Troubleshooting Blushing on Cabinet Doors in Use

Three months after the job, doors finished with waterborne conversion varnish are blushing. The culprit turns out to be ammonia in a household cleaner.October 20, 2013

Anybody heard of or experienced blushing three months after the coating was applied? Almost completely black stain with Target Coatings em2000 hybrid varnish topcoat. There is a slight haze on some of the doors. Wipe down with a cabinet cleaner polish and it goes away, only to return a few weeks later.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
Although I am not familiar with that coating, I will assume it is post cat. The blush you refer to is an all too often result of over catalyzation. In my experience it goes on for years. What is a cabinet cleaner polish?

From the original questioner:
Target coatings are all waterborne finishes. I was attempting to be vague to avoid the inevitable responses stating waterborne coatings suck and cv is god's gift to finishing. I have been spraying Target coatings for a few years now and been very successful and satisfied with the results. Waterborne coatings do not blush in the same sense as solvent coatings. It's hard to trap moisture under a coating that is made up of say 75% water, but it is possible to apply too heavy of a film, causing the face of the film to dry, slowing the evaporation of the water inside, resulting in a haze that is immediately visible. In my experience this haze lightens or goes away after time or can be removed with solvents and heat.

What I am experiencing developed three months after the coating was applied. Has anyone experienced a haze or blushing well after the coating was applied? I believe what I'm experiencing is an environmental reaction to something, whether it be a cleaner or cooking residue or generally poor housekeeping.

Cabinet cleaners and polishes are crap that homeowners buy in an attempt to destroy our wonderful work. They usually contain silicones and waxes or mineral oil and a whole host of other chemicals that someone with no understanding of finishes thought would be great to clean cabinets with.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:

I'd post your question on the forum at Target Coatings - or you may find someone has already asked the same question. The owner, Jeff Weiss, is the chemist that developed the coatings and has the best insight into the probable cause and remedy of the problem.

From contributor B:
I haven't used Target for years, but I did shoot some of their Emtech CV over a black finish and it blushed to a bluish purple almost immediately. At the time their finishes seemed to have a bluish haze in them. When you put them on top of real dark substrate is when they showed up. If you didn't get the blush right away, I'd look into your client's use of "cabinet cleaner."

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I actually posted on Target's finishing zone forum first. Jeff's tech support is the best around. But I was looking for some outside input. Have you solvent guys ran into blush well after application?

Contributor B, you are right about a bit of a blue tone, but it is usually only evident when the wet film is sprayed too heavy. It's what us waterborne guys most often refer to as blush, but it is evident immediately. If I'm spraying a crystal clear finish over black, I tend to add a few drops of transtint black to my mix cup just in case.

From contributor M:
I've sprayed mostly CV and pre-cat solvent based, but I've done a few kitchens in waterborne (SW ChemAqua and MLC Agualente precat). I've never had a solvent base blush after-the-fact (and CV has never blushed for me at all anyhow, wet or dry), and I've never had the waterborne stuff blush after-the-fact either.

My suspicion is that they have cleaned the cabinets with something that contains a damaging chemical, like maybe ammonia (Windex). The cabinet polish probably has silicone which will give you refinishing hell, but also explains why this works briefly. The silicone is filling in any micro-pits caused by the Windex (or whatever chemical they may have used) and when the silicone wears off, the pits show up again.

From contributor I:
I doubt Windex would cause this, as it contains only dilute amounts of ammonia. In fact Jeff Weiss has recommended the use of Windex to clean surfaces finished with Target products, when fully cured, on a few occasions over at the target forum.

From the original questioner:
Thanks again. You're right, Windex is pretty mild, especially here in Canada. It's all but impossible to find window cleaner with ammonia. What are your experiences with blushing?

I personally think and hope contributor M is on the right path... I'm going to try a few household cleaners on some scrap doors I have and see if I can replicate the haze. Any suggestions of household chemicals to try?

From contributor I:
I have never experienced blushing with Target. I have seen some bluish haze from greatly exceeding the recommended wet film thickness. An example is where I was experimenting with shading, and I dumped on 10+ mils of tinted em1000 (5 2 mil coats) within 20 minutes total. Never under normal circumstances, even pushing the limits.

Would you happen to have some finish samples left over from the project? That could help rule out problems with the original product, or application.

From the original questioner:
I like the way you think... I finally have two doors and two drawer fronts that were the wrong sizes, but were sprayed at the same time with the same schedule. The two doors have been outside in the cold snow and rain beside my garbage bin since the install and the drawer fronts in the shop. None have any haze. The doors have a bit of wood swelling from the water and a joint broken, but the finish is still perfect.

But I'm attempting to rule out blush without any bias. Meaning if I can't find anyone who has had a blush haze develop well after the coating has cured, it is very unlikely to be blush which is what the contractor is saying it is.

