How to remove stray paint stains from wood


The reader’s photo, of the chair with stray paint. (Reader photo)
March 12

Question: How can I remove white marks on the legs of a favorite armchair? It is only five years old. I’m guessing the marks were made by a vacuum cleaner, but it’s puzzling because there are matching marks on the back of the chair. I don’t think it’s paint rubbed off from the wall.

— Arlington

Answer: From the pictures you sent, it does appear that the white marks are paint. If you’re sure the chair didn’t touch a newly painted wall, perhaps paint transferred from a dropcloth draped over the chair? That can happen when someone isn’t careful to always keep the clean side facing the surface that’s being protected.

Whatever the cause, your challenge now is to remove the paint without damaging the finish on the chair. Start your treatment on the back of the chair. Once you figure out what works, tackle the white spots on the legs in front.

Two relatively mild solvents that sometimes dissolve water-based paint are alcohol and ammonia. For the alcohol, you can use either the denatured type, which is sold as a solvent in paint stores, or rubbing alcohol, which is available at pharmacies. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer also works. Moisten a cloth with whatever solvent you’re using, press it against the paint for a bit, then rub. Use a dark-colored cloth so you can see if it picks up any of the white paint. If you see a smear of white but need more muscle, switch from a cloth to a scrub pad.

If that doesn’t work, try one of the products sold for lifting paint spatters, such as Goof Off Pro Strength, Oops All-Purpose Remover and Cleaner, Mötsenböcker’s Lift Off #5 Latex Paint Remover or Krud Kutter Tough Task Citrus Remover.

If your efforts to remove the paint also lighten the wood color, touch up with a little wood stain, dabbed on with a small paintbrush. Or use a product such as Minwax Wood Finish Stain Markers. (Test first on the back of the chair.) After getting the color to match, or if you just need to deal with areas that look dull because of all your rubbing, try touching up the wood finish with shellac, which sticks to most furniture finishes. After the shellac dries, rub lightly over the patches and the surrounding wood to even out the sheen.

Question: I have a small clear glass pitcher (circa 19th century) with a scratch on one side. Is there a company in the area that can polish the scratch out of the glass?

— Arlington

Try Giovanni Nason, owner of Giovanni Nason Glass and Crystal Restoration Center in Potomac (301-340-2624, gnason@comcast.net). If the scratch is on the exterior, it should be relatively easy to buff out, he said. He estimated the cost at $40 to $80, depending on how deep the scratch is. But if the scratch is on the inside, “it’s a problem,” he said. A buffing wheel couldn’t reach there.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s month-by-month roundup of home-improvement tasks at www.washingtonpost.com/home.

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