I'm fairly sure* I have shellacked hardwood floors. It has been surprisingly hard to figure out how to best clean/maintain them. For cleaning, the main suggestions I've seen are "use a solvent-based wood cleaner" (without pointing out any specific ones) or "use mild dish soap and water." Can anyone confirm if either of those are accurate? And if I need a special solvent-based cleaner, any recs? Do I need to wax the floors? Is there a rule of thumb on how regularly to wax them?

*House was constructed in 1949, original floors were covered (probably by carpet) for an unknown amount of time and then uncovered sometime before we bought it last year. Applying mineral spirits to the floor did nothing. Applying denatured alcohol to the floor resulted in a yellowish residue coming up when it was wiped away. Applying lacquer thinner resulted in an even more clear reaction (it was clear that the coating was dissolving and more of a yellowish reside wiped up) so it could be some sort of lacquer.

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    I imagine this is a normal house and not a den of ill repute where drunken parties happen, water and maybe some mild cleaner is all you should need once in a while between dusting/vacuuming. You know what not use on the floor already.
    – crip659
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 23:37
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    Take a look at Woodworking. There is a lot of info there about finishes, including how to identify what kind of finish it is and how to care for it once identified.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 23:52
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    Shellac is dissolved pretty easily with alcohol. If you got more action out of the lacquer thinner than the denatured alcohol, I'd guess it's more of a lacquer-based finish. Once shellac is clean, applying another coat melts into and "repairs" the previous coats. Lacquer is harder to fix. Have you tried an oil soap?
    – gnicko
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 0:00

1 Answer 1


Many solvents will remove shellac; if you want to try a cleaner, clean a sample spot under a couch and check in after a couple days to see if it's peeled or clouded.

The standard advice for cleaning a shellac anything is a gentle biodegradable dish soap + water.

I would recommend going over it with a slightly damp cloth then drying it with a dry cloth; I've never had a shellac finish so dirty that didn't sort it out.

If you mean cleaning off eg. light, localized water damage the standard advice is #0000 steel wool and mineral/furniture/lemon oil, rub in a circular motion with a VERY light touch, then wax.

Before trying that, I would recommend going over a lightly damaged spot with some hard wax (I like wax-it-all) and seeing if it buffs out. You can allways clean off the wax a try again with something else.

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