How to remove varnish off wood

Updated February 21, 2017

Varnish is a shiny and durable finish added to most wood products. The varnish protects the wood from dirt, water and other material that could harm or its surface. Sometimes additional coatings of varnish end up on the wood, leaving the product with multiple coats. Over time, the varnish needs removed and replaced as it becomes old and brittle.

Wipe dust from the wood with a clean cloth. Take the wood object outside to a patio or concrete driveway. Lay down newspapers or old sheets, and place the wood object on top.

Pour the paint stripper onto a medium-width paint brush. Brush the paint stripper over the wood. Put the stripper on thick, and do not miss any spots on the wood. Allow the stripper to remain on the wood for 30 minutes, or however long indicated on the paint stripper container.

Scrape the loosened varnish from the wood. Lay the scraper at a slight angle to the wood and scrape through the varnish, removing as much as possible. Positioning the scraper at a slight angle allows you to remove the varnish without digging into the wood.

Rub a steel wool pad over the wood to remove any remaining varnish. Use an old toothbrush to reach into grooves or carvings in the wood.

Wipe residue from the wood with clean rags.


Use a second coat of paint stripper if all the varnish does not release from the wood the first time.


Wear rubber gloves and protective eye wear when using paint stripper to avoid burns. Use the paint stripper outside if possible as it can give off toxic fumes. If you have to use it inside the home, open windows and turn on a fan for better ventilation.

Things You'll Need

  • Cloth
  • Newspapers or old sheets
  • Paint stripper
  • Paint brush
  • Thin scraper
  • Steel wool pad
  • Old toothbrush
  • Rags
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About the Author

Constance Barker, located in the hills of southern Ohio, is the owner and writer of several financial, credit report and travel websites. She started writing in 1999 for private clients and began creating website content in 2004. She gained expertise in home improvement after she and her husband built their home themselves.