I'm looking at a wooden wardrobe, which has... well, seen a lot of punishment. But in this question I'm focusing on how its side was splattered/stained with white material which is either whitewash, or more likely, in-door wall paint.

I started by scrubbing (sort of) gently, with a rag. I then went on to make the rag moist and scrub again. I continued with applying some mild pressure through the rag (mostly to the areas with thick stains). These stages all helped, but a lot of white was still left. I tried scrubbing somewhat harder, and also scrubbing more gently, but with a (non-metallic) scouring pad. That also helped a bit, but I'm really not there yet.

I feel I was already kind of pushing it with the scouring pad, and hurting the varnish. I'm wondering - what should be my next step? I'm guessing some sort of material compound should be able to loosen/disintegrate the white splatter without affecting the wood/varnish much. Am I right? If not, what else should I do?

Here is the wardrobe side's original state:

enter image description here

and here is the current state (possible variations in lighting):

enter image description here

PS - Wondering about the gray swath at the bottom? 1. It's not my doing. 2. Just don't ask, I'm still traumatized by that. Suffice it to say some people should be behind bars for crimes against aesthetics and workmanship.

4 Answers 4


Looks like wall paint marks from a roller getting too close as the wall was painted, but there's no easy way to know if it is oil based on latex based paint. Either way now that it is dry and old, it's going to take some sort of solvent to remove it and that will also remove whatever finish is there as well.

You really don't have any options that I am aware of to avoid having to refinish it, I would just plan on doing that.

One possible option is to try using some nail polish remover, because it is decidedly mild since it is intended to make contact with skin. That might soften it up enough to make it come off without doing too much damage to the original finish. Try applying it very sparingly with cotton swabs.

  • 1. Is there a name for the active ingredient(s) in fingernail polish removal? 2. Do I actually go get that at a pharmacy/beauty shop, or do hardware stores carry this thing too?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 18:07
  • nail polish remover is usually just acetone. You can find this at a hardware store.
    – Sam
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 18:14
  • It is acetone, it's just purposely made weaker (i.e. "watered down", albeit not with water) because it is going to contact skin. If you get straight acetone at the hardware store, it will be much stronger and more "virulent" in its attack of the original finish.
    – JRaef
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 19:32
  • I think you'll have to sand it and refinish it. That will give you a chance to make the wood beautiful again and maybe even get rid of the gray stripe at the bottom. I know I'm not supposed to ask... but what is that? It looks like duct tape....
    – gnicko
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 0:01

Really hot water, over and over. Sponge, super hot water rub gently, repeat. Any solvent you put on there will probably stain the wood.


Mechanical removal is an option.

If the varnished surface is reasonably smooth, a scraper (used with care) should peel the paint right off. The care comes with not letting it cut through into the varnish (or not much.) A single-edged razor blade head at nearly 90 degrees to the surface is one approach to a scraper if you don't have a more formal scraper.

Whatever method you use, you may have to face refinishing the wood if you want it to look its best.

  • I did say "seeped in".... scraping would require removing layers of the wood, and I don't want that.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Oct 11, 2020 at 16:21
  • Actually, @einpoklum, since there was some sort of finish on the wardrobe to begin with, that probably sealed the wood enough that the paint spatters from doing the wall are only on the surface and have not actually penetrated the wood. TBH, scraping the splatter off will be difficult, but I doubt it's penetrated to any significant amount.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 16:19
  • Even if I scratch off layers of the finish, it will effect the color. You could suggest I re-finish the side of the closet, but that's beyond what I could commit to (when this problem was relevant).
    – einpoklum
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 16:24
  • And, @einpoklum, I just did exactly that! :) It may no longer be helpful to you (it's hard to know since there isn't an accepted answer), but it may be helpful to others in the future.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 16:27

Since you commented on the grey at the bottom, as well as the paint along the wall...

It looks like the grey along the bottom is where there was trim or a base shoe installed before the finish was applied. The trim has since been removed, leaving unfinished wood that has weathered to the grey you see now.

I appears that the grey has increased from the 1st pic to the 2nd pic, so I presume you've made some sort of attack on fixing that, as well, but it maybe hasn't gone to plan.

It's likely that the only way to fix up the weathered wood at the bottom and have it come out looking remotely like the rest of the cabinet will be to refinish the whole thing. To that end, I'd suggest gently sanding the finish off of the entire exterior of the cabinet until you're down to bare wood all the way around and have an even coloration everywhere. Then, refinish it with your choice of the myriad of finishes available for purchase. For details on refinishing, I'd recommend you stop by the Woodworking sister site and look at the finishing tag for loads of recommendations.

  • No, the gray is actually paint intended for metal surfaces. Don't ask me how it got there - it's a traumatic experience. Landlords are evil. In the earlier photo you see the state of things before the gray paint was applied.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 16:42
  • 1
    Ah, OK. that was rather unclear from the pics. Sanding down to bare wood and refinishing would probably still be the best way to get a nice, even, consistent finish for the whole side.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 16:46

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