How to Remove Lacquer From Wood

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Stunning and durable are some of the notable qualities of lacquer, but with time it can start to fade or stain. To restore wood surfaces, you may need to learn how to remove lacquer from wood that has been applied. 

Here, our pro woodworkers have put together this guide outlining the steps necessary to successfully remove lacquer from wooden surfaces using specialized remover products.

Why Do You Need to Remove Lacquer or Varnish From a Wood Surface?

Unmaintained Finish

Old or poorly maintained varnish can lead to a flaky, cracking finish on wood surfaces, especially hardwood floors. 

To restore these pieces and create a clean look, the existing finish must be removed before applying any new coating. 

To Apply a New Finish

Don’t be too quick to discard those old, lacquered pieces of furniture just because they don’t fit the aesthetic of your modern home. 

cabinet drawer finished with Jolie Finishing Wax

After a bit of love and effort, you can transform them into stylish neo-retro furnishings for less than what it would cost at Ikea!

Allergic Reaction

Regrettably, these finishes have a tendency to draw in dust particles and retain lingering odors, such as the smell of smoke from cigarettes. In the past, smoking was prevalent in households, but due to health risks, it is now avoided.

Thus, it is important to be mindful of these factors when considering the use of such finishes in order to maintain a clean and odor-free environment.

Preparation + Tools for Removing Lacquer Coats

tools and materials for removing paint on wood

With lacquer-clad wood surfaces, you’ll need the right tools to properly start learning how to remove lacquer from wood.

Removing Lacquer from Any Woodwork in 6 Methods

Method #1: Chemical Solvent

An alcohol-based chemical solvent finish can easily be dissolved with the use of an appropriate solvent such as lacquer thinner or by combining lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol mixture to achieve desired results.

lacquer thinner

Step 1: Ready Your Solvent

If you must eliminate lacquer from wood, commercially-available lacquer thinner solvents can be used. 

Alternatively, mix parts of denatured alcohol and either commercial or DIY lacquer thinner mixture equally in a small bowl for an effective solution.

Step 2: Apply the solvent and Leave it to Dry

To begin, divide the wood into tiny sections, then use a paintbrush to evenly spread thick layers of the lacquer thinner over those areas. 

Within minutes should the solvent dry; if applied with proper parameters, it will show as flakes or liquid.

Step 3: Clear Out the Solvent & Lacquer from the Wood

Pieces of lacquer finish should easily come off as you use more for eradicating extra solvent – brush in circular motions on marked areas; this will also help reduce any residues left behind by solvents. 

cloth and white bottle

With patience and effort, all traces of both the coat and the product used to wash away residue are eventually gone.

Step 4: Remove Any Excess Lacquer and Repeat the Procedure

If you haven’t managed to remove the chemical solvents with a brush (paint-stripping type) or steel wool, try using a putty knife. 

Once all of them have been removed, wipe away excess solvent or remaining lacquer thinners, and your clean-up is complete!

Method #2: Chemical Stripper

Chemical strippers are an effective method for removing lacquer finish from the wood. They work differently than chemical methods or solvents, though they may not be as fast-acting or labor-intensive.

pouring Citristrip Gel

Alkaline Strippers

For removing varnish, greasy paint, and lacquer layer from wood, minerals on surfaces, or ferrous metals, these strippers are the ideal solution. 

At a pH level [1] of just below 12, these potent agents quickly and efficiently remove binding agent residue or lacquer residues, leaving only clean substrates behind.

Solvent-Based Strippers

A variety of paints and lacquers, including acrylic and nitro kinds as well as latex emulsions, can be easily removed with these strippers. They won’t be hindered by leftover adhesive or polyurethane foam accumulation!

Steps to Do

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Chemical Strippers

To protect wooden surfaces, chemical strippers are a great choice for vintage and delicate wooden furniture. However, part of knowing how to remove lacquer from wood is also properly handling chemical strippers. 

removing Citristrip Stripping Gel

You must take caution when using them. If not applied properly, wood can become stained from excess drippings.

Method #3. Sanding

Remove lacquer finishes from wood using a machine, such as a belt orbital sander, or even just regular sandpaper. Each comes with its benefits. 

Many prefer the more delicate touch of sandpaper to avoid deforming the wood’s surface, while machines are often faster when dealing with large areas.

Step 1: Clean the Wood Surface

Before sanding, it’s essential to clean the wood. A soapy mixture will do just that; carefully wipe away any dust and dirt until you achieve a clean slate. Then let things dry up.

Step 2: Begin Sanding

When the surface is dry, you can start sanding with either a sand machine or sheets of sandpaper. If there are areas too difficult to reach using the machine, use various sizes of paper for smoothness.

sanding table after removing paint

Step 3: Tidy Up the Sanded Surface

After you’ve completed sanding, give the wood a final cleaning for pristine results. Work with the wood grain rather than against it by using a paintbrush and cloth to make sure no traces of dust remain.

Pros and Cons of Removing Lacquer By Sanding

Electric sanders can easily remove lacquers, but they also leave behind deep grooves that won’t be easy to cover up. 

Sanding is a time-saving option when there are many thin layers of paint involved, yet its use should always be approached with caution due to the large volume of dust produced by untrained operators.

