Does Lacquer Yellow? What You Neec to Know

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Lacquer’s popularity as a durable, glossy finish for furniture and woodwork is often overshadowed by concerns of yellowing, but is this a fact or just a result of improper wood preparation?

In this guide, our expert woodworkers will answer if lacquer does yellow over time, so you can keep the pristine appearance of your cherished items for years to come.

What Causes Lacquer to Turn Yellow?

Contrary to popular belief, not every variety of lacquer tends to develop a yellow hue over time. There are types of lacquer that remain clear and some that are prone to turning yellow.

CAB-Acrylic lacquer, a water-based finish, remains unaffected by yellowing and maintains its “water-white” appearance over time. 

On the other hand, nitrocellulose lacquer, being oil-based, is susceptible to yellowing when exposed to sunlight and environmental factors. Nevertheless, it remains a popular choice due to its attractive appearance and cost-effectiveness.

Nitrocellulose lacquer

Applying nitrocellulose lacquer to furniture not directly exposed to sunlight can delay yellowing for several years, but it is still an oil-based finish that is vulnerable to yellowing from UV light, sunlight, aging, and other factors. 

Some manufacturers offer a UV-resistant nitrocellulose finish, which helps maintain its natural color for a few years before fading, and only allows the lacquer to yellow when exposed to the sun’s light rays.


Nitrocellulose lacquer, composed of alkyd/nitrocellulose resins in quick-drying diluents, is sensitive to chemicals and heat. Direct sunlight exposure breaks down lacquer molecules, causing surface yellowing, which accelerates with increased sun exposure. 

To prevent yellowing, we recommend using CAB-Acrylic lacquer for sun-exposed furniture and exterior carpentry tasks and reserve nitrocellulose lacquer, or ordinary lacquer, for interior furnishings and timber structures that are not directly exposed to sunlight.

In short, oil-based lacquer finishes, such as nitrocellulose lacquer does yellow over time due to their reaction with UV light rays, while water-based lacquer, like CAB-Acrylic lacquer, remains stable and retains its real color longer. 

4 Solutions to Fix Yellowed Lacquer

lacquer stain

To help you efficiently combat the problem of yellowing lacquer, there are four main techniques available, which we will explore in detail. These methods cater to different scenarios, depending on the extent of the yellowing and the specific needs of your woodworking project. 

By understanding the advantages and drawbacks of each approach, you can make an informed decision about which method is best suited to restore the appearance and protective qualities of your lacquered furniture or woodwork.

Ultimately, the success of your restoration project will depend on the quality of the materials you use and your attention to detail during the refinishing process. 

By investing in high-quality, non-yellowing lacquers and adhering to best practices, you can prevent future discoloration and extend the life of your wood surfaces. 

Fix #1: Apply a fresh coat of lacquer over the existing one.

using hand brush

The easiest approach to address discolored lacquer is to apply a fresh layer of nitrocellulose lacquer over the yellowed layer. 

However, this method has its limitations, as the new coat may also yellow within a few years. Also, the increased thickness of the lacquer can lead to drying problems. If the layers do not dry adequately, moisture can become trapped, causing a cloudy and unappealing finish. 

This technique is most appropriate for situations where the original lacquer layer is thin, and the furniture will be placed in an area with minimal sunlight exposure after applying the new finish. 

Otherwise, adding a coat may prove to be counterproductive, as it will also eventually yellow, resulting in an unattractive and unnatural appearance on the wood. 

Additionally, it is crucial to consider the overall durability and protection of the finish, which may be compromised by multiple layers of lacquer that are prone to yellowing and other environmental damage. 

To ensure long-lasting beauty and functionality, carefully evaluate whether this method is the most suitable solution for your specific circumstances.

Fix #2: Sand the old finish and apply a new coat using a spray.

sanding wood

Addressing yellowed lacquer can be achieved by carefully scuffing the discolored surface using 220-grit sandpaper and applying a new coat of applying lacquer that resists yellowing on the surface. This technique proves highly effective for areas with sporadic yellowed patches. 

Delicately buff the discolored regions until the yellow tinge disappears, followed by a spray application of a lacquer known to resist yellowing. 

This strategy works best for surfaces exhibiting sporadic yellow discoloration rather than a fully yellowed finish, as comprehensive sanding could potentially damage the wood, making the elimination of the yellow tinge more challenging.

The process of scuffing and putting on a new coat not only softens the old, yellowed finish but also helps to eliminate minor scratches and cracks, resulting in a rejuvenated lacquer finish free of yellow patches. 

When choosing a new coating, opt for CAB-Acrylic lacquer, as it is known for its resistance to yellowing over time, ensuring the longevity and beauty of your woodwork.

Fix #3: Strip the previous finish and refinish using non-yellowing lacquer.

applying soy gel stripper

The most reliable and comprehensive strategy to handle a yellowed lacquer finish is to entirely remove and sand down the discolored lacquer layer, subsequently reapplying a non-yellowing lacquer. 

Despite this method being laborious and time-intensive, it assures the permanent elimination of the yellowing, leading to a durable and appealing finish.

