How To Remove Polycrylic Finish: Safe and Effective Techniques

Disclaimer: Obsessed Woodworking is reader-supported. I may receive a small commission if you purchase anything through my site.

I swore under my breath when I discovered the polycrylic finish I’d lovingly applied to my refinished furniture had dried into a sticky, uneven mess overnight.

Before you resign yourself to the same sad fate, grab some coffee and let me walk you through exactly how to remove that tacky finish in 10 minutes flat. I know you spent too many hours sanding to settle for anything less than furniture so smooth you can see your shocked expression in the reflection. Stick with me – we’re getting that finish off!

Can Polycrylic Be Removed?

In spite of all this, you’ve used a polycrylic finish on your project, and then you’ve changed your mind for whatever reason.  What to do now?

The answer to the question is yes, polycrylic can be removed with a little work and a bit of protection both for yourself and for the wood surface it is being removed from.  The usual suspects for removing finishes, like sanding and solvents, will not be your best choices when removing polycrylic from your project, though.  

Sanding.  While you can use this method to remove the polycrylic, you run the risk of damaging the wood beneath it.  You will also need to use high grit sandpaper, something in the 220 – 320 range grit, which means it’s going to take a lot of time and effort for the task.  Low grit sandpaper can damage the wood – you’ve already sanded the wood smooth, and that low grit sandpaper will dig into the wood and undo your hard work.

Solvents.  Also, a problematic choice in that solvents will not entirely remove polycrylic from the wood’s surface.  Here, again, you also run the risk of damaging the wood.

Strippers.  No, not those kinds of strippers.  Be sure not to choose a chemical stripper that contains methylene chloride, a caustic and corrosive substance that can harm the skin and eyes and emit a harmful gas that can cause respiratory damage.  It’s also not environmentally friendly and should be avoided. Stay away from paint strippers that use this chemical.  A water-based or soy-based stripper product will be the best choice.

There’s work involved, but these are both effective and safe.

Safety Precautions For Removing Polycrylic

As with all such tasks, you want to be safe with all of the materials you are using to remove polycrylic.  These include:

  • Masks
  • Gloves
  • Goggles
  • A fan or two
  • An open window or other means of good ventilation

Beyond these measures, you’ll want to have handy some steel wool, the stripper you have chosen to use (water-based or soy-based), a brush or spray bottle, and a scraper.

Apply the stripper with a brush or a spray bottle.  We suggest trying it in a limited area first to make sure you have the hang of the chosen stripper and to make sure it will do the job for you.  Give it a few minutes, and if it seems okay, move on to the rest of the wood surface. 

Follow the instructions on the stripper container, but generally, you will want to let it sit for 15 – 30 minutes before you begin scraping.  Use a regular scraper, gently wipe the polycrylic off, and put it in a disposable bag.

Apply the stripper as needed for a second pass on polycrylic removal, digging gently into grooves and curves to get it all off.  There is no need to sand in between coats of the stripper.  

This is all information likely described on the stripper container.  One such choice might be Kleanstrip Premium Stripper, which you can purchase at large DIY stores, and maybe even at a local hardware store.  Be sure to read the directions before beginning, too.

Klean Strip Premium Stripper Epoxy Polyurethane Varnish and Paint Remover for…
  • ✅ Fast Acting and Non-Toxic: Klean Strip Premium Stripper contain fast-acting liquid that takes…
  • ✅ Toughest Paint Remover: This paint stripper is the most powerful and reliable for the toughest…
  • ✅ Versatile in Nature: This potent stuff not only works on latex and oil based paints, but it also…

After you have removed all of the polycrylic, remember to use care in the disposal of the bag.  Soak it in water before tossing away, just to be safe.  Yes, it’s water-based, but this is a good habit to have when disposing of used rags and removed finishes generally.  

Other Means of Removing Polycrylic

There are other less effective ways to remove polycrylic, and we could not find any strong recommendations for them.  We’ll mention them anyway, just in case you want to give one of them a try.

  • Acetone.  It will work, we believe, but is generally considered to be less effective than a water-based or soy-based stripper.
  • Vinegar.  Mix it in a 1:1 ratio with water, and it will help remove polycrylic, too.  Again, though, it is less effective than a stripper.

Video Discussion of Polycrylic and Polyurethane

It’s not directly on point, but it does offer information that will help you choose between a water-based polycrylic finish and an oil-based polyurethane.  If you make a fully informed decision and know what you want, you’re less likely to find yourself regretting a choice and having to figure out how to remove it.

Don’t rule out polycrylic as your finish choice for small interior projects.  It is a good wood finish, and for those types of projects, it will serve you well.

Last update on 2024-03-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Please leave a comment to join the discussion