repairing finish spotted with nail polish remover

linnea56February 14, 2007

Dear daughter used nail polish remover while sitting on my craftsman-style sofa, and the bottle dissolved rings in the finish on the flat arm (2 rings and some spots toward the back). I did not make this piece so don't know what the finish is. It's about 5 years old. I have done lots of refinishing with chemicals but never part of a piece: not sure I could keep the solution within bounds. I could sand down the top surface of the arm to bare wood, stain, then varnish: but is there a better way of just removing the rings? The stain looks OK, from what I can tell: just the varnish is dissolved and re-hardened all ridgy and crinkley.

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russmahogany

Sounds like your finish is nitrocellulose lacquor. Tape off the sides of the arm and the ulphostery. Get some slow drying lacquor thinner at the auto paint store. Dampen a rag like an old t shirt with the thinner and go over the surface several times till all the old finish is off. Don't overflood the surface or you might remove the stain if there is any. You can also use oooo steel wool dipped in the thinner. After the finish is removed, get some Deft high gloss lacquor spray. Apply atleast three coats. Wait 24hrs then go over with 0000 steel wool. Let me know how it goes.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 3:09AM
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kmealy

I would first try a less agressive approach. If the color is all still there, I wouldn't risk pulling it out. Like Russ says, get some Deft (or Watco) aerosol lacquer and put on several light coats. Using some 400 grit sandpaper, sand a bit to level out. If the sanding powders up white, it's ready, if it drags wait another minute. Keep repeating until the surface is flat. This might take 10 to 20 coats. What you are doing is filling in the low spots and cutting back the original areas to about where they were when you started. Then apply one more coat and let it go. Keep all your coats fairly light and the coats will dry very quickly, in a matter of minutes.

Lacquer will redissolve into its solvent (e.g., fingernail polish remover), so all the coats blend into one homogeneous coat. That's also why Russ's approach will work.

If this does not get you a satisfactory result, you can use the above process.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 8:35AM
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linnea56

Thanks for the help!
I think I will try the less aggressive approach first. When I have used lacquer thinner before (I am a metalsmith and use it to remove etching resists) it has been so noxious I don't think I could use it inside the house. Had to do it in the garage. But it was the fast drying kind: I didn't know there was a slow drying lacquer thinner. Sounds useful. I'd better get some for the etching resists; they take a long soak to soften.

The Deft (or Watco) aerosol lacquer, where is that available? Would I find it at a Menard's or such, or at a woodworking store? I have a Woodcraft not too far away.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 3:38PM
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kmealy

Deft Clear Wood Finish is the most commonly available aerosol lacquer, though it it not very explicit about actually being a lacquer. "Deft" (as is Watco) itself is a brand name for multiple products, including oils, varnishes and water-borne products.

Here is a link that might be useful: Deft Clear Finish

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 5:59PM
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russmahogany

You can buy Deft at Home Depot. I have tried several different lacquor sprays and I and most of the people I know who work furniture repair prefer Deft. You need to use a lacquor spray and the fumes are strong so have good ventilation. A water based finish would not work as well here. Also, I use shellac as a finish. Sometimes I mix my own and sometimes I use Bulls Eye out of the can. The shelflife of Bulls Eye is not an issue. The shelf life issue is with the flakes. You can tell if shellac is too old if it doesn't dry. After you remove the old finish, with alcohol if it works or lacquor thinner, you can build up the finish with shellac and use Deft spray as your final coat. You should thin the shellac out of the can with 50% alcohol, then brush it on. What I tell you here is not an opinion or an observation. It's what I do 52 weeks a year.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 6:12PM
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linnea56

I did not remember ever seeing a spray finish labeled "lacquer", that's why I wondered. If the Deft spray doesn't say that on the front, now I know why. I have wondered why it seemed I was not seeing lacquer or shellac on the shelves, how almost everything I commonly see now seems to be poly (or apparently "clear finish" in this case).

This sofa is in my family room (no doors to close it off) so it would be hard to get away from the fumes. If the spray lacquer is smelly I will hold off til spring, then maybe drag it over to the nearby patio door. I don't like any water-base finishes: to me they leave the wood an odd color.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 12:02AM
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russmahogany

Deft comes in a white and blue can marked Deft Clear Wood Finish. You know it's lacquer because it says clean up with lacquer thinner on the can. The reason Deft works better than the others is Deft uses the slower drying thinner so it has more time to flow after it's applied to the surface. None of the others, that I know of, use it because it is more expensive. If you wait too long, you may get body oils into the bare wood. Then you have a whole new problem.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 12:54AM
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linnea56

I just went to check again. It doesn't appear that any wood is actually bare: just the finish was dissolved and then re-hardened in a crinkly way, with higher ridges following the shape of the bottle. In the center of the ring the finish looks thinner, but not absent. They are high sofa arms so no one actually sits there and lays an arm along them. They get used more as "tables" to put a drink or dish on.

