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How to Use Alcohol to Remove Shellac

Frank Dioso

Shellac is a sticky resin commonly used as a wood sealer and finisher. It is found on almost all wooden furniture pieces. Shellac is can easily be damaged by water or alcohol, leaving white spots on the wood piece. If you want to repaint or apply a different type of finish to your old wooden furniture or other wood pieces, you will have to remove the old shellac first. It is possible to remove shellac using a few items you may already have in your home.

Denatured alcohol can easily remove shellac from wooden furniture.
  1. Test the wood finish you want to remove to make sure it is shellac and not lacquer. Numerous pieces of wood furniture will have a combination of lacquer and shellac. Pour a small amount of denatured alcohol on a clean cloth and wipe a small section of the wood.

  2. Watch to see if the finish has dissolved. If the finish dissolves completely, it is shellac. If it does not dissolve but just softens, the finish has a mixture of lacquer and shellac. In this case you want to create a solution of equal amounts of lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol.

  3. Apply the denatured alcohol or lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol mixture to the surface of the wooden furniture. Soak a clean cloth with the solution and wipe small sections of the wood piece at a time. Scrub the surface using a steel wool pad to remove the shellac. Continue doing this on all areas of the wood piece.

  4. Sand the wood furniture with sandpaper after removing the shellac and before applying a new paint or finish.