Shellac cleanup

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Forum topic by dryhter posted 11-29-2009 05:43 PM 12251 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View dryhter's profile


74 posts in 3968 days

11-29-2009 05:43 PM

Topic tags/keywords: shellac shellac clean up tips and tricks

I noticed a few recent posts about shellac. One of my favorite finishes and just an all round good multi-tasker in the shop. I normally clean out my brushes and use that for a spit coat(pre-stain conditioner or end grain sealer).
Just before Thanksgiving I needed a little bit of Shellac for a small project and in the rush of everything forgot to clean the brush, no big deal, but I was out of alcohol and still have not picked any up.Wanting to get things cleaned up in order to start another project.

I decided to try something I heard about somewhere.


I had heard that Ammonia will clean shellac.

So I stuck the dried brush( an old white china bristle oil brush)in a one lb coffee can with about 1/2 inch of ammonia, put a small cut in the lid so the handle would stick out and the fumes would stay contained.
And in about 15 minutes the brush was soft and for the most part clean, after a little more agitation and squishing on the bottom of the can it was very clean, deep cleaned even at the metal ferrule.

I was amazed( guess simple things amaze me). Ammonia is cheap, real cheap compared to alcohol and it did a superior job. The bristles were glossy clean with no sign of stiffness from residual shellac. And clean-up was a breeze just pour the ammonia down the sink.

Try it the next time you use shellac and you will be amazed too.

-- Chips and Shavings/ see you at

14 replies so far

View SnowyRiver's profile


51457 posts in 3844 days

#1 posted 11-29-2009 06:11 PM

Yes, ammonia works great. I usually always use ammonia for general brush clean-up when using shellac.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4186 days

#2 posted 11-29-2009 09:13 PM

Dave, you are right about the ammonia but I never clean my brushes after using shellac. I just immerse them into a mason jar with denatured alcohol in it and cap it with plastic wrap. I occasionally have to add more alcohol as it evaporates but the brushes are always ready when I are ready to apply a coat of shellac. And if the solvent evaporates and the brushes harden, simply add more alcohol. It will re-dissolve any shellac in the hardened bristles.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4492 days

#3 posted 11-29-2009 09:17 PM

Household ammonia is the brush cleanup of choice for shellac.
Followup the ammonia soaking with a quick rinse in a mild detergent solution, such as Dawn.
I use a soft nylon scrub brush, i.e. a surgical hand scrub brush, to clean out any particles and to comb the bristles.
Rinse the brush in clean water then wrap the bristles in a a paper towel for drying.
It helps the brush keep its shape while drying.

A dilute solution of lye water will also work as a shellac brush cleanup solution.

-- 温故知新

View a1Jim's profile


117618 posts in 3941 days

#4 posted 11-29-2009 09:18 PM

Thanks Dryhter
Thats a new one on me.

View MrGreenjeans's profile


3 posts in 2374 days

#5 posted 11-24-2012 04:05 AM

Hi Guys, I started using a shellac-based friction polish when I’m turning wood pens on my lathe. I apply it with an old tee shirt. Does any one have any recommendations as to how to wash the shellac out of the tee shirt? It’s completely soaked. I don’t know what ammonia or denatured alcohol would do to cloth. Any help would be appreciated.

View Lifesaver2000's profile


556 posts in 3476 days

#6 posted 11-24-2012 04:39 AM

I have had the denatured alcohol on various clothing items without any apparent problem. The alcohol itself evaporates then the clothing is washed normally. So, I suppose you could rinse your tee-shirt in the alcohol to clean it.

But considering what the denatured alcohol costs, I would be asking myself if the old tee shirt was worth cleaning.

View HorizontalMike's profile


7786 posts in 3278 days

#7 posted 11-24-2012 02:15 PM

Great tip. I will be using shellac for the first time as soon as I finish up my Shaker chest project. The chest carcass is done and all drawer parts are cut/sized and dado’d. I will be using this tip shortly! Right after my final glue up.

Thanks! This came at a good time.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5202 posts in 4324 days

#8 posted 11-24-2012 03:00 PM

Yep! The Wally World generic ammonia jug stays in my shop. A good dose of that in the shop towels that are washed in the machine with Arm & Hammer washing SODA (not baking soda) give me clean towels as well as the brush clean up.
Just DON’T use ammonia and bleach together. Chlorine gas is NOT your friend.
Dang! I sound like the home tips lady.

-- [email protected]

View MrGreenjeans's profile


3 posts in 2374 days

#9 posted 11-24-2012 03:01 PM

You’re a lifesaver, Lifesaver2000!

View Lifesaver2000's profile


556 posts in 3476 days

#10 posted 11-24-2012 03:29 PM

Bill, back in my dairy farm days we used to take jugs of a strong acid cleaner and a chlorine cleaner (it was about double the strength of household bleach) and pour down into rat holes. The gas produced resulted in a lot of dead rats. We just made sure we ran as soon as we got it poured out.

I guess I should add a disclaimer that I don’t recommend this. That was 35 years ago when I didn’t know any better.

View itsmic's profile


1419 posts in 3482 days

#11 posted 11-24-2012 03:32 PM

Very Cool tip. Just got a can of shellac for the first time, and this info will come in handy. Thanks for sharing

-- It's Mic Keep working and sharing

View Cainnon's profile


1 post in 1729 days

#12 posted 09-06-2014 11:51 AM

This is exactly what I was looking for thanks!

-- Cainnon Handcraft

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5507 posts in 2857 days

#13 posted 09-06-2014 12:01 PM

Just to second what Scott Bryan said: if your brush (or rags) are dedicated to Shellac use, cleaning isn’t needed. I allow my brushes to set up, then about 15 minutes or so before use, I suspend them in the shellac…easy-peasy. Same with those rags I use for padding, they get put in a zip lock bag, and stored in a coffee can (that’s more for just keeping track of where they are. Before use I charge the cloth with shellac, and wait for it to soften up. But for cleaning spraying equipment, ammonia can’t be beat…I just wish it wouldn’t stain the aluminum parts of my gins.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View DonB's profile


559 posts in 3056 days

#14 posted 09-06-2014 01:38 PM

Fred: Thanks for the tip on cleaning spraying equipment. I’ll be trying that one out. I also like your storage of rags and brushes.
Bill/Lifesaver: While in a submarine, salt water in the battery well will also produce chlorine gas and you are correct, chlorine is not your friend, it kills and is explosive.

-- DonB

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