How to Remove Varnish From Wood With Vinegar

Wood varnish is a popular top coat for wooden furniture. It cures into a glossy, durable, and clear finish that not only provides protection to the wooden surface but also allows the natural grain and beauty of the wood to show through.

However, there may come a time when you want to refinish your furniture. Either you want to paint it with a new color or apply another kind of protective top coat. And when this happens, you’d have to remove the varnish from the wooden furniture. 

Liquid deglosser from the hardware store will get the job done. Alternatively, if you have vinegar lying around in the kitchen, you’re in luck. 

In this post, you’ll learn how to remove varnish from wood with vinegar.


Vinegar’s acidic properties make it a great home remedy for removing varnish wood. It has the added benefit of being non-toxic, unlike most dedicated varnish removers. Although it’s not as powerful as varnish remover products, it’s much more affordable and accessible.

Does Vinegar Remove Varnish?

Vinegar is a great solution for removing varnish. Its acidic properties make it effective in breaking down and dissolving the bonds between the varnish and wood. But aside from that, vinegar can also strip off old paint, and can even be used to clean wood to prep it for painting

So before you go and get yourself a dedicated varnish remover, try using vinegar first. It’s much cheaper, is very accessible, and chances are, you already have it at your home. 

Aside from that, vinegar is non-toxic, which makes it perfectly safe to use. This is in contrast to most dedicated varnish removers that usually contain harsh toxins in their makeup. Some of these solutions can even harm the wood if not used carefully. With vinegar, that’s very unlikely to happen.

Related: 5 Home Remedies to Remove Paint From Wood

How To Remove Varnish From Wood With Vinegar (Step-By-Step Guide)

Tools and Supplies

Step 1. Fill your spray bottle 

Fill your spray bottle with white distilled vinegar.

Step 2. Apply your homemade varnish remover 

With your homemade varnish now ready, it’s time to apply it. If you want to be extra careful, wear safety or rubber gloves. 

With the spray bottle in hand, start spritzing the homemade varnish remover to the wood surface. Do this in sections as opposed to sporadically misting the furniture all over.

Once done applying the homemade varnish remover, let it sit on the wood varnish for about 10-20 minutes. 

Step 3. Remove the varnish from the wood with a cloth or rag 

Use your to rub the varnish off the wood furniture. You may need to pass over each section of the furniture a few times with some elbow grease to sufficiently remove all the varnish. If there are some stubborn areas where it’s hard to remove the varnish, reapply the vinegar again, and follow up on it again in 10 minutes with the rag. 

Depending on the size of the furniture you’re working on, the whole process may take a while. So be patient and don’t rush it.

Step 4. Remove the excess varnish and vinegar residue

Once you have sufficiently removed all the varnish, mix a few drops of dish soap in a small pale of warm water. Soak a cloth in this solution and wipe down your furniture to remove the residue. 

Other Natural Ways To Remove Varnish From Wood

In the very unlikely chance that you don’t have vinegar at your home (or just don’t want to use it as a varnish remover), there are still other items you can use to remove varnish from wood. And no, you don’t have to get yourself a dedicated varnish removed yet. The following home items can do the job just fine.


Sanding is a fool-proof way to remove the varnish and prep the wood for a new coat of primer or paint. It doesn’t involve using any chemicals but it can be physically demanding if you need to sand a large surface. 

When sanding, make sure to work in a well-ventilated area. Wear a respiratory mask and goggles. Sanding generates a lot of sand dust, which you can inhale without the proper safety precautions. 

Start with 220-grit sandpaper (fine sandpaper). The goal is not to remove a bunch of wood from the surface, but rather to just remove the top coat of varnish and lightly scuff up the underlying wood. That said, coarse sandpaper is overkill in this case. 

If you have a power sander, you can use it to make the job easier and quicker.

Heat Gun

If you have a heat gun at your home, you can also use it to remove varnish from wood. It can soften and loosen the wood varnish, making it easier to remove. After using the heat gun, you’d need to scrape the varnish off with a putty knife or similar scraping tool. This is certainly a manual process and certainly isn’t the easiest method, but it works nevertheless. 

When using the heat gun, wear safety gloves and goggles. Don’t work in an area with flammables, and pay close attention to what you’re doing.

Set your heat gun to low or medium and hold the heat gun as close to the surface as possible without touching it. Slowly move the heat gun back and forth within a small section of the furniture you’re treating.

The varnish should soften after a while. Use a scraper, and gently scrape off the varnish from the wood. Use sandpaper to remove any straggling bits of varnish that couldn’t easily be removed with the scraper.

Repeat these steps on the next few sections of your furniture until your furniture has been completely stripped of its varnish. 

Related: Homemade Paint Deglosser: 3 Solutions

Products For Removing Varnish

For working on many furniture upcycling projects or one large project, you may want to just bite the bullet and purchase a varnish remover product. These products are the most effective solutions for removing varnish. However, they tend to be more toxic than vinegar, so make sure to use them properly and take the right safety precautions.

If you’re looking for a relatively safe option, try Citristip. It doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals and instead of releasing a strong chemical odor, it releases a pleasant citrusy smell instead. Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover, is another amazing non-toxic alternative.

Klean Strip Kwik-Strip Paint and Varnish Stripper is another highly effective option. It’s fast-acting and very effective. A single coat of this product can remove up to five layers of paint and varnish. The only downside is it’s not quite as environmentally friendly as non-toxic options like Citristrip and Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover. 



Leave a Comment