How to remove varnish from furniture: 3 proven ways to remove old varnish from wooden furniture at home (instruction + photo)

Refinishing furniture can give your cherished pieces a new lease on life, but the initial step in the procedure frequently entails scraping off old varnish. Although it may seem difficult, this task can be completely completed at home with the appropriate techniques. If you want to update your decor or restore a family heirloom, mastering the art of stripping varnish will help you achieve a smooth, clean finish.

We’ll walk you through three tried-and-true methods for varnish removal from wooden furniture in this guide. You can select the approach that best suits your requirements as each one is appropriate for varying degrees of effort and furniture types. We’ll talk about using heat guns, chemical strippers, and the age-old but still useful sanding technique. Every strategy has pros and cons of its own, so no matter your level of experience, you have choices.

We’ve included step-by-step instructions and photos to help you visualize the process and follow along more easily. After reading this tutorial, you should be equipped with the know-how and self-assurance needed to take on varnish removal and proceed to the more imaginative parts of your furniture project. Together, we can transform that worn-out, varnished furniture into a magnificent focal point for your house.

Your treasured wooden furniture can be given new life by removing old varnish, and it’s not as hard as you might think. We’ll walk you through three tried-and-true techniques in this guide for stripping varnish at home with basic supplies and tools. Whether you’d rather use a heat gun, chemical stripper, or sanding method, we offer detailed instructions and useful pictures to make the process simple and stress-free. Beautiful, ready-to-refinish furniture will replace worn-out finishes.

Tools and materials

Prior to beginning any recovery work, you must set up your instruments and safety gear:

  • Sandpaper;
  • Sander;
  • Construction hair dryer;
  • Putty knife;
  • Brush;
  • Metal brush;
  • Blowtorch;
  • Foam sponge;
  • Cellophane film;
  • Washing;
  • Protective glasses;
  • Latex gloves;
  • Respirator.


Professionals advise utilizing a spatula with blunt edges. The metal plane on new tools has sharp edges. You can use a file or grinder to round them. The restored coating will sustain damage otherwise. A plastic tool will be the best choice ".

Top-best ways to remove varnish

Avoiding damaging the wooden foundation is the primary goal when removing the old varnish. As a result, it must be removed carefully and without making any abrupt movements. The amount of work, the master’s experience, and personal resources all influence the execution technique selection.

Protective construction mask

The most popular choices are:

  • Chemical;
  • Mechanical version;
  • Thermal;
  • Water method.

Construction metal spatula

Take note: "Removing old varnish from chipboard surfaces is not a practical solution. Garnishing causes damage to decorative film as well. You can then put the product’s attractive appearance out of your mind. Paint and varnish removal is best done on natural wood products only."


The most popular technique for getting rid of varnish is washing, which is based on chemical compositions. They can be found on store shelves as a powder, spray, gel, or regular solvent.

Protective building glasses

The intricacy of the task and the quantity of varnish layers on the item determine which kind of washing is appropriate.

  • Liquid agents are more suitable for removing a three -layer coating. Due to the rapid evaporation from the processed surface, they do not have time to absorb deeply.
  • Gels and pastes are suitable for removing dense layers of paint and varnishes.
  • To remove varnishing from large -sized furniture items, it is better to purchase powder flurry, as they can persist for a long time.
  • It is more convenient to cover the vertical surface using mass technology. A feature of gels and pastes is the ability to dissolve up to a dozen layers of furniture varnish.

  1. A wide brush is wetted in a chemical tool and smear the surface with a dense layer.
  2. The directions with a brush are made in one direction, avoiding the application of the funds to already missed areas.
  3. Next, a cellophane film is spread on a treated surface for a greater effect. Depending on the thickness of the removed varnish layer, it takes from 1 to 4 hours of exposure.
  4. The film can be removed after the wash changes the shade, and the varnish will acquire a brown color. At this moment, it is swelling.

Removing varnish

A spatula that is gently pressed on the swollen material is required. Most likely, the entire varnish will be removed at once. After that, the process will need to be carried out once more. Sandpaper is then used to sand the restored surface.

Construction spatula

Neutralization of washing

Utilizing a solution of five parts water to one part vinegar, the residual coating agents are eliminated. A smoking rag is used to wipe the surface dry after it has been cleaned with a soft foam sponge. The product is placed in a well-ventilated room to dry.

