Refinishing Silicone-Contaminated Furniture

Suggestions for stripping, cleaning, and sealing furniture that may have been contaminated with silicone-containing furniture polish. February 21, 2011

I am having difficulty refinishing a table I made 15 or 20 years ago. I had originally used Sherwin Williams vinyl sealer and cat lacquer. The customer has been using products like Lemon Pledge on it. I stripped the table to bare wood, sanded it and washed it with lacquer thinner before reapplying vinyl sealer and then intending to use CV. The sealer, however, pulled hard into a completely even pattern of mounds all over the surface. I sanded it out and reapplied the sealer two additional times, and each time it pulled a little less, but it still is not laying out as I would expect on new work. Before I make a real mess with the CV, I am thinking I still have contamination with silicates from the cleaning products that were used. Any advice?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor W:
Your old finish may contain silica, wax or other contaminant chemical. You need to clean off your surface. Try using a solvent such as mineral spirits, alcohol and acetone to wipe off your wood.

From contributor R:
I've only been able to solve this two ways.

1) Lay down two coats of dewaxed shellac. For a table, just pick up the spray cans at the lumberyard. Works 95% of the time. Some don't feel comfortable with shellac under CV. I only did that once with no problems (as I usually spray a pre-cat).

2) Spray three very thin mist coats of vinyl and after that a full coat of vinyl, then sand. Works most of the time. The three coats are so thin that there isn't enough material to act up, and by the time you've done three, you've effectively sealed it enough to put a full coat of vinyl on.

From the original questioner:

Thanks. I think I'll try to get a couple thin layers of sealer on and then a pre-cat lacquer. With my luck on this, the CV might pull too hard and wrinkle. I am surprised though - I was to bare wood and then washed with lacquer thinner. Is alcohol or acetone a better solvent for the evils of Pledge?

From contributor T:
Contributor R has given you good advice. The only problem I've run into with a sealer of shellac or lacquer is that some finishes will burn into and through the shellac and then your fisheye will reappear. If you use a shellac sealer, keep your first couple of finish coats thin as well, especially if it's lacquer.

You can use most any finish to seal silicone in as long as the first 3 or 4 coats are very thin. Another solution not mentioned is to add a fisheye eliminator to your finish. Yes, it does contain silicone, but no, it will not contaminate your equipment. You'll have to select a product that is compatible with the finish you're using. It is still advisable to keep your first couple of coats thin. Fish eye eliminator reduces the surface tension of your finish to the point where the silicone contamination can't force it to pool away from the contamination sites.

P.S. Wax you can wash away with solvent. Silicone you can not.

From contributor L:
Try a 50-50 mixture of water and ammonia to wipe away the silicone contamination. Depending on how bad it is, it should work.

From contributor O:
Among the suggestions already given, and more, we feel it's critical to clean the surface of pieces before stripping. We will wash with detergent, ammonia solution, naphtha, alcohol, automotive de-waxer, etc. Silicone (Pledge and others polishes) is a flat molecule, it is a lubricant, and as we all know, a contaminant on any surface one is trying to finish. If you don't clean off all you can before you strip, it just travels to the original surface with the stripping solvents and slurry as you strip.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I had this problem with a tabletop I was finishing several years ago .I am a former automotive painter and knew how to fix this problem but all my attempts failed. The problem ended up being my air compressor which was old and the oil from the compressor was contaminating the pressurized air. I changed to a oil-less compressor and the problem was solved first take. If you are applying the finish by hand your options are limited. Paint strippers contain a certain amount of wax which could be contributing to your problem.