To remove old, peeling wood finishes that have turned yellow, alcohol is one of the most common products used.
But if you need to, you must use the right type of alcohol for the job between the two major types – denatured and isopropyl.
The main difference between the two is that denatured alcohol consists of ethyl alcohol along with other chemicals, while isopropyl is only made up of molecules of isopropyl alcohol.
While both of them can be used for cleaning wood, there are instances when one would offer better results than the other.
So, if you are planning a day to clean and refinish your old wooden furniture or floors using denatured or isopropyl alcohol, check here to know which will be a better solution suited for your job.
In this article we will cover:
Denatured alcohol is generally considered the better product for cleaning and refinishing wood.
It is pretty good at removing grease spots, mold, and mildew that has formed on the surface.
You can also use denatured alcohol to remove clear finishes and paint, but it is not as good as paint strippers.
For the most part, denatured alcohol is used after paint strippers to remove any remaining residue.
Lacquer, latex, polyurethane, and shellac can also be removed by denatured alcohol, although it will take more time compared to using paint strippers.
To remove the finish with denatured alcohol, soak it into steel wool and rub it over the wood surface until all the finish is gone.
Isopropyl Alcohol for Wood
Often called rubbing alcohol, this product effectively removes grease, mold, and mildew.
In addition, its properties are quite good at removing adhesives such as glue and other substances that stick to the wood surface.
Just like denatured alcohol, this product is highly flammable as well, so use it with care.
Isopropyl alcohol is not quite good enough to remove finishes from wood, but it can be helpful in the refinishing process.
It is good at cleaning bare wood because no other elements are present in the product.
Simply mix it with water and rub it over the stains until they are gone. Be sure to rinse the wood thoroughly with clean water and let it dry.
Can Rubbing Alcohol Damage Wood Furniture?
You may have heard that alcohol may damage wood surfaces or finishes like polyurethane or urethane.
In terms of whether it damages finishes, that part is true primarily if the alcohol you use is concentrated enough and allowed to soak into the finish.
Even if you spill a few drops on a wood finish surface, it will act as a solvent and destroy the finish on contact.
However, if you wipe it up quickly and clean the area, it may minimize the damage.
In terms of staining the wood, isopropyl alcohol contains no elements that might cause any stain to appear.
Isopropyl alcohol contains nothing other than alcohol which evaporates from the surface when exposed to the air.
However, while the alcohol will not stain the wood, it will destroy the finish.
Blot Up the Alcohol
To minimize the damage that may be caused by rubbing alcohol spilling on the wood finish, blot it up with a clean cloth or paper towel as quickly as possible.
Do not use paper or cloth that has dyes in it, such as newspapers, magazines, or the like.
Otherwise, the dyes will run into the surface of the wood, and you’ll have a new problem to deal with.
Be sure not to rub the cloth or towel into the wood, as that will only spread the alcohol around the surface.
Blot it all up until the surface is dry, and then assess the damage.
Apply the Furniture Oil
With the surface now dry, apply furniture oil to the area.
Squeeze just a little on the area and rub it in the direction of the wood grain.
Be sure to use enough to match the color of the finish or wood.
If the remnants of the rubbing alcohol have dried, you’ll need to mix rottenstone and linseed oil into an equal mixture and rub it into the stain.
This will act as a mild abrasive to lift the stain from the finish. If you do not have such materials, then try mixing baking soda with lemon or mineral oil.
Once completed, if the area looks dull, you can buff it with furniture wax.
How to Prevent the Damage Caused by Rubbing Alcohol?
The best way to limit the damage to the wood finish is to have the rubbing alcohol stored safely in a tray with sides to prevent it.
This will avoid any accidental spillage on the wood finish.
Keep it away from open flames or heat and out of the reach of your children or pets.
Remember that the fumes from rubbing alcohol may cause health complications to humans and pets who live inside.
Keep the alcohol tightly sealed and stored in a location far away from the living areas.
Final Thoughts – Denatured alcohol or isopropyl alcohol to clean wood?
For removing stains, isopropyl is considered the better choice, but denatured alcohol has its uses as well at home along with a variety of different industries.
Most of the time, homeowners prefer to use denatured alcohol over IPA as a cleaning solvent because it is extremely high-proof.
Denatured alcohol is also less toxic than paint strippers (though it may take more time to work for paint or varnish removal).
Therefore, if safety is your concern and you have children or pets at home, denatured alcohol shouldn’t be replaced with IPA for cleaning or woodwork.
Knowing which one to use will help you complete the job faster.
Just be sure never to use these products near an open flame since both of them are flammable.
Hi, I am Mark Garner a professional carpenter, woodworker, and DIY painter. I live in the small city of Peoria, Arizona as a semi-retired woodworker. I have started this blog with a simple motive to help you with my wood experience in this sector. If you like to know more about what I love doing and how it all got started, you can check more about me here.