Attention: "It is important to protect the skin and eyes when handling medications that contain acids and alkalis. The master must wear rubber gloves, overalls, a respirator, and glasses in order to accomplish this. By doing this, burns to the skin and mucous membranes will be less likely.


According to the suggested method, cycling causes the varnish layer to literally peel off.

Several different kinds of tools are used for this:


  1. Cycle. The device is a manual scraper with an acute cutting blade located during operation of a perpendicularly cleaned surface.
  2. Metal brush. With the help of circular and multidirectional movements, the old coating is cleaned. With difficulty losing the varnish layer, the places are neatly plunged by a spatula or screwdriver. The method is effective for processing small -sized products.
  3. Sander. Suitable for decorating large surfaces. The power tool is seasoned with sandpaper with an abrasive of 80 μm and the entire surface is processed efficiently. Then the used material is changed to a new one with a granularity of 180 microns and again polished the surface until the remnants of varnish fragments are removed.

Thermal method

Using a spatula, the varnish layer is removed after being heated to a molten state. The technology needs to be observed if great results are to be obtained.

Removal using a hair dryer for construction:

  1. It is necessary to work in a room with good ventilation, the eyes are protected by glasses, hands with rubber gloves.
  2. The master sets the temperature necessary for melting old varnish and stages the wooden plane in stages, removing softened material with a plastic or metal spatula.
  3. The plane is treated with circular movements with sandpaper.

Building hair dryer

In the event that the old varnish starts to burn rather than melt, the thermal method of coating removal is not appropriate. It makes sense to use washing in this kind of situation.

At home, cheap gasoline burners are also used for heating. You can start firing it after it has been refueled, but you should handle it very carefully to avoid starting a fire.

putty knife

Important: "It is not permitted to operate power tools above their specified temperature range. It is necessary to keep your distance during firing in order to prevent wood blast. If not, there’s a chance the repaired coating will degrade. The work is stopped when bubbling bubbles appear and smoke starts to appear."

Water method

Using regular water is the safest method to remove the varnished coating. You’ll need a sponge for work. It is thoroughly wetted and used to wipe the processed product.

The varnished coating eventually starts to swell and cannot withstand moisture contact.

  • At this stage, they begin the energetic grinding of a soaked surface with a coarse -grained skin until the removable varnish turns into a gruel.
  • When the entire layer is removed, the product is dried.
  • At the last stage, the purified surface is polished with a fine -grained skin.

Protective building glasses

"If the product was covered with moisture-resistant varnish, the water method may not be able to handle the task!" is a warning.

It is possible to independently remove varnish from wooden furniture at home. The primary prerequisite is that the work must be completed in compliance with established operating procedures.

Method Description
1. Sanding Use sandpaper or a power sander to carefully sand off the old varnish. Start with coarse grit and move to finer grit for a smooth finish. Wear a mask to avoid inhaling dust.
2. Chemical Stripper Apply a chemical varnish remover with a brush. Let it sit as per the instructions, then scrape off the softened varnish with a putty knife. Use gloves and work in a well-ventilated area.
3. Heat Gun Use a heat gun to soften the varnish, then scrape it off with a putty knife. Be careful not to scorch the wood. This method works best for thick or multiple layers of varnish.

While removing varnish from wooden furniture may seem difficult, it can be a doable and satisfying task if you have the correct methods and equipment. Depending on your needs and the state of the furniture, the three techniques we’ve described—using a chemical stripper, sanding, and applying a homemade vinegar solution—offer workable options.

Multiple layers of varnish can be quickly removed with chemical strippers, which are very effective. They work best on complex, highly detailed pieces. To ensure safety, it’s crucial to use these products in a well-ventilated area and to wear protective clothing.

Sanding is a time-tested technique that needs perseverance and manual labor. This method leaves a smooth finish that is ready for a fresh coat of paint or stain, making it perfect for flat surfaces. For optimal results, a combination of fine and coarse sandpaper can be used.

A more environmentally friendly and gentler solution is vinegar and water. This is a great way for people who would rather not use toxic materials and for light varnish removal. It’s a safe and simple way to give your furniture a new lease on life, even though it might take a little longer and require more scrubbing.

Select the approach that best suits your project and comfort level from the options available; each has pros and cons of its own. By using these methods, you can effectively restore your wooden furniture, giving it a brand-new appearance and prolonging its lifespan.

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Daria Yakovlev

Interior designer, author of online color design courses. I will help you create a harmonious interior using color.

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