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5 Best Varnish Removers 2020 – Reviews & Top Picks

hand removing varnish on table

Varnish remover is used most often for restoring furniture. However, it is widely used when it comes to restoring just about everything, including cars and even porches.

There are tons of varnish removers out there. Most of them walk a thin line between being powerful enough to strip paint and being so powerful that they damage your workpiece. Unless you want some leftover paint or your restoration piece to be damaged, you must choose the correct varnish remover.

To help you select just the right remover for your project, we wrote several reviews on some of the top varnish removers on the market. Furthermore, just in case you need a bit more help, we also wrote a complete buyer’s guide with extra information on choosing the best option.

A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Best Overall
Winner
Sunnyside 65732A Multi-Strip Paint & Varnish Remover Sunnyside 65732A Multi-Strip Paint & Varnish Remover
  • Safe
  • Removes up to 15 layers of paint or varnish
  • Easy to use
  • Best Value
    Second place
    Sunnyside 63432 Varnish Remover Gel Sunnyside 63432 Varnish Remover Gel
  • Safe formula
  • Strips multiple layers at once
  • Works on vertical surfaces
  • Premium Choice
    Third place
    Citristrip QCSG801 Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel Citristrip QCSG801 Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel
  • No harsh fumes
  • Safe
  • Stays active for 24 hours
  • Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Mediums Varnish Remover Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Mediums Varnish Remover
  • Works well
  • Great for artists
  • Easy to apply
  • Dumond Chemicals 3332 Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover Dumond Chemicals 3332 Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Safe
  • The 5 Best Varnish Removers – Reviews 2020

    1. Sunnyside Multi-Strip Paint & Varnish Remover – Best Overall

    Sunnyside 65732A Multi-Strip Paint & Varnish Remover

    Sunnyside 65732A Multi-Strip Paint & Varnish Remover is safer than most other options on the market while remaining robust enough for most purposes. It contains no methylene chloride or n-methyl-2-pyrrolidone (NMP), which makes it less toxic than most other options we reviewed. These ingredients are prevalent in varnish strippers, but they can be dangerous when misused.

    Despite its safety, it is capable of removing up to 15 layers of everything from paint to varnish to stain. It begins working in as little as 30 minutes, though how long it takes to work depends on the situation. It is easy to use, as well. You have to apply a heavy coat to whatever you want the varnish removed from. You can do this with a brush, paint roller, or putty knife – whatever you happen to have lying around.

    It can even adhere to vertical surfaces, including things like metal, masonry, and marble. It is thick enough to avoid just sliding off, making it much easier to use than other options. It is also non-flammable. While we never recommend taking a flame to your varnish remover, this is a nice just-in-case feature.

    Pros
    • Safe
    • Removes up to 15 layers of paint or varnish
    • Easy to use
    • Adheres to vertical surfaces
    • Non-flammable
    Cons
    • Takes a while to work

    2. Sunnyside 63432 Varnish Remover Gel – Best Value

    Sunnyside 63432 Varnish Remover Gel

    Varnish remover isn’t expensive. However, you usually have to use quite a bit of it. This can make the cost add up quite quickly, especially when you consider everything else you need for your product. If you’re looking to spend as little money on varnish remover as possible, you may want to check out Sunnyside 63432 Varnish Remover Gel. It is the best varnish remover for the money currently on the market.

    It is decently inexpensive when compared to other options. However, it is also very safe and can remove multiple layers of paint or varnish at a time. It typically only takes one application as well, which is always a nice plus. It can be used on vertical surfaces and will not damage even more delicate materials, like wood and masonry.

    It usually begins working in about 10 minutes. How long it takes to work depends on the type of paint or varnish you’re removing, as well as how many layers you’re working with. You don’t need a lot for this varnish remover to worth either, which raises its value more.

    Pros
    • Safe formula
    • Strips multiple layers at once
    • Works on vertical surfaces
    • Does not damage delicate materials
    Cons
    • Doesn’t work well on automotive paint

    3. Citristrip QCSG801 Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel – Premium Choice

    Citristrip QCSG801 Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel

    For those who want to get the job done, you may want to consider purchasing Citristrip QCSG801 Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel. This stuff is only slightly more expensive than other options, but it does come with some excellent benefits. Of course, if you plan on using a lot of it, the costs do add up over time. So be aware of how much you need for your project.