You might want to check out the different sander recommendations here: 

Method #4. Using Heat

You can use heat with a heat gun to effectively remove lacquer from wood and not worry about staining. 

stripping paint with heat gun

To do this, use the heat gun to slowly apply high temperatures in short bursts until all layers are removed. Keep your distance, though, as too much heat up close could cause burning!

Step 1: Tidy Up the Wood Surface

To start, make sure your wooden surface is crystal-clear by giving it a fresh wipe with a damp cloth. Don’t forget to let the area dry completely before moving on to the next step of application!

Step 2: Apply Heat to the Wood

Applying heat to the surface of the wood with an angle of 45 degrees. This will quickly break down an old layer of lacquer coat from the wood. Once it wrinkles, you can use a putty knife to scrape off any remaining residue.

Step 3: Sand the Wood

To perfect the wood surface, use sandpaper to give it a polished look. Make sure the old wood lacquer is removed before you start sanding; this will ensure an even finish.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Stripping Lacquer By Heating

The advantage of removing lacquer from wood with heat is that it does not stain, does not contain any chemical agents, does not pollute, and is also a relatively quick operation. 

removing paint with heat gun

When using it, be mindful of the temperature: we don’t want to burn or darken the wood. 

Method #5. Spatula

One easier method is to simply scrape away! Scraping can target multiple layers with ease. If a spatula just won’t cut it for you, visit your local hardware store and explore other tools designed specifically for this task.


Method #6. Steel Wool

Steel wool is a powerful tool for removing layers of lacquer from wooden surfaces. With its superior scraping qualities, it’s an essential part of the process of restoring any scratched or sticky areas on wood furniture.

steel wool


How to Pick the Right Chemicals for Clearing Lacquer from Wood

Consider the thickness of the latticework and opt for something strong enough to get rid of it efficiently without compromising the safety or health risks associated with more powerful substances. 

Moreover, take into account that many lacquer chemicals that remove lacquer from wood are highly flammable; therefore, handle them with care to minimize potential danger while achieving desired results.

Chemical strippers range from powerful methylene chloride agents to the less-toxic NMP alternative and, finally, organic biochemical variants. 

paint stripped with MAX Strip Paint & Varnish

The strongest of these are the chlorinated compounds; however, for those who want an environmentally friendly option, there is a selection of plant/animal derived acids like lactic acid or citric acid, which provide low toxicity but lower strength results than higher-end products.

Precautions for Removing Lacquer

Wear Safety Gear

Safety must be your top priority when removing paint or lacquer from wood. Always wear eye protection, respirator masks, and rubber gloves to keep yourself safe while working with strippers, steel wool, and lacquer solvents.

Do the Process in a Well-Ventilated Work Area

Open windows if working indoors or move the project outdoors for optimal results: by using two fans, one blowing into the room and another out of a window, toxic fumes and dust can be minimized during this process.

Dispose of Rags or Any Wastes Properly

Make sure to dispose of all varnish-laden rags and waste, such as steel wool, properly; place them into plastic bags for outdoor disposal. 

absorbent cloth for cleaning

Leaving these lying around your home could pose a potential hazard, particularly if you have children living in the residence.

Protect Your Wooden Furniture

When performing this task indoors, make sure you cover surrounding areas with a suitable material, such as plastic sheeting or newspaper; otherwise, dust and lacquer coat residue could cause lasting damage.

Utilize Plastic Knives During Chemical Use

When scraping away any remaining traces of the coat, you should use plastic knives instead of metal ones for extra protection against possible corrosion caused by chemical contact with metals.

Our Top Pick for a Lacquer/Varnish Remover for Wood: CITRISTRIP Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel

Citristrip’s gel-based stripper offers unparalleled effectiveness for all your stripping needs. It can effectively remove lacquer from wood, even with one or multiple layers of paint, and varnish from wood, metal, and masonry surfaces with no nasty fumes! 

It works in as little as 24 hours, giving the performance expected by DIY enthusiasts and professionals alike. Citrstrip has revolutionized coating removal; their innovative formula is an industry leader that exceeds expectations every time. 

What We Like

What We Don't Like


Does rubbing alcohol remove lacquer?

Yes. Rubbing alcohol with high concentration can remove lacquer from wood or soften it slowly.

How long will it take to strip off lacquer from wood?

The duration of lacquer removal solution can vary significantly depending on the strategy employed, ranging from a few minutes to several hours or more. Additionally, project size is an important factor in determining overall completion time.

What’s the ideal sander to use in removing lacquer from wooden surfaces?

Sanding is essential for achieving a smooth finish on your wooden creations. Here are three types of sanders to get the job done: band, orbital, and delta (for tackling tough angles).

Is sanding still required if I use lacquer remover?

To ensure a spotless finish, scrape away any varnish remnants with the aid of a spatula. Use medium-weight sandpaper to take your furniture project up an extra notch.


Removing lacquer coating can be a time-consuming task, but it doesn’t have to feel daunting. Use solvents or sanding techniques and clean up your area afterward for an easier job. Now you’ve learned how to remove lacquer from wood, you’re ready to start your project!

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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