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The old Goof Off with xylene (left) and the new Goof Off with acetone

The old Goof Off with xylene (left) and the new Goof Off with acetone.

When you roll latex paint onto walls and ceilings, some of the paint comes off the roller as spatter and lands on, and sticks to, furniture and other objects. All of us “old timers” know that if you want to remove this spatter without harming the finish, you get some Goof Off and rub it onto the spatter. It comes off pretty easily.

Removing paint spatter using the old Goof Off

Removing paint spatter using the old Goof Off.

Not so fast. That was the old days when furniture was typically finished with lacquer (or shellac before the 1920s) and Goof Off was xylene (xylol) a strong petroleum distillate that doesn’t harm either lacquer or shellac unless you leave the solvent in contact for a long time. Most furniture is still finished with lacquer or a high-performance two-part finish, but Goof Off is now based on acetone, and acetone will attack and damage all but the most durable of finishes.

I thought this was the case only in California where xylene and products based on it can’t be sold. But I was surprised to find that it’s also the Goof Off that is sold in Oklahoma, so I assume the acetone Goof Off has replaced the xylene Goof Off everywhere.

Manufacturers don’t like making two formulations for different markets. Be warned.

If you live in a part of the country where you can still get xylene, you could simply buy it and use it in place of Goof Off to remove the paint spatter. The caveat is that you can’t use it to remove latex paint spatter that has stuck to a water-based finish. Just as the xylene will soften and remove the spatter, it will soften and damage the water-based finish, which is essentially latex paint without the pigment. Nor can you remove the spatter from latex paint, itself, without damaging it.

— Bob Flexner


Understanding-Wood-FinishingDon’t miss Bob Flexner’s “Understanding Wood Finishing” at

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