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How to remove polyurethane varnish

Updated February 21, 2017

Polyurethane is an all-purpose finish that is applied to furniture and other household objects. If you don't like the shiny, plastic-like finish of polyurethane, it's easy to remove it and apply a different finish. Thanks to modern chemical strippers without toxic fumes, almost anyone can do it.

Remove surface dirt and grime by wiping with a damp cloth.

Apply chemical stripper. Work on a small area of the piece at a time. Following manufacturer's instructions, brush on stripper with a medium size paint brush.

Allow the stripper to sit on the surface of the piece for about 10 minutes to break down the polyurethane.

Remove the stripper and polyurethane residue with a putty knife or plastic scraper. Gently scrape over the wood so you don't scratch it. After you remove most of the gunky, globby stuff, wipe over the area with a clean, damp cloth.

If any trace of the polyurethane remains, repeat Steps 2 to 4.

Allow the piece to dry thoroughly before applying new finish.

Things You'll Need

  • Clean rags or cloths
  • Chemical stripper
  • Medium size paint brush
  • Putty knife or plastic scraper
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About the Author

Sharon Sweeny has a college degree in general studies and worked as an administrative and legal assistant for 20 years before becoming a professional writer in 2008. She specializes in writing about home improvement, self-sufficient lifestyles and gardening.