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4 Safe Ways to Remove Lacquer from Wood

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Lacquer gives wood one of the most impressive finishes you’ll come across due to its attractiveness and durability. Its adhesiveness is one of the strongest reasons why you should be using lacquer.

Due to its strong bond with the wood, lacquer finish can be difficult to remove using conventional methods, so there are specialized ways to remove lacquer. These methods will quickly clear the finish from the surface without damaging the wood. It is essential to protect the wood surface to prevent additional preparation processes.

The primary reason to remove lacquer from wood is to repair or refinish ineffective finishes. Over time, the lacquer fades and no longer protects the surface. At this point, it is vital to refinish the wood. You’ll need to remove the previous lacquer to apply a new coat.

If you intend to remove lacquer from your wooden project for various reasons, this guide will help you. It highlights the different ways to remove this finish from your wood safely. But first, let’s see why you may need to remove Lacquer.

Why You May Need to Remove Lacquer?

Why You May Need to Remove Lacquer

Considering that lacquer has an impressive finish with good durability, you may wonder why anyone would want to remove lacquer.

We’ll discuss the various reasons for removing lacquer from wood; this way, you can decide if it is right to strip your wood of all its lacquer coating.

Also Read: How to Remove Paint From Wood?

1. When the Lacquer has Aged

When the lacquer has Aged

As lacquer ages, it loses most of its shine while some parts begin to flake and fall off. Poor maintenance also hastens the aging process and causes some features to fade or chip before the regular timeline. Lacquer can last up to five years, depending on the type and storage conditions.

2. Allergies

Allergies may be the reason you strip the lacquer off the surface, as it can attract dust, which can cause sneezing. Aside from gathering dust, lacquer also holds a smell, mainly from smoke and nicotine. The smell can have your furniture smelling long after you’ve had a smoke.

3. When You Want to Use Another Finish

When You Want to Use Another Finish

Another primary reason people remove lacquer from wood is when they intend to use a different finish. Lacquer may possess impressive aesthetics, but preferences differ, and you may be looking for other qualities. If you want another finish, strip off all the lacquer from the wood.

Also Read: How to Remove Gorilla Glue From Wood? | Complete DIY Guide


Before proceeding to the various methods to safely strip lacquer from wooden surfaces, you must prepare. There are several preparation processes to undergo to ensure successful removal. Here are a few things to take into consideration:

1. Ventilation


You must choose a place with enough ventilation due to the stripping process and potential materials you’ll use.

Always use a room with proper air conditioning or ventilation. You can consider open wall areas where there’s a free exchange of air with the environment.

2. Gather Materials

Secure all the tools and materials required for the project. Remember that the exact supplies may vary depending on the method you choose.

You can utilize your supplies in your shed, purchase, or borrow. Borrowing is ideal when you use the tool sparingly. It is vital to include cleaning equipment to clear the residue after stripping the lacquer.

3. Cover Other Surfaces

It’s essential to protect other surfaces around your work area before stripping to avoid staining or damaging using any of the harsh removal materials you employ.

Use newspapers and duct tape to cover surfaces where stains are likely.

4. Wear Protective Gear

Wear Protective Gear

Touching some harsh chemicals used to remove lacquer with your bare hands can be dangerous. More so if it spills into your ears – this is why wearing protective gear is paramount to your preparation.

The kit should include safety boots, dust masks, goggles, respirators, gloves, long sleeves, and pants.

Ways to Safely Remove Lacquer

Ways to Safely Remove Lacquer

As mentioned earlier, several ways exist to remove lacquer from wood, each featuring different processes.

The durable finish makes it harder to remove when refinishing, but the methods below will safely remove the lacquer.

Also Read: How to Remove Mod Podge? 6 Easy Tips for a Clean and Smooth Surface

1. Use Thinner

Use Thinner

Lacquer thinners are specifically manufactured to dissolve lacquer, making this method the easiest. It involves using thinners, sometimes mixed with denatured alcohol in equal proportions to remove the finish.

The thinner dissolves the plastic resin in the lacquer, which loosens its bond with the wood. As a specialized product for this purpose, you would expect some accuracy in lacquer removal, and the thinner does not disappoint.