    For example, it does not produce nearly as many fumes as other options. This makes it safe and more comfortable for you to use. It has a citrus scent instead. It smells like cleaning products, in all honesty. This product does not include any harsh ingredients, like methylene chloride. For this reason, it is quite a bit safer than other options.

    Furthermore, this formula stays active for about 24 hours, so it keeps working for longer than most formulas. Because of this, it can remove more paint and varnish than other options. This is one of the reasons it is relatively high on our list. It just works better than most options.

    It can be used on practically every surface, including wood, metal, and masonry.

    Pros
    • No harsh fumes
    • Safe
    • Stays active for 24 hours
    • Can be used on most surfaces
    Cons
    • Bit more expensive

    4. Winsor & Newton Mixable Mediums Varnish Remover

    Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Mediums Varnish Remover

    The Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Mediums Varnish Remover is only suitable for particular situations. It is designed to be used by an artist to remove small amounts of varnish gently. You apply it to a lint-free cloth and rub it onto the area, which will slowly remove the varnish. When the pigment starts coming off onto the cloth, it means the varnish is working.

    While this sounds easy enough, it really isn’t suitable for many circumstances. There are very few reasons why you’d need to remove such a small amount of varnish or paint from anything. Plus, this stuff is costly, especially when you consider how much you’re getting. The bottles are much smaller than other paint removers that we removed. Unless you’re an artist who paints chairs or something of that sort, this varnish remover is not what you need.

    With that said, artists will rejoice at the remover. It does its job well and can be used in small areas. It is not your typical paint remover, which makes it perfect for artists and similar professionals.

    Pros
    • Works well
    • Great for artists
    • Easy to apply
    Cons
    • Expensive
    • Only used in certain circumstances

    5. Dumond Chemicals Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover

    Dumond Chemicals 3332 Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover

    The Dumond Chemicals 3332 Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover is designed to be environmentally-friendly. It is one of the most popular environmentally-friendly paint removers on the market. It is odor-free and water-based, making it relatively safe for both you and the environment. It is free from many of the harsh and potentially harmful chemicals other paint removers contain, like methylene chloride. It is advertised as non-carcinogenic and it is even biodegradable.

    With all that said, this paint remover isn’t that great. While we would love to get behind an environmentally-friendly option like this one, it just doesn’t work well enough for us to rank it very high on our list. Furthermore, the packaging is pretty terrible. There are no safety mechanisms on the package. Of course, you could argue that you don’t need it because it is so safe. However, you still don’t want a pool of varnish remover in the middle of your floor.

    Quite a few people complained about the smell too, though others said they liked the smell. It seems to depend on your personal preference.

    Pros
    • Environmentally friendly
    • Safe
    Cons
    • Doesn’t work well
    • Poor packaging
    • Potentially stinky

    Buyer’s Guide

    Choosing the right paint remover is not easy. Many factors go into selecting the best varnish remover for your project, even though this is a decently simple tool.

    For those who like to do their research, we wrote this complete buyer’s guide with everything you need to know about varnish remover. If you still don’t know what option to pick, this section should help you out.

    Safety

    Varnish remover is no laughing matter. It can be potentially dangerous. Furthermore, some of the damage it causes likely won’t become apparent for years to come, so it may be difficult to connect that damage to the varnish remover itself. The fumes can potentially damage your lungs, and some common chemicals are known to cause cancer.

    Different varnish removers are safer than others. There are many decently safe options on the market that also work. You do not have to sacrifice your safety to remove paint. You need to be careful about which product you purchase.

    All the products we included in our reviews are safe to use. Some don’t even produce many fumes, which is excellent for your health and comfort.

    Effectiveness

    Right next to safety, you also want any varnish remover you purchase to be effective. You want it to remove paint and varnish – hopefully without too much work on your part. Surprisingly, many varnish removers out there aren’t effective. They may only be useful for specific situations and materials. Others need a lot of time to work. Some popular removers do work, but they require a bit of elbow grease.

