Troubleshooting Yellowing and Peeling in CAB Lacquer

A thorough analysis of problems in an 8-year-old kitchen finish using low-VOC formulas. June 8, 2008

Here is a photo of peeling lacquer for review. Does anyone have any comments?

Click here for full size image

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
There appears to be water damage I believe?

From contributor A:
What's that blue stuff?

From the original questioner:
That's not blue - it's white/clear where the lacquer is peeling.

From contributor C:
Thanks for getting back to us. I donít know Sherwin-Williams CAB that well, but there is no reason a CAB - by itself should have turned that yellow unless the wood itself is oxidizing underneath that bad. Thatís not usual. You say the finish is 8 years old? Overall it does not look that bad for 8 years old.

Water damage - for sure!! Itís more like a faulty finish - more an improper finish for a kitchen being used daily or heavily. If you warrant your finishes for more than 8 years, and tell your customers so - then I suggest you bite the bullet and refinish the cabinets.

Re-coating over the existing is not going to solve the problem and you'll just end up redoing them sometime in the future anyway. Sometimes the quickest way to go forward is to back up and remedy the problem such as in math. Reserve your use of cab - in the future - to non moisture areas or switch to a non cab acrylic meant for such area use.

Now that Iíve seen the pictures I would suggest a two component urethane to use as a future coating on that job at minimum, looks like a lot of water/steam there on a pretty regular basis. Sorry I canít be of more help - but Iím sure others will jump in with different ideas or suggestions.

From the original questioner:
Contributor C - thanks for the response. The yellowing is significant, the doors are still white on the inside of the cabinets it's as if the cabinets have been sitting out in the sun all these (8) years.

Yes, I agree that it's water damage, and the lacquer was probably not durable enough. We are in California and around here the lacquers seem to get worse and worse every year, when Sherwin-Williams went to 275 voc we had to stop using it because we simply could not get it to go on well. We switched to valspar naf 1712 with valspar nas 1710 sealer, both 550 voc.

What is your expert opinion of this product? As for the warranty it doesnít matter how long itís been. The product is failing and thatís the bottom line. Regardless of cost to us I will fix the problem even if it means replacing all the doors and fronts including end-panels, trim, whatever it takes.

I was just hoping for a chemical cure rather than full replacement although the yellowing is so significant I guess we will have to replace everything.

From contributor C:
To the original questioner: I have not personally used any Valspar products, if you tell me the makeup it would help - are they also waterborne acrylics? I forgot youíre in California. I feel for you sincerely, I was originally thinking of telling you to lay the problem out with a glycol either which would have penetrated the coating, softening it to the wood and then sanding and recoating over the existing - but after seeing the amount of damage and knowing it would continue that's out the window. It would look just as bad in a couple years or less.

Is there some way you could ship this to someone to apply a two component acrylic urethane on the kitchen for you? Itís just a thought. If by chance the Valspar is also a CAB acrylic, it's doubtful it will be anymore successful than any other CAB containing products. As far as time lines are concerned. I have to suspect the maple itself has turned yellow, cab or acrylic does not yellow even in direct sunlight to anywhere near that degree. In the future you may want to use a lignin protector on the wood itself to greatly reduce or slow down the natural darkening of the maple or other light colored woods.

The main thing is to find a low voc product for you to use in place of the cab component types. I donít use any water-base so Iíll have to leave it up to the coalescent chemist on here to guide you if they will.

Donít settle for recommendations of products that are new and untried in battle, someoneís pet finish of the year - you have to find one thatís been proven in actual use for many years to know it will not cause you problems in the future. Coalescent chemistry is terrible and will never adequately replace solvent base products, but some are better than others.

From the original questioner:
Thanks so much Contributor C. I will just have to figure things out from my end. We have used cab acrylic for years even in my own kitchen (1998) and have seen really no serious problems. I really think this was a bad batch of materials with some type of chemical problem.

From contributor C:
Sure can't rule that out, would not be the first time SW has screwed up - as many others also. I would at the very least try to find a cat vinyl sealer and acrylic top coat that has a proven track record.