By getting rid of the discolored lacquer and replacing it with a fresh layer of non-yellowing lacquer, such as CAB-Acrylic lacquer, you’re ensuring a swiftly drying and curing thin coat, offering maximum protection and aesthetic appeal.

Let’s explore in more depth the thorough process and tools needed to effectively restore a yellowed lacquer finish, offering your wooden items or furniture a renewed, long-lasting appearance that will endure regular use.

Step #1: Strip off the discolored, old finish.

paint stripping materials

Start by applying a solvent-based remover uniformly on the discolored zone to effectively strip the aged, yellowed lacquer coating. 

The chemical solution needs some time to effectively react with the tarnished lacquer, softening the discoloration and efficiently breaking the link between the lacquer and the wood underneath.

This stage makes it easier to take off the old lacquer, as the chemical solvent loosens the bonds in the coating, reducing its stickiness. Once sufficient time has passed, delicately clean off any leftover solvent and give the surface a bit of time to dry.

Now, you can conveniently use abrasive paper to get rid of the yellowed lacquer, preparing the wood surface for a new, clear finish.

Step #2: Sand down the previous finish.

Kick off the process by using 80-grit sandpaper to evenly sand the surface, eradicating the previous finish and providing a smooth foundation. Make use of an electric or hand-held sander, taking care to maintain uniform pressure to avoid harming the wood.

Following this, carry on with sanding the entire zone using 150-grit sandpaper, culminating in a final round of sanding with 220-grit sandpaper. 

sanding wood using 220 grit

This process ensures the full elimination of the old finish, a consistently smooth surface, and the adequate preparation needed for the fresh coating.

Be sure to clean the surface between each sanding stage to remove accumulated sawdust and remaining debris. After the sanding stage is wrapped up, get rid of the dust using an effective dust removal system or by diligently wiping the surface.

Maintaining a dust-free new finish is crucial, as dust particles can lead to a lackluster and unattractive look. Your wooden surface is now prepared and awaiting a new layer of a clear lacquer finish.

Important note: If the previous lacquer has caused the wood itself to take on a yellowish hue, you might have to apply bleach to restore its neutral color, which is an essential step in getting the optimal outcome with the fresh lacquer.

Step #3: Apply a finish that doesn't yellow over time.

Apply a clear lacquer finish resistant to discoloration, like acrylic lacquer, uniformly over the entire wooden surface, covering all areas thoroughly. As a water-based solution, acrylic lacquer is resistant to yellowing over time, unlike its nitrocellulose counterpart. 

spraying lacquer on tabletop

To achieve a seamless and consistent finish, apply multiple thin layers following along the orientation of the timber fibers. This technique ensures even distribution and enhanced adhesion. 

After the lacquer application is complete, allow ample time for the surface to cure and dry, ensuring the best possible appearance and durability. 

By using a non-yellowing lacquer, your furniture will remain protected against discoloration and retain its pristine “water white” appearance for a significantly longer duration.

Fix #4: Eliminate yellowed areas using lacquer thinner.

If only specific parts have experienced discoloration over time, a convenient solution is to tidy up these patches with a solvent like lacquer thinner.

Here’s the simplified process for cleaning discolored lacquer finish:

lacquer paints and thinner
  1. Formulate a mix by integrating one unit of lacquer thinner with a double amount of denatured alcohol.
  2. Administer this compound onto the yellowed regions on the lacquer surface.
  3. Gently scrub the stained areas until the yellowish shade disappears.
  4. Rinse the cleaned zones with water to eliminate any leftover residues.
  5. Swipe any residual dampness using a wet fabric, making sure the surface is spotless.
  6. Let the areas air out naturally and observe the changes and enhancements.

This quick and efficient method enables you to purge yellow spots from lacquer without the need to remove the finish entirely. It’s particularly suitable for small craft projects or decorative objects where localized cleaning is required.

Non-Yellowing Finishes to Try Instead

For the best color conservation of your wooden items and furnishings, it’s wise to opt for finishes that resist yellowing and preserve the natural look of the wood.

Lifting bulls eye shellac

Finishes that don’t yellow are typically water-oriented, whereas those based on oil are prone to yellowing. Thus, the prime choice to prevent your furnishings from discoloring over time would be a water-based finish.

Here are some finishes that are resistant to yellowing:

Which Types of Lacquer Do Not Yellow?

CAB-Acrylic lacquer, a water-based lacquer, is known for its ability to retain its first color without yellowing over time. This particular lacquer type effectively resists discoloration, ensuring the wood’s natural appearance is preserved for an extended duration. 

Its unique composition offers excellent durability and protection, making it an ideal choice for various woodworking applications.

Acrylic lacquer

If you encounter a discolored nitrocellulose lacquer coating, the recommended solution is to strip, sand, and refinish the surface with an acrylic lacquer that resists yellowing. 

Acrylic lacquer emerges as the optimal choice for woodwork exposed to the sun’s light and exterior furniture due to its non-reactivity to UV light [1] and other chemicals that commonly contribute to yellowing. 

This superior resistance enables your furniture and woodwork to maintain its fresh appearance for years to come, even in challenging environmental conditions.

