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Clean cabinet surface before fixing damage

QuestionMy question concerns the repair of a kitchen cabinet surface. I ran our old dishwasher several times even though the door would not shut all the way. I put a towel in the crack to catch the water but it did not protect the wood from the steam. Now I have a white crazed stain on the wood. I would like to know if there is anything I can apply to cover up the white streak without having to refinish. We now have our new dishwasher installed so any suggestions will be helpful. I am sending two pictures to show you what the stain looks like.

AnswerThanks for the photos. They were very helpful to identify and pinpoint the location of the problem. My first reaction was "ouch!"

After checking with some experts in the field, I have some possible solutions to offer. Because I haven't actually tried any of these solutions, I need to point out that you could further damage the underlying finish during the repair process. Work slowly and protect the flooring and the new dishwasher. I also strongly recommend that you remove the dishwasher completely until the damaged area is repaired. Doing dishes by hand for a couple of days is a small price to pay to protect the surface of your new appliance.

In your case, it appears that steam from the dishwasher penetrated the protective finish on the cabinet, causing the finish to lose its transparency and leaving a milky white mark. Luckily, the towel prevented further damage. If black marks had developed, they would have indicated that the steam penetrated clear though the protective finish and damaged the wood surface underneath. That's a different can of worms. Readers, if you face a similar situation, it's best to pull the fresh moisture out of the finish as soon as possible. Success is unpredictable because of the many factors involved, including (but not limited to) the age of the water damage, how deep the water has penetrated, the various types of finishes (varnish, shellac, and lacquer), and the age and condition of those finishes. It is possible that during the repair process one problem will lead to another.

Your photos appear to show pre-built cabinets. In most cases, pre-built units are finished using lacquer. With that in mind, begin by using a white cotton rag and Murphy Oil Soap (follow the instructions on the bottle) to remove any polish or wax. Several tries may be required to completely clean the surface. Then follow one of these recommended solutions:

1. Apply some lemon oil furniture polish or petroleum jelly or mayonnaise (not diet) to the damaged area and let it sit for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. If the water damage is not too pronounced, the lubricant will replace the moisture under the finish. The result is temporary until the oil dries. This process reduces the hazy appearance.

2. Warm the damaged area using a hair dryer. The heat might help fuse the finish back together, but the success of this technique depends on the type of finish. Also, this procedure requires extreme care. Move the hair dryer back and forth over the damaged area, and don't allow the surface to get so hot that you cannot touch it. If you concentrate the hair dryer in one area, you could burn the surface.

3. Denatured alcohol absorbs moisture, so dampen a white cotton rag with it and gently wipe it over the damaged area. Too much alcohol, wiping, or pressure may damage the finish. This technique also requires extreme care and is not recommended for high-gloss finishes.

If none of these solutions helps, you may have to remove the affected piece. If it's not glued in, you may be able to take it out, lay it across two sawhorses and then spray lacquer thinner evenly across it. (Go to a paint or automotive paint store to see if they can put the solvent into an aerosol can for you.) The solvent will dissolve the finish and allow moisture to escape.

Hopefully, when it dries, the damage will be gone. You might have to even out the finish with 0000 steel wool. Depending on the original gloss, you may have to use mineral oil as a lubricant along with finer abrasives like pumice powder or rottenstone, which is even finer yet, to achieve a matching finish. The finer the abrasive, the shinier the finish.

If this doesn't work, then completely remove the finish with the solvent and be careful not to disturb the stain—easier said than done. If necessary, apply new stain. Home centers sell lacquer in aerosol cans in different glosses so you can easily apply a new (matching) finish.

If you are unable to remove the affected piece, then strip it in place. Again, with the dishwasher out, mask the surrounding area with blue painters' tape before you begin work. I recommend that you do this work during the summer so you can open the doors and windows. Both lacquer and lacquer thinners have a high odor, so cross-ventilation is important.

If you decide not to do the work yourself or these solutions don't work, bring in a professional to repair the existing filler piece or to make a new one.

Copyright © 2004, 2006, & 2007 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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