How To Fix Sticky Varnish? (2 Methods)

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

The last thing you want after spending hours applying varnish is for the varnish to turn sticky. This can be a frustrating and time-wasting experience. If you want to avoid sticky varnish, you need to know why varnishes get sticky.

Varnish gets sticky because the finish is not drying as it should. When the varnish fails to dry in time, it will turn semi-solid or sticky. The sticky mess is a result of moisture and solvent in the varnish that have not dried out.

There are several reasons for varnish not to dry ranging from cold temperatures to water exposure. To fix sticky varnish, you’ll have to let the varnish dry by using a heater or hairdryer. If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to strip and reapply the varnish.

Let’s explore more reasons varnish gets sticky and how to avoid them.

Reasons Why Varnish Gets Sticky

The primary cause of sticky varnish is moisture. When moisture gets inside the varnish, the varnish will remain wet for several hours and will not dry as it should.

Over time, oxygen in the air will cause some parts of the wet varnish to solidify slightly creating a semi-solid texture. Since the varnish still isn’t fully dry, it will turn sticky when touched.

Here are other common reasons varnish gets sticky:

1. You Applied Too Many Coats of Varnish

When you apply too many coats of varnish, the varnish can turn sticky. Varnish is already a thick finish and it takes several hours to fully dry.

If you apply too many coats of varnish on a surface, you will increase the dry time of the varnish because it will take longer for the extra coats to become dry. The bad news is the extra varnish will turn sticky if it doesn’t dry in time.

2. Water Leak

Water leaks beneath the varnish coating can also cause it to turn sticky. Most homeowners don’t know this but varnish is usually waterproof from top to bottom and not from bottom to top.

So, when your varnish coating is exposed to water from underneath the varnish, the water will cause the varnish to become wet and eventually turn sticky.

3. Humid Conditions

Applying varnish in humid conditions can also make the varnish turn sticky. Varnish is very prone to temperature and humid conditions immediately after its application.

This is why it’s generally advised not to apply varnish in the winter or rainy seasons. If you apply varnish in humid conditions, then humidity (moisture in the atmosphere) will affect the varnish making it wet and sticky.

4. You Varnished a Wet Surface

If you apply varnish over a wet surface, the varnish will turn sticky. This time, the sticky texture of the varnish is caused by moisture that gets underneath the varnish from the surface.

Since the surface is wet, the varnish will never dry and you know the story from there – If the varnish doesn’t dry, it will turn wet and sticky.

Will Tacky Varnish Eventually Dry?

Will Tacky Varnish Eventually Dry?

Tacky varnish dries eventually but this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, the varnish will stay tacky for several days until you scrape it and other times, the varnish can dry after a few more hours. What determines if the sticky varnish dries or not is the cause of the sticky texture.

If the sticky varnish is caused by a water leak underneath the varnish coating, then the varnish will remain sticky. In this case, you’ll have to fix the water leak, scrape the sticky varnish, and reapply it. If the varnish turned sticky due to application in humid conditions, it can eventually dry if the humidity levels drop.

So, in summary, the cause of the sticky varnish will determine if it will eventually dry or not. You should only leave the varnish to dry itself after turning sticky if the sticky texture was caused by a temporary factor. But if the varnish turned sticky due to water exposure, too many coats, or a water leak, you’ll have to fix the sticky varnish manually.

If you suspect that you have sticky varnish, leave the varnish to dry for a few extra hours – this might just fix the problem. If the varnish dries, then you are off the hook. However, if the varnish stays sticky after a few hours, you’ll need to take action. So how long should you wait for the sticky varnish to dry? Let’s find out.

How Long Does It Take For Tacky Varnish To Dry?

It takes tacky varnish a few days to dry. You should wait 3 days for the tacky varnish to dry and if it doesn’t get dry, you’ll need to scrape it off and reapply the varnish. You should know that leaving sticky varnish to dry for more than 24 hours puts the finish at risk of accumulating dirt.

Ordinarily, it takes varnish about 24 hours to dry – (varnish can take longer to cure). The dry time means how long it takes for the solvents and oils in the varnish to dry out. If the varnish turns sticky, it means there is excess solvent and oils in the varnish so it will automatically take longer for the varnish to dry.

You should wait 3 days for the varnish to fully dry and if it doesn’t dry in 3 days, you’ll need to scrape it off because, after 3 days, varnish can’t dry anymore.

However, you should know that though sticky varnish may eventually dry, it’s best not to wait for the varnish to get dry. This is because sticky varnish absorbs stains and dirt very quickly. So, while waiting 3 days for the varnish to dry, the finish will accumulate dust and when it eventually dries, the finish will turn dark or filthy.