What You Require

  • Lacquer thinner
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Paintbrush
  • Protective gear (gloves, respirator)
  • Bowl
  • Plastic knife
  • Rag
  • Foam sponge


  • Mix the lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol in the bowl in equal proportion. While mixing with denatured alcohol is optional, it helps remove shellac, often added to the finish.
  • Apply the mixture by rubbing it on a portion of the wood surface using a paintbrush. Wait one or two minutes for the lacquer to dissolve before it dries on the surface.
  • Gently scrape off the dissolved lacquer using a foam sponge or steel wool. Move along the grain to reduce the damage on the grains.
  • Use a rag to wipe the area again to remove any dissolved lacquer and expose the dried parts.
  • Leaving the dissolved lacquer on the wood for longer will cause it to dry. You’ll need your plastic knife to scrape it. Gently scrape off the cloudy solvent area along the grain.

2. Use Vinegar

Use Vinegar

Vinegar is less expensive than the material mentioned above. It’s easily accessible as it is found in most homes.

Lacquer will readily dissolve in solvents like vinegar. Vinegar is a household solvent and is less toxic than the other solvents on this list.

What You Require

  • White vinegar
  • Paintbrush
  • Bowl
  • Plastic knife
  • Warm water


  • Clean dirt off the surface to allow room for the vinegar to work effectively.
  • Mix white vinegar and warm water in equal volumes inside the bowl. The warm water dilutes the vinegar while dissolving grease and other difficult stains on the surface.
  • Apply the mixture by stroking it onto the wood using a brush. Apply the white vinegar mixture to a small surface area to control the process.
  • Allow for about ten minutes so the lacquer dissolves. You’ll notice that the finish is soft and loosely bonded to the wood.
  • Use the plastic knife to scrape off the dissolved lacquer while following the wood grain.
  • Repeat the process till all the lacquer finish is off.

3. Using Heat

Using Heat

Controlled heat directed at the lacquer can loosen its bond and make it easier to scrape off. However, mistakes can be costly with this method, as the wood can quickly get burned without adequate attention.

If you want to go chemical-free, using the heating method is ideal. A heat source like the heat gun that uses UV or infrared removes the lacquer. Heat guns have a limited range, so if you have a large surface to cover, this method can be challenging.

What You Require

  • Heat gun
  • Plastic scraper/plastic knife
  • Wire brush


  • Point the heat gun to the lacquer surface while keeping it at the recommended distance.
  • Every heat gun has a slightly different range. You can check the manufacturer’s guidelines for details. The ideal gap is 15 centimeters away from the surface and at a 45-degree angle.
  • Turn the heat gun on and leave it facing the wood surface for some minutes.
  • Use the plastic scraper to scrape the dissolved lacquer. A heat gun gently lifts the lacquer to avoid damaging the wood surface. It would help if you worked quickly, as the surfaces cool down immediately after removing the heat. 
  • Repeat the process until the wood is clear of lacquer, then finish by brushing off the materials using a wire brush.

4. By Sanding

By Sanding

Sandpaper or sander is the primary tool used for lacquer removal. Sanding the wooden surface will mechanically strip the lacquer finish; however, you must be careful to avoid over-sanding, which can affect the integrity of the wood.

One advantage of sanding is the chemical-free process and the new surface exposed after using the correct grit sandpaper.

What You Require

  • Sandpaper (80-grit, 150-grit, and 220-grit)
  • Paintbrush
  • Protective gear (dust mask, protective gloves)
  • Sanding machine (optional)
  • Cleaning materials (water and detergent)
  • Rag


  • Clean the surface with a rag to enhance the sanding process
  • Use a sander for large surfaces and sandpaper for smaller areas. It would be best to start with medium-grit sandpaper while sanding along the grain.
  • Inspect the surface as you switch towards finer-grit sandpaper. The lacquer will be stripped off along with the surface of the wood.
  • Brush the dust off the surface and use a wet rag to clean the area further to reveal lacquer-free wood.


In this section, we will be answering questions people ask when it comes to removing lacquer. These are questions that we haven’t covered earlier in the article!

Q1. Is stripping the same as sanding?

Ans: While they both remove a coating, they are not the same. Their processes vary as sanding eliminates the layer of the wood.
Stripping, however, is more precise as it removes only the coating. It focuses on the finish and leaves the wood surface untouched.

Q2. How long does it take to remove lacquer from wood?

Ans: Removing lacquer from wood takes 15 minutes to three hours, depending on the chosen method.

Q4. What is the most effective lacquer removal method from hardwood?

Ans: Lacquer thinner or stripper are the most effective ways to remove the finish from hardwood, as the products are made specifically for weakening lacquer bonds.


Lacquer bonds tightly to wooden surfaces, so removing the finish can be challenging. However, several methods effectively remove this finish with varying processes.

Some of the ways include the use of harsh chemicals, with some utilizing regular home products. Choose the procedure that is less challenging and easily accessible.