how to fix milky clear coat on wood
Kristina Davis

Learning how to fix milky clear coat on wood can save you a lot of hassle. It is a common issue and quite annoying as well.

You know you have meticulously selected your project, thought through your strategy, sized, trimmed, polished, and applied a clear coat.

You are proud of your labor, and the finished product looks fantastic—until you notice the last coat has a hazy finish.

But, do not lose hope because it is possible to learn how to fix cloudy wood finish.

You can fix milky clear coat on wood by using sandpaper, maintaining the right humidity, trying petroleum jelly, and even using some olive oil 

Causes of Cloudy, Milky Finish on Wood

cloudy on coated wood

You may be scratching your head about why the coating you just applied has clouded up and become white.

It could happen for many reasons.

For instance: 

Trapped Moisture

moisture after painting wood paint

Some finishes, including lacquer and shellac, might turn milky if moisture gets trapped in them and does not have time to escape in the quick-drying process.  

Wood finishes absorb water on days when the air is humid or cold.

Because water does not evaporate completely at very low temperatures, it will remain trapped inside as the coating dries. This causes the finished wood to seem hazy or milky.

A Chemical Buildup

It could also happen due to zinc oxide buildup, which gives it a hazy appearance.

Water- and oil-based varnishes alike cure to a shiny finish. For matte results, manufacturers often use flattening chemicals like zinc oxide. In order to reduce shine, these materials scatter light that has been reflected.

Because of this, the substance always ends up in the bottom of the container unless you stir it beforehand. It may flush if the ingredients are not mixed properly

Excessive Paint

overflowing of wood paint

Overly thick applications of clear coatings cause longer processing times and blushing because of the difficulty in evaporation.

Thus, the best coating procedure is one that results in an average thickness.

Instead of applying several wet layers of paint at once, it is safer and results in a better finish to apply one or two coats, let them dry, and then sand.

Fact: Never apply varnish on a wet stain coat or you will end up dealing with a cloudy finish. 

How to Fix Milky Clear Coat on Wood?

Undoubtedly, a milky clear layer of wood can be quite annoying and spoil your entire project. But, do not make a hasty decision here and stick to the basics when fixing the issue

Wait and Watch

waiting for the paint to dry

First, you should wait a few weeks to see if the varnish cures on its own and that foggy finish vanishes on its own. 

Use a Sandpaper

If it does not work, try using a combination of wet and dry sandpaper plus a drop or two of water to gently remove the haze.

You should sand the afflicted area and then let it dry completely before continuing. 

Apply a Thin Coat

Applying the varnish in thin coats and waiting for each coat to dry completely in between applications may help prevent this issue from occurring again.

Any cloudiness that may have formed during application is dispelled as water evaporates during drying.

This is how you may get your varnish finish back to its original clarity. But keep in mind that the best results will come from taking your time. 

Three Basic Steps to Fix Milky Clear Coat on Wood

ready to paint the wood

The tendency for varnishes and finishes to cloud up or blush is quite common. The presence of water within the Varnish itself is a possible cause.

Varnish may absorb moisture for a number of reasons, including being reapplied before it has fully dried, using an excessively thick coat, or drying in too short a time.

By adhering to these measures, this problem can be resolved by taking the following steps: 

Reduce Humidity

If your Varnish appears cloudy or milky, it signifies the surface underneath has not fully dried.

Use caution while applying a water-based varnish because it dries very quickly, leaving you with a dry, chalky finish on top of your paint job. It is possible to apply a second layer before realizing the previous one is still damp.

As soon as you become aware of this issue, you should alter the temperature of the space where the Varnish was initially sprayed. 

An important Consideration

After applying the varnish, it needs to be cured for a long time at the right temperature. The cloudiness should vanish after it has been dried thoroughly.

Fact: Using varnish that may have been sitting for an extended time may result in a cloudy, sticky appearance. 

Apply a New Coat of Varnish

applying another coat of varnish

Another cause of cloudiness in Varnish is the accumulation of matting agents near the container’s bottom.

A fresh bottle of Satin varnish and a good shake should remedy the problem, as the matting agent should now be evenly distributed throughout the varnish.

Optimal results can be achieved by applying a new coat of Varnish over the top of the existing one and then shaking. The new one will absorb the cloudiness from the old coat of Varnish. 

An Important Consideration

Keep in mind that the shaking will produce bubbles; therefore, you should wait until they settle before coating

Allow it to Dry

The drying room’s temperature is equally as important as that of the varnish spraying room.

Keep the space at an acceptable temperature, as high humidity can damage the Varnish.

Set the thermostat to a comfortable working temperature, preferably between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius if you will be doing any inside work.

Again, keep in mind that bubbles can form in Varnish if they dry too quickly in too warm environments. 

Additional Ways to Fix Milky Clear Coat on Wood

In most cases, sticking to the very basics will help resolve the issue but you can also find some other fixes.

For instance: 

Use Mayonnaise

applying mayonnaise

The foggy appearance on furniture can be easily removed with materials typically accessible in the kitchen, such as mayonnaise.

Just apply the mayonnaise directly to the skin and leave it on the affected region overnight. The mayonnaise can be easily removed the next day with a damp towel.

By creating a leak, the oil in the mayonnaise helps the polyurethane finish release excess moisture, making it look less hazy.

This can be done multiple times if necessary, and any cooking oil will do in a pinch. This strategy is cheap, and it does not take much work to see good outcomes. 

Vinegar and Olive Oil

applying vinegar or olive oil

Make a mixture of equal parts vinegar and olive oil to eliminate the white coat left behind on hardwood furniture.

Here is how to proceed:

  • Apply the solution with a delicate cloth, moving with the grain of the wood.
  • Use a clean, soft cloth to buff the furniture back to a mirror finish.

An Important Consideration

Vinegar is effective for cleaning most woods, although it can harm some surfaces, such as polyurethane finishes. Vinegar’s acidity eats away at the coating, leaving pits in its wake where sand can become stuck.

Therefore, vinegar is not recommended for use on wood treated with polyurethane. 

Use Sandpaper

You can sand off the extra coating if the hazy look of your furniture is bothering you.

Sand with high-grit paper (240–340 grit) with a light touch. As the polyurethane layer is peeled down, the foggy appearance should fade.

Fact: To prevent the clouding, choose a finish that is not water-based, as they can leave the furniture hazy since the moisture is retained inside. 

Petroleum Jelly

applying petroleum jelly

Petroleum jelly is another common household item that may be used to remove hazy looks from wood furniture.

There is oil in it, like in mayonnaise, and oil causes leaks in the finishing layer, letting moisture escape and making the cloudiness less noticeable.

If you are able to eliminate the milkiness, you can apply petroleum jelly to other foggy regions. Oily substances, such as petroleum jelly, have been shown to occasionally revive furniture’s original finish.  

Fact: Applying the finish a bit too quickly can cause the wood to blush and create all sorts of problems. 


Learning how to fix milky clear coat on wood may look tricky but it is not. You have to do the basics right and understand humidity and temperature’s role when painting wood furniture.

But if the issue persists, you can try petroleum jelly, mayonnaise, and even sandpaper to help fix the problem.