow as not to lose control of the tool while sanding.
- Keep going until most of the lacquer has come off. This could take from 10 to 30 minutes with a machine and anywhere from 1 to 3 hours with sandpaper.
This will give you an almost lacquer-free finish. You may want to leave it like this in case it looks rough enough. Otherwise, you can proceed and keep removing all the remaining lacquer completely.
Rough Up the Surface
To strip lacquer from wood entirely by sanding, you’ll want to leave a rough surface. Here’s how to make that possible:
- Grab the 150-grit sandpaper or sanding disk of the same capacity. This finer grit will help you rough up the surface without causing damage.
- Be gentle with the surface, especially if you’re using a sanding machine. Go slow and steady. Try to rough up the surface but without causing damage.
- Remove any remaining lacquer you see. Make sure to be consistent and leave a flat surface as well.
You’ll finish when the surface looks rough and almost like raw wood. If that’s the case, then you’re almost ready to finish.
Remove the Dust
Once you’ve sanded most of the lacquer away, then you’ll be left with tons of dust and slices around. This could make it hard to finish the whole sanding process, so we recommend cleaning it. Here’s how:
- Start by wiping off most of the dust with a paintbrush or hard-brittle brush. Don’t be too harsh as to cause damage to the almost raw wood surface.
- Then grab an old rag or piece of cloth and dampen it slightly in water. Now start wiping following the grain. This should get rid of most of the dust and debris remaining.
We recommend doing this after removing the finish, then repeating when roughing up the surface, and before and after finishing the whole sanding process.
Finish the Sanding
With the wood surface clean, you’re ready to start sanding away the roughness and give the wood a smoother finish. For that, you’ll have to do this:
- Look for the 220-grit sandpaper or disk. Then start sanding following the grain.
- This will help you level out the whole surface. So be careful not to go overboard. If there are any small areas with lacquer, then this should get rid of the remains.
After a few minutes, you’ll be ready to enjoy a smoother wood surface. You’ve successfully finished the lacquer-removing process and obtained a renewed piece of wood.
As you see, removing lacquer from wood is not as hard as it seems. But it still requires some effort and time.
So, don’t worry if you need to get rid of some lacquer from a piece of wood. It is not rocket science, and almost anyone can do it.
Just remember that once you’re done with process, you must clean everything and take a good preparation with neccesary items. Use the broom, brush, mop, dustpan, detergent or soap, and anything else to leave the work area and everything else clean.
Once you clean everything, you’ve successfully and cleanly removed lacquer from wood.