How to Remove Varnish With Ammonia

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A piece of furniture -- for example, a cabinet -- that has a worn appearance can be repainted. Varnish on the cabinet must be removed prior to the painting. Otherwise, the paint will not properly seep into the wood. To remove the varnish without damaging the wood, use an ammonia-based cleaning solution. The procedure is straightforward and requires a few household supplies. The ammonia-based cleaning solutions are available at hardware stores, home and garden shops and select grocery stores.

Things You'll Need

  • Newspaper
  • Ammonia-based cleaning spray
  • Soft cloths

Place sheets of newspaper on the floor of the garage or on the patio in the backyard. Place the cabinet on the newspaper.

Shake the ammonia-based cleaning spray for two seconds. Spray the top of the cabinet with the ammonia; start spraying at the upper left corner and describe a “Z” pattern moving across the length of the wood until you reach the bottom right corner. Repeat this procedure to saturate the top of the cabinet. Let four minutes pass before continuing.

Place a soft cloth against the upper left corner. Press the cloth against the wood as you describe a “Z” pattern, moving across the length of the wood in a similar manner as was just done with the application of the cleaner. Remove the cloth after you reach the bottom right corner. Repeat the procedure with a clean part of the cloth.

Spray the top of the cabinet again in the same manner as was done earlier. Let a minute pass before continuing.

Place a clean cloth on the top of the cabinet and wipe with small circular motions. Switch to clean parts of the cloth and repeat the procedure.

Alternate spraying and wiping the varnished area until the top of the cabinet is clear of varnish. Repeat this entire procedure with the sides, front and back of the cabinet.

Let the cabinet air-dry before repainting or otherwise working on the surfaces.

Tips & Warnings

  • Ammonia can cause headaches and other adverse reactions. Have adequate ventilation when using the ammonia-based cleaning solution and wear protective gloves and goggles.

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