Homemade eco varnish remover

Written by beth vigliotti
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Homemade eco varnish remover
Remove old, chipped varnish surfaces before refinishing wood. (Image by Ted Major; Flickr.)

Removing varnish is necessary when it becomes worn or when you want to refinish the wood. Many commercially available varnish removers contain harsh chemicals that are not only bad for the environment but also for human health. Using common household products, you can create a safer varnish remover that is not only environmentally friendly but also kind to your wallet.

Things you need

  • Clean rags
  • Steel wool
  • 250 ml (1 cup) cornstarch
  • 200 ml (3/4 cup) cold water
  • 45 ml (3 tbsp) vinegar
  • 75 ml (1/3 cup) ammonia
  • 250 ml (1 cup) washing soda
  • Paintbrush
  • Sandpaper

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  1. 1

    Rub the old varnish with steel wool and a few drops of water in a circular motion.

  2. 2

    Wipe the surface with a clean cloth to remove steel wool residue.

  3. 3

    Mix together the cold water and cornstarch in a large bucket until the solution is homogeneous.

  4. 4

    Add hot water, ammonia and vinegar to the cornstarch mixture. The water should be close to boiling temperature. Stir all ingredients together to create the varnish remover.

  5. 5

    Apply warm varnish remover to the target area with a paintbrush. Allow the varnish remover to sit for one minute; then wipe it away with a clean rag. If the varnish is still in place, reapply the varnish remover and allow it to sit for up to 20 minutes.

  6. 6

    Sand away any varnish spots that still remain. Use fine sandpaper in order to not damage the underlying wood.

  7. 7

    Wipe the surface with a clean damp rag.

Tips and warnings

  • For an even more eco-friendly product, substitute vinegar for ammonia; however, the effectiveness of the removal may decrease.
  • Substitute baking soda if washing soda is not available.
  • Work with ammonia in a well-ventilated space.
  • Water may damage the underlying wood. To prevent water damage, dry any wood that becomes wet during the process with dry clean cloths.

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