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How to Remove Lacquer and Varnish Stains (Step-by-step guide)

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When lacquer and varnish are applied on wood furniture, they give it a glossy, hard, and protective finish. Sadly, varnish or lacquer on clothes leaves sticky and hard to remove stains. 

Although the stains are stubborn, there is hope if we try to remove them early. Follow the tips we share in this article to remove lacquer and varnish stains from any surface.

The easiest method of removing lacquer and varnish stains is to use mineral spirits. 

Minerals spirits are effective solvents designed to remove even old primer on furniture before applying a new one. It dissolves the stain fast, restoring the surface to its original shape.

Before starting, here are a few key things to note.

Know if It Is Water-Based or Oil-Based

Water-based varnish.

Before attempting to remove varnish or lacquer stains, first find out if it’s an oil or water-based stain. Unlike oil-based stains, most water-based stains are easy to remove. 

To find if it is water-based or oil-based, you can read the instruction label on the container. Alternatively, you can pour some water on the stain. On oil-based, the drops of water will not permeate the surface but form beads.

Fresh stains are easier to clean

As with most stubborn stains, acting early assures better chances of success. The longer they stay on clothes, the deeper they set into the clothes fabric. This makes it harder to remove the stain.

Test the Stain Remover for Suitability

Not all stain remover is compatible with every fabric type. For example, do not attempt to remove lacquer and varnish stains from delicate clothes with mineral spirits. Fabrics such as rayon or acetate react with mineral spirits and are likely to be ruined.

Test the stain remover first, or read the care label

The rule of thumb is to read the care instruction label before starting this process. Additionally, you need to test on an inconspicuous spot. This could be the inner seam or the corner of an inner pocket.

The Process of Removing Lacquer and Varnish Stains From Clothes.


With that out of the way, let’s embark on removing the stains. First, be sure to put on gloves before starting the process. This will help in protecting your hands from the corrosive effect of such chemicals on your skin. 

Next, scrape off the removable varnish or lacquer material from the stain. You can do this with a blunt knife or credit card. 

To avoid making the stain messier, work from the edges towards the center. Also, especially if it is wet, do not rub on it to avoid pushing it further into the fabric.

Pretreating the Stain

Pretreating the stains is key to successfully removing it. One of the methods is to use stain removal pens. The pens are excellent in dissolving, especially the fresh varnish stains. 

The reason is that they contain potent ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide, citric acids, and sodium alkyl sulfate surfactants. Popular examples in the market include Clorox bleach pen and Tide To Go. 

To use the pen, press the pen tip on the stain and let it release the cleaning agent. Press in a manner to release only enough amount to saturate the stained part. Then allow it to rest for 30 minutes.

The alternative method is to use mineral spirits. Mineral spirit is quite effective on lacquer and varnish stains, as it acts as a paint thinner. 

Once applied, it cuts through the stains and makes it easy to wash the stain off the garment. Whether you are pretreating fresh or dried-up stains, mineral spirits work perfectly.

To use mineral spirit for pretreatment, all you have to do is to pour a few drops on the stain. Do not over-saturate the stain spot; pour just enough to spread over the stained area only. 

You can then gently rub the stained part against itself before letting it sit for 20 minutes.

If, for whatever reason, you do not like the above pretreating agents, you can also use acetone to blot the stain. Acetone is commonly used in wood stripping varnish before applying a new coat. 

So it is effective on varnish stains. Starting off with acetone, place the garment on a flat surface, and pour some drops on the stain. 

Then with a white piece of cloth or paper towel dipped into the acetone, dab the stain repeatedly until it is clear.

Washing the Stain

After pretreating the stain, it is now easier to wash the garment. To start this step, measure the dosage of a heavy-duty laundry detergent, and add it to the washing machine. 

You can then toss the stained garment into the washer and run it on a warm wash cycle. And if you can wash the garment separately. 

Washing them with other clothes risks contaminating the other clothes with the stained ones. Also, there is the risk of the pretreatment chemicals ruining the other clothes as well.

Drying the Clothes

Here, you can opt for machine drying or line drying. For both cases, check if the stain has been completely removed before drying. 

If not, you can repeat the process or dry the clothing in the open. You must avoid a tumble dryer since it can set the stain.

How to Remove Lacquer and Varnish Stains From Carpet

Removing these kinds of stains from carpets is trickier than from clothes. Depending on the type, some carpets have long fibers. This makes it hard to clean if the varnish has sunk deep into it. 


Nonetheless, the starting point is to try to scrape as much of the varnish material from the stain. You can do this with a spoon or a blunt knife with an upward stroke starting from the edges towards the center.

Next, pour some rubbing alcohol on a cloth or paper towel and use it to blot the stain. The point is to pour only enough to soften and not oversaturate the spot. Putting too much of it can weaken the carpet fabric. 

