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Removing Varnish Stains

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 1 Jun 2012 | comments*Discuss
Varnish Stains Remover Paint Difficult

Varnish is often used to enhance wooden items and flooring around the home, imparting on them an attractive sheen and helping to spruce up their appearance with a lustrous finish. However, carelessness or accidents can mean spilled varnish which can leave a nasty, ugly stain on clothing and other surfaces. If not tackled promptly and the varnish is allowed to dry, the stain may become very difficult if not impossible to remove.

So here are some steps to follow to prevent your varnish stain becoming a permanent feature of your home:

Step 1

Remover as much of the spilled varnish as possible. If you are lucky and the stain is still very fresh, you will be able to mop up most of it using paper towels or a damp cloth. If the varnish has dried a little bit, you may still be able to scrape most of it off using a blunt knife or some other flat-edged tool.

Step 2

Once most of the excess varnish has been removed, you now need to consider the material or surface that the stain is on to decide how to tackle it.

Step 3

Washable fabrics, if tackled immediately, can often be treated simply by working some liquid detergent into the stain and then rinsing with water and allowing to dry.

Step 4

If plain detergent or soap and water are not doing the trick, then you may need to consider how to dilute the stain. Since many modern varnishes are mixed with a wide range of solvents, examining the manufacturer’s directions for thinning the varnish may give you a clue as to the best solvent for your particular stain. For example, turpentine or alcohol are two common solvents frequently used to dilute paints and varnishes and may work very well in diluting the stain.

Be careful, however, as depending on the fabric or material or surface you are working on, the turpentine or alcohol can also act as solvents for any embedded colours or dyes, thus causing further discolouration. They may also react with any other chemicals embedded in the surface and damage the surface. So always test them on an inconspicuous corner or underside first.

Remember, also, that these solvents are flammable and can also produce hazardous fumes, so take great care when using them. Consider wearing protective clothing, gloves, goggles and a filter mask to cover your nose and mouth – especially if the treatment will take some time. Make sure that children and pets leave the area. Apply the solvent using a natural bristle paint brush. Always follow the solvent treatment with some liquid detergent worked into the stain while it is still wet with the solvent and then rinse it thoroughly with water. You may need to repeat this several times with a stubborn stain.

Step 5

As a very last resort, if everything else has failed, you may consider using a heat gun to tackle the varnish stain. This is only applicable to varnish stains on certain types of surfaces, however, such as wooden furniture. Heat guns should never be used on varnish stains on fabric and clothing. If you do decide to use a heat gun, make sure that you wear protective clothing and eye gear and that you protect the work area as well. In particular, use a damp cloth spread around underneath the area where you will be working to reduce the likelihood of a fire. You can then use the heat gun to soften the varnish so that you have a chance to scrape it away with a putty knife or similarly blunt, flat-edged tool.

Unfortunately with certain types of surfaces, the varnish stain will be permanent, despite your best efforts. However, with a bit of diligence and effort, you should be able to remove varnish stains from most surfaces and hopefully, with greater care and attention in the future, you should be able to avoid them.

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