Varnish is the final coating put on stained wood to preserve the color and create a glossy finish. When refinishing floors or furniture, it is necessary to first remove the varnish to get to the stained wood so you can re-stain and bring back the original luster. There are products that you can purchase at paint and hardware stores to remove varnish; however, there is a safe and inexpensive way to make your own varnish remover from products you have around the house.
Homemade Varnish Remover
Prepare a homemade varnish remover using 2 cups of cornstarch mixed in 1 cup of tap water. Put 9 cups of water in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Measure out 8 cups of the boiling water and put it in a large bucket. Add 11/2 cups of baking soda, 2 tbsp. of vinegar and 1 cup of ammonia to the hot water. Stir in the mixture of water and cornstarch and mix everything together. Apply the mixture while it is still very warm. Wear rubber gloves when working with the mixture and do so in a well ventilated area. If working on furniture, remove all hardware and place the item on a plastic tarp or several layers of newspaper. Using a brush based on the size of the furniture piece, apply the varnish remover on the furniture several times and watch the varnish dissolve from the wood. For a hardwood floor, brush the mixture on the floor several times, leaving the solution sit on the wood for about 30 seconds before rubbing the varnish off with a cleaning rags. Make sure the rags are clean before you start the process as you do not want any other chemicals to come into contact with the varnish remover as this may cause the wood to become discolored. Rinse the wood with clean water when the varnish is removed and leave it sit in the sun or a well-ventilated area to dry. If you have hard water, add a water softener to the rinse water.