How to Remove Varnish from Wood Floors

The classic style requires parquet floors to be lacquered. It not only makes wood floors more attractive, but parquet varnish also provides an extra covering of wood, protecting from damage during everyday usage. Parquet varnish is specifically designed to guarantee that your floor will look fabulous for a lot of years. However, nothing lasts forever, so over a period of time, the covering will fade and crack. To bring the floor back to its original appearance, the old varnish layer should be delicately removed from the surface.

This goal may seem quite easy to achieve, but if you do not know the nuances of the process and start working without acquiring some key theoretical info, you may completely and irrevocably destroy the wooden floor.

3 Main Ways for Removing Varnish from Wood:

  • Applying chemical compounds
  • Using mechanical tools
  • Heating the varnish layer to high temperature

Each of them has its positive and negative aspects, so there is no universal "one size fits all" answer. For each particular situation, a certain method of surface cleaning is better matched. The choice should be based on the composition of the varnish with which the wooden surface was covered and on the density of the layer. It is also important to comtemplate the type of wood and the item itself, for example, various methods are used to clean floors and an old cupboard.

Chemical Method

This is the most widely used method and it is absolutely perfect for small areas of wood. The range includes furniture, figurines and other products, where the varnish layer is thin enough, and its removal should be delicate. The essential chemical substance comes in 3 forms:

Liquid or Spray

If only a really thin layer of varnish should be applied to the item, then this is your choice. The substance fastly erodes from the surface thus, it can only be soaked up by the upper layer of varnish but does not go very deep. Using liquid on furniture items and floors that have more than three coats of varnish may be pointless.

Gel or Paste

When you need to process a large area, for example, a parquet floor, then this one could be just what you need. Gels are especially efficient for removing thick layers of polish, they will even work for paint.


Powdery compositions are quite similar to gels in composition and the achieved effect. Before application, the powder must be diluted with water to acquire a pasty state. If you've a large-scale DIY project that requires plenty of substance, the powder will be the best solution. When powder turns into gel or paste, about 8-10 layers of varnish can be removed in one application. Just act clever and follow the safety precautions indicated on the packaging of the product!

Applying the Chemical

You need to generously moisten the brush in the diluted composition and apply it to the surface. Apply the chemical on every small segment one time only, it is essential to achieve an even layer. If you wish to make the chemical work as quickly as possible, create a compressing effect by covering the treated surface with ordinary polyethylene and leaving it for at least 1-4 hours. If the cover is transparent, then you'll be able to see clearly when the varnish begins to swell. When the color changed, it started working. And finally, when the chemical has corroded all layers, you gently peel off the soft varnish with a spatula.

The next step is crucial if you wish to take care of your health because you'll be removing the remains of the chemical composition, left on the surface of the wood. Also, this is a requirement before you'll be able to apply a new shining finish. To neutralize the chemical, a weak vinegar solution works just fine. Or you can even rinse the surface with plain water. It is better not to go overboard with it, as the wood can not be too wet.

Mechanical Method

This option involves scraping, as you'll literally need to peel off the varnish layer, using various tools.


This is a pointed metal tool with a comfortable handle. Due to its special structure, it provides a strong effect on the surface, increasing the efficiency of the work. In the absence of a scraper, even ordinary glass will do. However, the glass must be constantly changed as it quickly becomes blunt and you can only work in gloves.


It is used when you need to remove a thin layer of varnish from a small item. If it's a piece of high-quality furniture, such as a dresser or wardrobe, then you can use a sander, but clearly, it is not suitable for large floor areas in big rooms.

Any of the selected mechanical treatments are very dusty, but there are some advantages too. Firstly, you do not have to breathe in the chemical composition, the smell of which can remain on the wooden product for a long period of time. Secondly, for the wood itself, this method is better, as it is a much gentler one. 

Thermal Method

For a large-scale project involving huge spaces and multiple rooms, it is better to call professional repairmen with high-level equipment and work skills. However, if you're up for a challenge, you can try to remove varnish thermally. Please comtemplate that this method requires a certain set of skills, dexterity and a hot air gun. The lacquered surface swells and slowly falls off under the impact of the heat. This is when it must be pried off with a spatula and removed. You can use a hot air gun or a heat gun to instantly raise the temperature. They will melt the varnish fast, but their use requires dexterity, because the work is carried out with open fire. If overheated, the wooden surface may simply burn and it will forever destroy the appearance. 

The use of a professional heat gun is required. But such equipment costs plenty - do not confuse a professional heat gun with a hairdryer. A hairdryer can never get hot enough to melt the varnish. Heating can only be done in a ventilated area - during heat treatment, the varnish releases toxic substances that you'll be breathing. 

Required Tools and Materials 

If you choose the DIY path and want to remove the varnish by yourself, you'll need: 

  • Chemical composition in any preferable form
  • Brush for applying the composition to the surface
  • Container in case of powder
  • Non-sharp spatula for taking off varnish
  • Personal protection equipment

Do not neglect personal protective equipment, as very strong chemicals are commonly used. Be sure to put on gloves and a mask, at least.


In the end, after your efforts, the wood floor will be ready for applying new layers of varnish. Trying to get rid of the varnish on the chipboard panels may be a very bad idea, as this will only damage the surface. Removal of varnish layers is recommended only for natural wood items. Choosing a thermal method for removing varnish, observe how the polish behaves when heated. If it does not crack or swell and starts to burn, think quickly and use a chemical remover. 

When removing the softened varnish layer from a wooden surface, be extra careful and do not use new tools. The trouble is that new tools have especially sharp edges that can damage the wood. If you don't have an old instrument at hand, blunt the edges of the new one to avoid ruining the floor. Removing varnish from a wood surface could become an easy-peasy job if you rely on the instructions. Give your floors a new lease on life!

Scroll to Top