    While safety should always come first, the safest paint remover isn’t going to be very helpful if it can’t remove anything. We all just want our varnish remover to work well.

    The easiest way to determine how well a varnish remover works is to check out our reviews. No company is going to advertise that their remover only works in specific situations, so you have to rely on reviews and advice from users for this feature.

    Versatility

    Some varnish removers only work in particular situations. If you happen to find a very niche remover that works on exactly what you need it to, great! Go ahead and feel free to use it. However, for most of us, we need a versatile remover that is usable on a variety of workpieces.

    Luckily, most varnish removers today are designed to work on practically everything. Most of them work on wood and metal, as well as rarer materials like masonry and bricks. However, very few are safe for plastic. Most will melt plastic if applied to them, so it is essential not to use remover on plastic unless it specifically says it is safe. If you need to remove paint from plastic, you will likely need a stripper specifically designed for it. The same can be said for glass and fiberglass as well since they tend to be more delicate.

    Speed

    How fast a varnish remover works is also essential. Sure, a remover might work great. But if it takes a week to remove a few layers of paint, you are going to get frustrated very quickly. Typically, you can expect to leave any remover on for at least a few hours. This improves the odds of it working correctly and efficiently. Most do not work in a matter of minutes.

    However, you do not want to leave the remover on so long that it gums up and becomes difficult to remove. Once the liquid from the remover has evaporated, you’re going to have a hard time removing it. Thinner products tend to evaporate much faster – just something to keep in mind while you’re picking out a remover.

    If you can’t leave a remover on for very long, you’ll have to apply multiple coats. As you might imagine, this can get expensive after a while. Plus, it is also a pain to do, especially if you have to do it over many days. No one wants to spend days of their life removing paint off of a car.

    removing varnish on wood
    Image: Imagesine, Shutterstock

    Cost

    Varnish remover is relatively cheap. You can expect to spend around $10 or less on your average varnish remover. Usually, this amount of money will get you about a quart.

    When you’re considering how much a varnish remover costs, you don’t just need to look at the price tag. The size container the remover comes in should be one of the first things you check. This may sound like common sense, but it is an easy step to forget when you’re shopping. Secondly, you also need to consider how much varnish remover you need for that particular product to work. Some products call for only a thin coat and work quite well the first time. Others require you to gob it on there and may require quite a few applications to work.

    The effectiveness is going to have a significant impact on the real cost of a product. Because of this, you usually have to figure out how well a product works before you can figure out how cost-effective it is.

    Ease of Use

    Let’s be fair — most varnish removers are very easy to apply. Often, you just put them on. However, some are a bit more complicated to use and may require quite more work on your part. On top of applying the remover, you should also consider how easy it is to clean it up. Even some skin-safe formulas shouldn’t be touched after they’ve been left to work on a surface, which can make clean up a bit complicated. You’ll often need to wear a pair of gloves and even a breathing mask to avoid potential lung damage. We also recommend having some soap and water on hand, since clean-ups tend to get messy.

    You should also consider how much you need to help the remover by hand. In almost all cases, you’ll need to work the paint off with a rag or sponge. Sometimes, the remover will come right off with the paint without a problem. Other times, you’ll need to use quite a bit of elbow grease. Preferably, you want to choose a remover that requires you to use as little elbow grease as possible. Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with how effective the product is.

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    Conclusion

    Many restoration projects require a varnish remover. This simple product can be the difference between a simple project and one with quite a few headaches. While these products can seem similar, they can be significantly different depending on the chemicals used to make them.

    Hopefully, our reviews and buyer’s guide gave you a good idea of what varnish remover we need to use.

    For most people, Sunnyside 65732A Multi-Strip Paint & Varnish Remover is going to be your best bet. It is safe, doesn’t produce too many fumes, and can remove many layers of paint. It can be used on most materials as well, so it should work for most projects.

    If you’re looking to save some money, then we recommend Sunnyside 63432 Varnish Remover Gel. It is a bit cheaper while remaining practical. It is also decently safe and does not use some of the more dangerous chemicals out there.


    Featured Image Credit: E_serebryakova, Shutterstock

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