Cloudy Lacquer Finish – Common Causes and Fixes

some causes of cloudy lacquer

Although lacquer is known for its beautiful, clear, and glossy finish, it sometimes turns white, cloudy, and dull.

The good thing is that the problem is usually easy to fix if you know what has caused the blushing in lacquer in the first place.

The most common cause of a milky lacquer finish is moisture in the air.

When sprayed on the surface, the lacquer typically causes a cooling effect as it dries.

And if it cools the surface down below the dew point, you get condensation.

This water droplet will eventually evaporate, leaving behind a white, cloudy finish.

To fix the discoloration in your lacquer finish, you can start evaporating the moisture into the air using a heat gun.

If that doesn’t help, you must use a lacquer thinner to eliminate white spots.

Lacquer retarder can also help by slowing the drying time, but it should be used cautiously.

In this blog, I will tell what exactly is a white lacquer finish, a few more causes of the lacquer finish turning white, and how you can fix this cloudy substance.

So, if you are having trouble with your lacquer finish, read on to learn more about this issue.

What is a White Lacquer Finish?

A white lacquer finish is a milky, cloudy substance that forms on the surface of lacquer when it doesn’t dry properly.

These are typically the group of microscopic water bubbles appearing as white spots when the light hits on the surface due to light diffusion.

These cloudy particles are the main culprit that ruins the beauty of clear lacquer on your high-end furniture.

Lacquer is the fastest drying finish, usually curing within 12 hours and ready to be applied in as little time.

This means that many people who want their desired look without excessive wait will opt for this excellent spraying method instead of other traditional methods like wiping down surfaces or sanding off paint entirely before applying another layer on top.

The only drawback is when it’s drying over wood surfaces like doors, furniture, and cabinetry, it can sometimes leave a milky layer due to the immediate cooling effect that makes it dry fast.

There are several reasons for this, but the most common is moisture in the air which stays underneath the lacquer layer.

Once the drying happens and the lacquer gets hardened, there will be white spots and blushing all over – which can be challenging to remove.

Other Causes of Cloudy Spots in Lacquer?

If the humidity is too high (relative humidity above 60%), the lacquer finish turns white and can cause many other problems.

Aside from moisture, a few other causes of blushing in the lacquer can be:

a) Over-spraying – Applying too much lacquer in one go can lead to blushing problems.

You should, therefore, always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on how much lacquer to apply.

b) Contaminants – If there are any contaminants on the surface before you start spraying lacquer, they can cause problems.

The surface needs to be clean and free of dust, oil, or debris.

c) Improper ventilation – If the area where you are spraying lacquer is not correctly ventilated, the moisture in the air will not be able to escape, causing the lacquer to turn white.

d) Too much lacquer thinner – Another possible reason is if you are using too much lacquer thinner in your mixture.

Lacquer thinner is an essential part of the process because it helps the lacquer evaporate and become dry.

But, if you use an excess of it, the lacquer will not be able to dry correctly and will be prone to blushing.

e) Incorrect dilution ratio – If you don’t mix the lacquer properly, it can also lead to blushing.

Removing and fixing the spray lacquer finish problems is essential not only because of the beauty of the furniture but also to maintain its value.

Plus, if you do not fix the blushing in lacquer soon, the moisture that remains beneath can cause the wood to swell, distort, and rot sooner or later.

So, in my humble opinion, you should never ignore the blushing and milky spots on your furniture – fix them as soon as you notice them!

how to fix cloudy lacquer problem?

Fixing a Blush and Cloudiness in Lacquer Finish

Removing white spots from your lacquer finish is relatively easy if you take action immediately.

The first step, however, is to identify the cause of discoloration. If it is due to moisture, you can try one of the following solutions:

1- Evaporating the Moisture

The trapped moisture inside the lacquer can be removed using a hairdryer and iron at home.

  • Start by placing a soft cotton cloth on the surface with white spots lacquer finish.
  • Switch on the iron and set it to the medium setting
  • Place it on the cloth and move in a sweeping motion
  • After a few minutes, check the spots by removing the cloth; they might be vanishing and fading with heat
  • If there are still spots that need to be removed, put the cloth again and try ironing again for a few minutes
  • Remove the cloth and now take your hair dryer (set at the lowest setting)
  • Apply the heat from the hair dryer – by holding the dryer close to the surface at a distance of about 3 -4 inches
  • You will notice all the white spots vanishing away with the heat slowly

Continue the above process until the white spots have gone from an entire area.

