Guide to Lacquer Furniture Finishes

A paintbrush on top of a can of lacquer finish.

Lacquer is hard and glossy but is also brittle so it may be dented or chipped. Avoid hard blows. Avoid the use of water unless the furniture label recommends it. The newer synthetic lacquers are more durable; however, older lacquered pieces and many imports have finishes affected by some solvents, so test every product first in an inconspicuous area.


You will want to dust regularly with a soft, dry cloth. Never use oiled or treated cloths on lacquered finishes. Some finishes can be wiped with a damp, not wet, cloth, followed at once by rubbing with a dry cloth to remove fingerprints and smudges. A solvent-based furniture cleaner may be useable on many finishes but always test first. Apply liquid wax on occasion to maintain a gloss. Test first in an inconspicuous spot to make sure it is not going to damage the wood finish.

When heavy cleaning is called for, use a solvent-based furniture cleaner. Apply with a soft cloth in one hand, and wipe at once with a soft cloth in your other hand doing only a small area at a time. An oil soap may be satisfactory on some finishes, but test first to be sure it is OK with the finish. Protect with liquid wax or polish to maintain a gloss.

Test for Existing Finish on Furniture

Rub a Few Drops of Boiled Linseed Oil Into the Wood - If it absorbs, the wood has an oil finish. If it beads up, the wood has a hard finish (continue).

Rub Acetone Over a Spot in a Gentle, Circular Motion - Polyurethane finishes shed acetone like water. Lacquer dissolves in 30 seconds with rubbing. Varnishes and shellacs turn to a sticky, gel-like substance after a minute or two (continue).

Try a Few Drops of Denatured Alcohol - Shellac dissolves quickly in denatured alcohol. Varnish reacts slowly.

That's it for your guide to lacquer furniture finishes. Now you can keep your furniture looking newer longer.

This article has been contributed in part by Michigan State University Extension