If you suspect that the varnish is sticky, take action to fix it immediately, and don’t wait for it to dry. So how do you fit sticky varnish? The answer to that is coming up next.

How To Fix Sticky Varnish?

There are two ways to fix sticky varnish:

  1. You can dissolve and wipe the varnish so it dries properly
  2. You can scrape off and reapply the varnish

The method you’ll use depends on the reason for the sticky texture of the varnish. Not to worry though, this guide will explain both methods, how they work, and when to use them.

1. Dissolve and Wipe The Varnish

Dissolve and Wipe The Varnish

This is the first fix to get rid of sticky varnish. The method works by dissolving the sticky varnish from its semi-solid form to liquid form.

When the varnish is dissolved, you’ll need to use a rag to wipe off the excess varnish and leave the remaining varnish to dry properly before sanding. You should use this method when you apply too many coats of varnish and it has turned sticky.

For this method, you’ll need:

  • Clean rags
  • A paintbrush
  • Fine-grit sandpaper
  • Mineral spirits

Here is a guide for this method:

  1. Wipe the sticky varnish with mineral spirits and leave for a few minutes
  2. When the varnish is dissolved, you should use a clean cloth to wipe off excess varnish
  3. The remaining varnish should be left to dry fully
  4. When the varnish is dry, you can smoothen it with fine-grit sandpaper
  5. Touch up the varnish coating.

2. Scrape Off and Reapply The Varnish

Scrape Off and Reapply The Varnish

The second method is best after all other methods have failed. If the varnish is not drying despite everything that you tried, it’s time for it to go.

You’ll have to scrape the sticky varnish using a paint scraper. Then sand the surface and reapply new coats of varnish. You should use this method when the sticky varnish is caused by a water leak or too much solvent.

For this method, you’ll need the following tools and supplies:

  • Paint scraper or putty knife
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Mineral spirits
  • A plastic bag
  • Paintbrushes
  • Varnish

Here is a guide for this method:

  1. Dissolve the varnish by wiping it with mineral spirits
  2. Scrape off the sticky varnish from the surface into a plastic bag
  3. Wipe the surface with more mineral spirits and leave to dry
  4. Sand the remaining varnish down to the wood surface
  5. Remove dust
  6. Fix any problems like water leaks, filthy surfaces, or wet surface
  7. Reapply up to 3 coats of varnish and leave for 24 hours to dry.
  8. Leave the varnish to cure before resuming regular use.

What Happens If you Don’t Wipe Off Varnish?

After varnish application, painters advise wiping excess varnish off of the surface. If you don’t wipe off the varnish, then there will be excess varnish on the surface leading to an increase in the dry time of the varnish. If the varnish doesn’t dry in time, it will turn sticky all because you didn’t wipe off the excess after varnish application.

The reason painters and manufacturers advise wiping varnish after application is to remove excess varnish that you applied. Perfect varnish application takes time and before you begin to apply the varnish properly, you are bound to overapply it a few times. In these cases, you are required to wipe off the excess varnish immediately.

If you don’t wipe off the varnish, it will take longer to dry and can eventually turn sticky. The worst part when this happens is that you’ll need to remove the entire varnish to fix the mess. So instead of going through that stress, it’s better to wipe off varnish after application.

Can You Paint Over Sticky Varnish?

You shouldn’t paint over sticky varnish because the new paint will not dry. Instead, the new paint will remain wet and also turn sticky. The only way to paint over sticky varnish is to scrape off the sticky varnish, clean the surface with mineral spirits, and sand before applying new paint.

It’s a common thought to fix sticky varnish by applying a new paint coating over the existing sticky varnish. This will not fix the problem but will make it worse.

When you apply a new coat of paint over existing sticky varnish, the paint will not adhere properly to the existing varnish because the varnish surface is not dry. Instead, the paint will absorb the moisture in the varnish and also turn sticky. So now, you’ll have a bigger sticky mess to deal with.

Asides from turning sticky, the new paint will become discolored as the solvents in the varnish begin to affect it. After a few days, the new paint can even begin to smell foul.

Final Words

In summary, varnish will turn sticky primarily due to improper surface preparation or bad varnish application. When you suspect that the varnish has turned sticky, it’s best to find means to fix the sticky mess immediately.

If you decide to wait for the varnish to dry, it will end up absorbing stains and dirt causing the finish to turn into a sticky and dirty mess.

To fix sticky varnish, ensure to follow the steps highlighted above. For more helpful tips like this, check out other articles on the website.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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