From contributor R:
To the original questioner: You sound like a real stand up kind of guy, any company willing to replace a defective product after 8 years deserves an extra "thumbs up". This country needs more companies like yours!

I noticed your reference to the 275 VOC limit, is it safe to say you are in the southern part of California? If not the BAAQCD still allows for the 550 limit throughout the northern part of California - the Bay Area.

Many small out-of-state coatings companies might not make a 275 VOC compliant product if thatís what you need. Iím sure you will do your homework so as to not risk heavy fines.

It looks to me as if most of the damage started at the end grain on the frame of the door and then spread from there. Is it possible that their wasnít enough finish applied to offer adequate protection?

Also it looks as if the edges are quite sharp. A sharp edge actually repels a finish; a more rounded edge would be desired.

From contributor A:
Valspar does make a c.v. that is 550. Don't know if you want to take that route, but it might be an option. I too live in California and have gone through some of the same frustrations and eventually settling with c.v. as the only thing I spray. So far my finishes are and have been consistent and durable and easily doable with no major shift in application from pre and post cats.

From the original questioner:
I wet one corner of one of the doors in lacquer thinner and all the lifting basically melted away and the door came back to a very even tone. I noticed the lacquer was very thick when saturated and melting in thinner, including the edges. (I tried to scrape it off with my fingernail).

I may try to get a tub and soak the doors in thinner to try and strip them although if it doesnít aleve the yellowing then it's pointless. I will have to assume the material thickness is ok, just not enough grip to the wood.

We always soften the edges on a square door pretty well to give the lacquer a tooth to grab onto, yet we also in the past have sanded the doors with 220g prior to sealing and since maple is so hard this may have something to do with it.

From contributor J:
Tell me if I am wrong here but isn't CAB a non yellowing finish? And Maple is yellowing wood right?

From the original questioner:
Isn't non-yellowing lacquer used to prevent pre-mature yellowing? What else can you do prevent yellowing from a wood that patinas like maple and cherry?

From contributor C:
Use a lignin protector a HALS - H.indered A.mine L.ight S.tabilizer water soluble to apply to the wood before coatings are applied, and then also use a solvent based HALS in the coating with a UV stabilizer. This will not last forever but for a dozen years or so before any noticeable yellowing occurs. No acrylics yellow on their own, but most do not come with the additives to protect the wood substrate, therefore if you want that protection you either have to ask for it or do it yourself.

From contributor F:
The NAF1710 and NAF1712 are Valspar codes for Luster Lac Premium (Nitrocellulose)sealer and 20 sheen top coat. 550 VOC.It's good for a NC lacquer, but I would not expect it to be non yellowing or to hold up to water and wear in a kitchen for eight years. Get your Valspar Rep to switch you over to Valtec Pre Cat at least. Global Resistovar CV would be better.

From contributor C:
Note: if any nitrocellulose based products are used the finish will yellow out, no matter how water-white it may be in the can - thatís just the property of cellulose. Pre-cats that are nitro based will also yellow whether they contain alkyds and amino's or not. There are only a few resin families that do not turn yellow in time - vinyls, acrlylics, buterates, and cellulose acetates. There are a few others that have good non yellowing properties but not often used in anything but specialty coatings. Your best bet is always going to be a vinyl/acrylic type coating. And yes - waterwhite conversion varnishes yellow out also just not as fast or severe. Your automotive urethanes - acrylic/urethanes meant for outdoor use are much better than any CV's.

From contributor W:
I'll stick with my original recommendation. Contributor J you are not wrong. Cellulose Acetate - Buterate- Acrylic (aka CAB/Acrylic or Water White Lacquer) contains the resins that Contributor C has included in his non-yellowing list. It does not contain nitrocellulose which is yellow and will yellow more over time.

Wood oxidizes - especially in the presence of UV. Some more rapidly (cherry) and some more slowly but it all oxidizes. You can slow it down by treating the wood with a free radical scavenger or by using a UV absorber in the finish but you can't stop it.