Cleaning Furniture Polish Residue off Millwork

Suggestions for dealing with a hazy smear left on installed trim. June 18, 2013

This summer we built cabinetry and finished millwork for some clients. The GC did all the install work and at the end of the job, the used a furniture polish (Old English) to clean the millwork and interior doors. It was applied pretty sloppily and left on pretty heavily so that when you stand at an angle and the sunlight hits it, you see the haze of the wax and rag marks. Looks like a very poorly waxed car. The client and the GC have a strained relationship and I've been called in to diagnose and if needed fix it.

The job is VG fir that was clearcoated with SW precat. Friday, I tried cleaning off a couple doors with mineral spirits (heavily wet rag, scrubbed hard a couple times). All that did was bring the haze out even more. Then tried applying some standard spray polish to see if I could melt what I'm assuming is the wax back into another polish and it looked great… for a day. But now the haze is back.

I also tested a couple small areas and whatever residue is left on there does not fisheye or cause adhesion issues with spraying some standard rattle can lacquer over it after cleaning with mineral spirits, although my preferred method would be to brush on dewaxed shellac and then WB clearcoat (as clients have moved into the home now) if it's needed to recoat... But that's the last resort, I'm hoping.

Any solutions short of recoating after a good cleaning or stripping and sanding? What solvent would take this stuff off? I should mention the GC tried a warm water and soap method and vigorous elbow grease with no luck. Mineral spirits seemed to make it worse. Denatured alcohol? Being a pre-cat I don't want to touch it with any solvent stronger than mineral spirits.

In the past when refinishing a client's woodwork, not stripping the shellac and WB has worked good, but this woodwork is brand new. Has to be a fix short of that (or worse yet, stripping it and then refinishing).

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:

From contributor R:
Maybe another polishing compound. I only say this because if mineral spirits has not removed the polish, anything more aggressive will mar the woodwork. My suggestion: Mohawk Liquid Rubbing Compound. Level I or Level II. But, lots of work! I usually use this when rubbing out large panels, not trim moulding!

From contributor B:
How old is the pre-cat? If it's been a month, get a box of rags (good cotton rags) and a gallon of toluene. Fold the rag into a square and soak it with the toluene, then wipe the substrate with the grain in a downward motion. Re-fold the rag so the part you just used doesn't touch the surface again.

Repeat this process on one particular area and allow it to dry for a few hours. After making sure you don't see any oily haze, leave it alone overnight and see if you were successful in removing the Old English. This is really all you should need to do (other than giving the GC a good lashing).

If the haze is still there, you could use your method to finish over, but the GC should be paying to have everything ripped out and redone, since it's his ignorance that caused this in the first place. Never, never, never use any of those sorry furniture polishes on new finishes, ever.

From contributor R:
Toluene. Are you serious? Toxic! Fumes, and inhalation. There are people residing in the house! We need better solutions that are not putting people at risk of chemical exposure.

From contributor T:
Honestly I hope you are getting paid for this. I have extensive knowledge of car polishes from my previous business. Give this a shot. Get a good automotive cleaner polish. My guess is that they did not get all the wax off and it has now left ghost marks and is probably in the grain. If this is the case, you can use a short hairbrush to clean out the crevices, and also the new wax/polish should break down the haze that is on there.

From contributor B:
Contributor R, mineral spirits, toxic fumes? He's already been trying solvent to remove the crap that's on there. Your solution will only make it worse.

You have to remove from the surface the silicone from the Old English polish, and mineral spirits or rubbing compound will not do it. You have to have a solvent that will pull it from the surface, not just move it around. He can do a simple test on one area and make sure it will give him the results he's looking for.

If you are concerned about the smell of the toluene, buy a bottle of vanilla extract and pour it in the gallon. It's mainly alcohol and will knock down the smell of the solvent very well.

From contributor L:
Have you tried to use the Old English again? Wipe it on and then do a proper job of wiping it off. Should be its own solvent.

From contributor T:
Contributor L has a very good point about using the same product to remove the haze. I do this all the time when home owners try to seal their black granite (which by the way will not even take a sealer). What happens is that the sealer or in this case polish sets up on the surface before they wipe it off. That is why this is not your fault. As far as the suggestion of using a cleaning polish/ wax... It is the solvent in the polish that will break down the haze.