From contributor I:
Did they wait 3 months to report the problem, or was it actually 3 months for the haze to appear? How bad does it actually appear?

I doubt this is the case. The only thing I can think of on your end would be a reaction with a solvent or oil based stain in a few areas that may not have been allowed to dry fully. You could try to create this problem on a sample. My thoughts are that you would have been aware of this much sooner.

It is really hard to know what cleaning products/polishes have been used. If they have a maid service it is anybody's guess.

From the original questioner:

Looks like I'm eating crow today... Found some Walmart window cleaner with ammonia under the sink in the shop. Contributor M's claim against window cleaner seems to be accurate. I sprayed some on the back of a drawer front and let it sit for five minutes. Wiped it off, and there is a haze where the cleaner was.

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From contributor I:
That could explain why it is worse in spots. Must have been where they sprayed. You could take a look at the safety sheet for the particular glass cleaner and see if it has any clues as to how much ammonia it contains.

From the original questioner:
I'm not even sure where to start looking for a MSDS on a Walmart brand product. Reading the label there is a flammability warning. Makes me think there is probably methanol in here too. I guess I'll try the website.

From contributor I:
If you google the product name followed by MSDS you can usually find them.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I found the MSDS. Less than or equal to one part ammonia. It is the only hazardous ingredient listed. The ph is listed at 10.5-11.5. Rather high. Jeff noted on the Windex link you posted earlier that ph cleaners can dull some waterborne finishes. I guess I will have to take this up with him as his technical data sheet for the em2000 has a glass cleaner dwell test with no ill effects.

From contributor R:
I have seen water based CV blush on a counter top that had been finished for awhile when a hot pizza box was placed on it. It wasn't a Target coatings finish however, and it seems unlikely with a door.

From the original questioner:
Another great point... Steam blushing or scorching of a finish. I actually had a client do this on a sideboard I built for her. She placed an enameled cast iron roaster straight out of the oven onto a tea towel as a trivet... Scorched the hell out of the varnish, left a nice texture from the tea towel. I doubt this homeowner was using a door as a serving plate, but I appreciate the help ruling out blush.

From contributor P:
Did you add CL100 to the EM2000? I ask because I have found the catalyst really improves the resistance to domestic abuse.

I use EM2000 over Woodsong II (solvent) stains all the time and it's only on the dark, especially the red, stains that a haze sometimes develops immediately after spraying, usually in areas where I overlap spray patterns and get thicker finish. It normally goes away in a couple weeks, although I have had it persist for longer. Use of a sealer (dewaxed shellac or EM1000) definitely helps.

I have seen similar problems to yours caused by applying cleaners, especially those used in commercial establishments where they use products that are high in alcohol, ammonia or bleach. I have also seen a kettle give a very similar pattern to your test when the spout pointed at an upper cabinet door, but only on one door. I would suspect it's a homeowner cleaning issue, which will be difficult to ascertain as they will usually deny doing anything. Unless you can get hold of the cleaner they use and test it, you may never know. What you do about this depends on what your contract said you are/are not responsible for or how much you value your client.

From contributor M:
I have to admit that I clean my own furniture (which I built and sprayed) with Windex all the time, but it's all conversion varnish, and I never have had the slightest problem (even after 4-6 years of this abuse). I have a marine/reef aquarium with a stand that's about 3 years old now and it handles the salt spray and ammonia from the Windex like a champ, still has a lovely satin sheen. However, I've sprayed enough waterborne to know that I'd never do that with any waterborne product I've ever used.

The good news here is that it's the cleaner, and not your fault. We routinely warn our customers not to use anything containing ammonia. We don't care if it's extremely dilute or not. If it's on the label, it can screw up your cabinets. We spray the same conversion varnish that I've used on my furniture, and I know firsthand that it can handle it. In my house, in my conditions, but I do not advertise that to customers. If I did, they'd be cleaning their cabinets with everything under the sun.

From contributor Z:
I've used a few water based materials; but have used mostly solvent based ones. Upon delivery I make it a point to include a printed maintenance blurb for the customer. Just a few do's and don'ts on how to clean the finish. I like to mention in the blurb not to use strong kitchen cleaner stuff like 409 or cleanser (yep, I've been called back to a job where they used Ajax on the cabinets). Usually a cloth with warm water and a little Dawn dish soap will suffice to clean most smudges and grease. Course it's a no-no on a shellacked piece.

From contributor S:
I had a blushing problem that did the same thing. It looked good when it went out. 3 or 4 weeks later or so it blushed. After backtracking we found some panels blushed and were too dull and some didn't blush and the sheen was high. The guys at the shop weren't agitating the topcoat properly, leaving flattening paste on the bottom of the drum, which caused this nightmare. Check the bottom of your containers and make sure everything is mixed in correctly.