Start to blot the stain with the cloth while observing it. With time it will continue changing to the color of the varnish stain. 

This is an indication of the stain getting transferred from the garment. Ideally, you should have several pieces of cloth or paper towels to replace the saturated ones.

Usually, doing this is enough to remove much of the stain. But to completely clear the stain, you’ve to use a stain cleaner such as dishwashing detergent

To make this solution, add one teaspoon of dish detergent to one liter of water in a bowl to make a solution. 

Afterward, use a cloth soaked with this solution to blot further the stained spot until the residue stain is removed.

At this point, you can rinse with water to clean it off. The best way to do this is to use a spray bottle, spritz on the spot and then wipe it off with a clean white cloth. Using a spray bottle prevents oversaturation which prevents molding.

Finally, you can vacuum the spot to remove any stain debris before air drying it on a clothesline on a sunny, windy day.

How to Remove Lacquer and Varnish Stains From the Skin

My fingertips are covered in oil-based varnish.

For this, you will use mineral spirit or paint thinner. These are easily obtainable in your local home improvement store or online. 

To start off, pour your mineral spirit into a metallic non-painted bowl to prevent it from reacting with the bowl color. 

Then with a white piece of cloth dipped in this solution, blot the stained area of your skin. As you continue to blot, the color of the cloth will change to the color of the varnish. 

This is an indication that the stain is dissolving and getting removed. You can move to a different section of the cloth or use another one.

One thing to note is to avoid the mineral spirit on your skin for long. Remember, this is a potent cleaning agent used in the paint industry. 

As such, it is a harsh chemical that can hurt your skin. To prevent this, keep on rinsing away the stained area with warm water regularly in between cleaning.

Finally, if the stain has been removed, rinse the area with warm water thoroughly before drying with a dry towel. Afterward, you can apply your favorite moisturizing cream to your skin to soothe and prevent drying.

How to Remove Lacquer and Varnish Stains From the Hair

When removing varnish stains from the hair, you’ve got to be more careful than in most other places. Few chemicals are favorable for use on the hair. 

Some might damage the hair, or worse, find themselves in your eyes. For example, the common solvent used is paint thinner. 

But it is only an option worth trying if the stain is an isolated spot on the hair. Using it on large areas of the hair is risky as it can spread to the eyes.

But for a milder option, mineral oil or olive oil are excellent options. If you want to use mineral oil to remove lacquer stains, first wet the hair thoroughly with water. This is to soften the stained hair to allow the mineral oil to permeate through. 

Next, pour some oil on your palm, and apply it to the stained part of your hair. With your fingers, gently massage the spot to ensure the mineral oil permeates the stain spot. 

After a few minutes, use a fine tooth comb to help disintegrate the dissolved varnish from the skin. 

Afterward, rinse the hair with warm running water before applying shampoo to remove any varnish residue. Finally, you can use your favorite hair oil to restore their sheen.

Removing Varnish Stains From Upholstery

When it comes to removing varnish stains from upholstery, you need to proceed with extra caution. Different upholsteries are made of different fabrics, which require different care requirements. 

For example, suede upholstery will not require the same type of cleaning agents as ordinary leather. The good thing is that most furniture has care labels that indicate the cleaning requirements. 

They are usually found under the sofa cushions. By examining them, you can get the care requirements for the various fabric types.

Nonetheless, in general, you can use dish soap to remove varnish and lacquer stains from upholstery. 

First, be sure to scrape off the stain material from the spot. Then add one tablespoon of dish soap to one liter of water to make a solution. 

Using this solution, soak a white piece of cloth and use it to blot the spot. Continue blotting until the stain spot is cleared. Afterward, use a dry piece of cloth to dry the stain spots to avoid molding.

Frequently Asked Questions.

How Can I Remove Varnish Stains From Concrete?

Varnish or lacquer stains on concrete can be removed by using several solvents, one of which is a paint thinner. Thinner is the substance used to dilute paints to the right thickness for painting. 

To remove varnish stains on concrete with thinner, pour a little amount on the spot and spread it evenly. Then let it stand for ten minutes before scrubbing with a hard bristled brush and rinse.

How Can I Remove Varnish Stains From White Clothes?

First, remove the excess stain material with a spoon or a blunt knife. Then, soak a white piece of cloth in acetone, and use it to blot the stain repeatedly until it is sufficiently removed. 

You can then launder the clothing with a heavy-duty washing detergent, under a warm water setting, before washing and drying.

Can I Use Vinegar to Remove Stains From Tiles?

Vinegar is a popular solvent used around homes to remove all manner of stains. The acidic nature of vinegar makes it ideal for dissolving tough stains such as varnish or lacquer. 

Add ½ cup white vinegar to one liter of water to make a solution, and use a piece of cloth to soak the stain spot. You can wait for 10 minutes before wiping off with microfiber and then rinse with warm water.  

Next, you can check out my guide on how to remove primer stains.

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