Do not miss any spots, as treating them later once you are done would be difficult.

This entire process, when carefully done, should eventually help you get rid of all the cloudiness in just a few minutes.

You only need to ensure not to use the steam mode on your iron, as it will only worsen things.

Also, do not apply excessive iron heat directly on the wood surface as it can damage the entire finish layer.

2- Thinning Lacquer Finish

Another way to remove the moisture and white spots from the finish is by using lacquer thinner.

For this method, you will need to:

  • Start by pouring some lacquer thinner into a bowl
  • Soak a clean cotton cloth in the liquid and wring it to remove any excess thinner
  • Now apply this cloth to the surface with white spots/cloudiness
  • You will see the cloudiness and moisture being transferred from the finish to the cloth
  • Continue the process until you have removed most of the moisture from the surface
  • Once you are done, take a clean, dry cloth and wipe away any thinner from the surface

Remember that this method will work effectively only when the trapped moisture isn’t too deep.

The thinner will cut the lacquer finish to make the pathway for moisture to evaporate. Once the moisture particles come out, the lacquer finish does not appear white.

That said, if the moisture has penetrated too deep, the process won’t work well – it is better to sand the surface and start over with a new finish.

3- Adding a Lacquer Retarder

Using Lacquer Retarder (also known as blush remover) is one of the most effective techniques to eliminate the cloudy spots on your furniture.

Expert woodworkers generally use this to fix the lacquer blushing that occurs in high humid conditions.

A lacquer Retarder will help slow down the lacquer’s drying time, giving it more time to evaporate any trapped moisture beneath the surface.

You can find Lacquer Retarder in any convenient hardware store or online retailer.

When using Lacquer Retarder, always follow the instructions on the packaging carefully.

Typically, you will need to add 2-3% of lacquer retarder to the total lacquer volume before applying the finish to the surface. You can go as high as 5% to 10%, depending on the humidity conditions.

This mixture will then prevent the lacquer from tuning white as it dries.

4- Use Dehumidifier or Silica Gel

This technique is valid only when the reason behind the cloudy spots is high humidity.

 If you live in a naturally humid environment or the room where your furniture is placed has high humidity, it will be difficult to get rid of the moisture spots.

The only way to fix this is by reducing the humidity level in the room. You will need to use either a dehumidifier or silica gel packets.

Place the dehumidifier in the room where your furniture is placed and turn it on. You will need to keep the dehumidifier running until the humidity level has dropped to around 45% to 50%.

You can also use some silica gel packets to reduce the moisture in the air if you do not have a dehumidifying machine at home.

Simply place the packets near your furniture and allow them to work their magic.

The silica gel packets will slowly absorb the moisture from the air, eventually helping to remove the cloudy spots on your furniture.

The dehumidifier or silica gel packets can also be used while applying the finish to your furniture.

This will help prevent the water from condensing under the lacquer finish, hence keeping the lacquer from blushing while it dries.

Applying the Lacquer Finish to Prevent White Spots in the First Place

The key to avoiding the cloudy spots is to apply the lacquer finish in the right conditions.

This means ensuring that the humidity level is below 50% and the temperature is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is also recommended to apply the lacquer finish in a dust-free environment. Even the smallest dust particles can cause imperfections in the lacquer finish, resulting in a cloudy appearance.

Follow these steps to avoid cloudiness and correctly apply the lacquer finish to your wood surface.

Step 1- Prepare your working area

This should be done by setting up a dust-free environment.

You should generally start using a HEPA filter vacuum to remove dust particles from the air. Then place a dehumidifier nearby or take your project to an open and well-ventilated space outside.

Step 2- Clean and sand the wood surface

Using a tack cloth, wipe down your furniture’s surface and remove any lingering dust particles.

If you are working on a previously lacquered wood surface (after fixing the white spots), wipe the entire surface with a piece of rag dampened in denatured alcohol or mineral spirits.

