I've ruined a wooden, varnished table by putting a hot mug of tea down on it. In case that’s relevant, the cup was also slightly wet (only water). Now at the place where the mug stood is a milky-whitish blemish in the lacquer. On the first try it looked as though it could be scraped off with a sharp object but that doesn’t seem to be the case after all, and no amount of scrubbing with a wet cloth has any visible effect.

Is there a way of fixing this, short of repainting the whole table? I’m hoping that maybe the damage is only superficial after all; are there special cleaning products for this?


  • Did it blister up (can you feel it?), or is it just on the surface? – Steven Jan 31 '12 at 21:23
  • @Steven No blisters, but I’m not sure if the coloration is just on the surface or if it actually changed the lacquer (or even the structure below). I could theoretically imagine a chemical, heat-induced reaction cloud the clear lacquer. – Konrad Rudolph Jan 31 '12 at 21:33
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    Have you tried a furniture cleaner like Pledge®? I would give it a shot, before moving on to more complex solutions. – Tester101 Feb 1 '12 at 13:01

Now you know why varnish is rarely used anymore. If it is pure varnish/shellac, then damage to the wood is likely. Before sanding and refinishing, the nuclear option is to try to rub it out with denatured alcohol. The alcohol will dissolve the varnish and redistribute or remove it. You can then touch up the varnish carefully.

If it is lacquer, then use lacquer thinner. Remember, varnish and lacquer are not the same.

This is somewhat successful in some stains.

  • I was afraid of that. I don’t yet know whether it’s lacquer or varnish, I’ll try whether it can be dissolved by alcohol. – Konrad Rudolph Jan 31 '12 at 21:53
  • @KonradRudolph -- So how did it go? Did the fix work? – Russell Steen Jul 31 '12 at 23:32
  • @Russell My move out of the flat has been pushed back unexpectedly (don’t ask …) so I’m not in a hurry to try extreme solutions at the moment. Everything I’ve tried so far (conventional furniture cleaner) yielded no result whatsoever. – Konrad Rudolph Aug 1 '12 at 6:56

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