In addition to its non-yellowing properties, CAB-Acrylic lacquer also offers other advantages, such as low odor, rapid drying times, and easy clean-up with water. This makes it a user-friendly option for both professional woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts alike. 

Moreover, acrylic lacquers are available in various finishes, including matte, satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss, providing a versatile range of options to suit your specific project requirements and aesthetic preferences.

acrylic lacquer spray can

By selecting CAB-Acrylic lacquer for your woodworking projects, you can ensure the longevity and beauty of your furniture and woodwork, without the risk of yellowing over time. 

This exceptional finish offers a reliable and attractive solution for preserving the natural appearance of wood while providing the necessary protection against environmental factors that can lead to discoloration and degradation.

Does Clear Lacquer Become Yellow Over Time?

It is true that clear lacquer, particularly nitrocellulose lacquer, can yellow over time due to being subjected to direct sun rays and a range of chemical substances. 

The molecular structure of nitrocellulose lacquer is vulnerable to degradation under UV light, which ultimately leads to the undesirable yellowing effect. 

To avoid this, you may opt for acrylic lacquer as an alternative. Acrylic lacquer is a water-based, strong finish that is well-suited for furniture subject to direct sunlight exposure. 

Zinsser shellac

Its superior resistance to yellowing ensures that your furniture and woodwork maintain their pristine appearance for extended periods, making it an excellent choice for both indoor and outdoor projects.

Around What Time Will Lacquer Turn Yellow?

Lacquer does yellow after five years or even longer, with the specified timeframe being influenced by various factors such as the degree of exposure to sun rays the surface receives, the type of lacquer used, and the quality of the application process. 

In instances where the surface is not directly subjected to sunlight or other environmental elements, the lacquer can remain free from yellowing for an extended duration, potentially ranging from 10 to 15 years or more.

This color alteration can be traced back to the lacquer’s chemical interaction with both oxygen and the UV rays present in the surrounding atmosphere. 

Prolonged exposure to these elements can cause the lacquer’s molecular structure to break down, leading to the undesirable yellowing effect. 

Douglas Fir furniture

As such, it is crucial to consider the environmental factors and positioning of your furniture or woodwork when selecting a lacquer finish to ensure long-lasting color stability and protection.

To further extend the lifespan of your lacquer finish and prevent yellowing, consider implementing protective measures such as using UV-resistant window treatments, avoiding direct sunlight exposure, and maintaining proper humidity levels in the environment. 

Additionally, regular cleaning and maintenance of lacquered surfaces can help preserve their appearance and integrity over time.

When selecting a lacquer finish for your woodworking projects, it is essential to weigh the benefits and potential drawbacks of each type, such as yellowing resistance, durability, and ease of application. 

painting kitchen cabinet

By understanding these factors and making informed decisions, you can choose the most suitable finish for your specific needs and create a lasting, beautiful result for your furniture and woodwork that withstands the test of time.

Will Deft Lacquer Yellow Over Time?

Deft lacquer is highly regarded for its exceptional color retention properties, guaranteeing its resistance to discoloration in the long run. This finish is characterized by its clarity and resistance to discoloration, imparting a transparent hue to wooden surfaces. 

Notably, Deft lacquer boasts a quick drying time, often setting within 20 to 40 minutes. Due to these advantageous characteristics, this lacquer is a popular choice for furniture inside the house that has limited being subjected to sun rays. 

It is particularly well-suited for preserving the natural appearance of wood while offering protection from wear and tear. 

DEFT Lacquer

Deft lacquer is an excellent option for homeowners and craftsmen seeking a reliable, long-lasting, and visually appealing finish for their interior woodworking projects.

Does Shellac Become Yellow Over Time?

Shellac is an outstanding finish that resists yellowing over time, owing to its remarkable UV resistance that keeps the first color intact without any signs of discoloration. 

This unique attribute makes it a prime choice for various applications, including outdoor and indoor furniture, ensuring they maintain their pristine appearance for years to come. 

Shellac provides a finish that doesn’t turn yellow that delivers exceptional protection against scratches and dents, making it ideal for furniture and numerous woodworking projects. 

As a natural, eco-friendly finish derived from the secretions of the lac insect, shellac also boasts a quick drying time and easy application. 

spraying lacquer to dining table

This versatile finish serves as an excellent alternative to traditional finishes that are prone to yellowing over time, such as tung oil and lacquer, offering a reliable and attractive solution for preserving and enhancing the beauty of your wooden pieces.


Does lacquer have a yellow tint?

Lacquer does not have a yellow tint, but nitrocellulose lacquer can turn yellow over time from sunlight and chemical exposure.

Does Minwax lacquer yellow?

Minwax lacquer can yellow over time, especially if it is a nitrocellulose lacquer exposed to sunlight and chemicals.


Certain types of lacquer do yellow after some time, so it’s paramount to avoid exposing your lacquered furniture or pieces to the sun. 

Nitrocellulose lacquer, an oil-based finish, can yellow due to sunlight and chemical exposure but water-based finishes like CAB-Acrylic lacquer and shellac resist yellowing. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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