This will help to clean the old lacquer finish and give the new lacquer a smooth surface to adhere to.

After that, allow the surface to dry for a few hours, Then sand the surface lightly using fine-grit sandpaper (220).

To create a smooth surface, unfinished wood coated with a fresh lacquer finish should be sanded nicely with 180 grit sandpaper.

Make sure you sand the surface evenly by applying even pressure along the direction of wood grains.

This will eliminate the chances of getting any marks or visible scratches on the surface when you apply the finish.

After sanding, use a tack cloth or a lint-free rag to remove dust particles from the wood surface.

Step 3- Prepare your lacquer finish.

Mix a gallon of lacquer finish and 6-8 ounces of lacquer retarder in a container.

It depends on the dryness of the wood and environmental conditions; you can increase the lacquer retarder quantity.

But, I would recommend the retarder to be not more than 10% of the total lacquer finish.

Stir the mixture slowly and thoroughly using a stir stick until the ingredients are completely mixed.

The lacquer retarder will help to prevent the lacquer from drying too quickly. This is essential as it gives the lacquer enough time to level and flow evenly on the surface.

You can also use a lacquer thinner (or acetone) to adjust the consistency of the lacquer mixture if it is too thick. I recommend starting with 1/2 pint of lacquer thinner for a gallon of lacquer finish.

However, you should be very careful when adding the thinner as it can quickly thin out the lacquer mixture, making it difficult to apply.

Finally, when the solution is mixed and prepared – load it into your paint sprayer.

Step 4- Spray the lacquer and allow it to dry

Now you are ready to apply the lacquer finish.

Start by wearing a facemask, adjust the air regulator to 30 PSI, and hold the nozzle of your paint sprayer about 12 inches away from the surface of the wood.

With a steady hand, spray the very thin lacquer layer evenly across the surface in a side-to-side motion.

As you move the paint sprayer, overlap each stroke by 50%. This will help to ensure even coverage and prevent any bare spots.

After spraying the first coat to the entire surface, allow it to dry for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

TIP: If you are not very confident, practice spraying on a piece of cardboard or any other scrap wood before spraying the actual project.

Step 5- Sand and apply additional coats of lacquer

Once the first coat is completely dry, sand the surface lightly with very fine-grit sandpaper (320 or 400).

Use a tack cloth or a lint-free rag to remove dust particles from the wood surface.

Now you are ready to apply the second, third, or even fourth coat of lacquer. Make sure you follow the same procedure as you did for the first coat.

And allow each coat to dry completely (for 30 to 60 minutes) before applying the next one.

As a general rule of thumb, I would recommend applying a minimum of 3 coats of lacquer for the best results.

Once you have applied the desired number of coats and allowed the final coat to dry completely, sand the surface one last time with ultra-fine sandpaper (600).

Use a tack cloth or a lint-free rag to remove any dust particles produced on the wood surface.

You should now have a nice, smooth, shiny surface without any cloudy lacquer finish.

Tips and Warnings

Though the cloudy lacquer finish is not a big problem, it can be very frustrating, especially if you have put in so much effort to achieve a perfectly smooth surface.

So, to keep such problems at bay, here are a few additional tips and warnings that you should need to keep in mind when applying lacquer finish:

1- Allow at least 24 hours to cure the sealed lacquered surface before using it.

2- Do not sand the surface too aggressively at any stage, as it can damage the wood and its beautiful grain patterns.

3- It’s best to use lacquer thinner, lacquer finish, and retarder from the same manufacturer. This will avoid the incompatibilities that can lead to a cloudy finish.

Brands like Sunnyside, General Finishes, Minwax, and Zinsser make good quality lacquer products. You can check and compare them online before purchasing one.

The Bottom Line

A cloudy lacquer finish is a common problem when applying a lacquer finish- but it’s relatively easy to fix.

The important thing is to take your time and be patient. Make sure you follow all the steps carefully and do not rush the process.

Once you have fixed the blushing, you can apply a fresh coat of lacquer if needed.

Applying a lacquer finish is also not difficult, but it does require some time and effort. If you do it carefully, your project should last for decades (or even more) without any problems.

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