Just for the sake of my further knowledge, body oils cause what problem? Resisting the finish? If they are on the surface of wood, would sanding remove them? Would this mean that, in ordinary wood preparation, I should wear gloves at the end of sanding, before using a tack cloth and going on to first coat of the stain? I am forever varnishing some project so this would be good to know.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 12:17PM
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lindac

You may get a satisfactory "fix" by carefully flowing on a little laquer thinner with a brush, just on the crinkley spot...it will soften the finish and perhaps smooth it out.
Nail polish remover will also mar a varnished surface it is mainly acetone....be sure what finish you have on your wood before you set out to do an all out arm refinish.
Linda C

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 12:47PM
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russmahogany

Acetone, toluene, and methanol are the basic ingredients of lacquer thinner. They are toxic and should be used in a well ventilated area. Varnish is seldom used in factories because of the slow drying and slow cure time. I think kmealy's approach is a good one to start out with. You can also use shellac. First sand down the wrinkles level with the finished surface using 6oo grit wet/dry sand paper. Then get a can of Bulls Eye blond shellac, cut it about 50% with alcohol and brush on a thin coat. After the surface dries, lightly sand, and apply more shellac. Keep doing this till the damaged area is built up even with the original finish. Finally, give it about three coats of Deft. The first two coats should be applied very lightly. Just a very fine mist. Then put on as many more coats as you like. Except for the Deft, that should eliminate the most hazardous fumes.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 3:59PM
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russmahogany

Acetone, toluene, and methanol are the basic ingredients of lacquer thinner. They are toxic and should be used in a well ventilated area. Varnish is seldom used in factories because of the slow drying and slow cure time. I think kmealy's approach is a good one to start out with. You can also use shellac. First sand down the wrinkles level with the finished surface using 6oo grit wet/dry sand paper. Then get a can of Bulls Eye blond shellac, cut it about 50% with alcohol and brush on a thin coat. After the surface dries, lightly sand, and apply more shellac. Keep doing this till the damaged area is built up even with the original finish. Finally, give it about three coats of Deft. The first two coats should be applied very lightly. Just a very fine mist. Then put on as many more coats as you like. Except for the Deft, that should eliminate the most hazardous fumes.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 4:00PM
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russmahogany

Sorry to jump in again, but if this was brought to me, my first choice, i forgot to mention, would be a burn-in stick.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 5:25PM
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linnea56

OK, I was following along just fine until the last one. What is a burn-in stick?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 6:45PM
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kmealy

Burn in sticks are a solid resin, like lacquer or shellac (or other), transparent or opaque colors. You use a heated "knife" to melt the resin and then level the repair. It's what professionals use for spot repairs. Though it's learnable, it would take at least $100 and 100 practices before you are able to do this repair on your own. And it's good for smaller spots and scratches, not so good for larger areas.

There is also a product called "reflow solution" or something similar for each vendor. It's what LindaC alludes to, but in an aerosol. It's a slow-drying lacquer thinner that you put on a light coat, dissolves the lacquer, and allows it to reflow out. This assumes you have a lacquer finish, but like Russ says, if it's production furniture, it probably is.

Here is a link that might be useful: entry level kit

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 8:30PM
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brickeyee

"Acetone, toluene, and methanol are the basic ingredients of lacquer thinner. They are toxic and should be used in a well ventilated area."

And some other hot solvents also, but these are the basics.

Methanol is the most dangerous of the lot. It is easily absorbed through the skin and the body metabolizes it to formaldehyde. It preferentially damages the nerves in the retina.

Acetone is the least harmful, with toluene not being very dangerous for short term exposure either.

The biggest problem is they stink pretty badly.

If the finish is actually lacquer you can probably just re-melt it by using an artist brush and some lacquer thinner.
You will not use enough thinner to be a hazard. It will only take a few drops spread carefully on the finish and allowed to evaporate.
It is unlikely you would be using more than ¼ teaspoon.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 1:58PM
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lindac

Thanks Brickeye! That's what I was trying to say.
Linda C

    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 8:03PM
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linnea56

The damaged area is actually fairly big, not a small spot: about 4 x 9 inches. If this would work for an area of this size it's certainly worth a try: it seems easier than anything else. If it doesn't even it out enough I can still try the other techniques. I'll test the lacquer thinner on the back somewhere first to make sure that's what I have.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 9:18PM
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russmahogany

I don't think I'll be dispensing any more free advice on this site. But I can still learn something from the experts. I didn't learn about this lacquer thiner flow out technique at the Mohawk finish repair classes I attended. Since I took the time and effort to give advice, however poor it may be, I think an account of your progress would not be too much to ask. If you can just take thinner and flow out damage to a finish, I'd like to know from someone who actually tries it. Please keep us posted on your progress.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2007 at 5:31AM
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lindac

Mr Mahogany, I suggested just that in my post above. I have done that several times. Once on all the finish of a small oak stand, it worked well.
I am all for starting with the quick and easy fix rather than begin with removing the finish from the whole arm.
Linda C

    Bookmark   February 19, 2007 at 10:48AM
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linnea56

Thanks for all the tips! This is one of those little annoying jobs that gets pushed to the back burner, but it still annoys me everytime I look at it. Not knowing what the finish is, was the biggest hurdle.

I have saved all the suggestions. I will wait until it's warmer to try: husband is sensitive to fumes and can detect a whiff of varnish even hours after I've applied it (so much for sneaking down to the basement to work on a project in the middle of the night). Now he makes our daughter apply nail polish in the garage. I'll post again after I try these techniques.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2007 at 1:08PM
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brickeyee

4x9 inches might take a tablspoon.
Lacquer thinner wets better than water.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2007 at 7:04PM
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dallas4eva

Ok heres the deal. I was removing the polish from my nails one day with fingernail polish remover and while I was cleaning up I forgot a cottonball that i used. Today I got home from school and my mama grouched at me about how I ruined her coffee table. Does any one know how to fix that problem? Please tell me if you do!

    Bookmark   March 8, 2007 at 5:58PM
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brickeyee

It's that deja vu thing!

Repair depends on what the damaged finish is.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2007 at 7:28PM
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russmahogany

There's the trouble. Someone posts a question, gets twenty to thirty answers, and then never tells you what they did and how it turned out and what did or didn't work. Read the posts above and pick one.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2007 at 1:57AM
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