What is Tung Oil and How to Remove it

Wood, a porous material, can soak up almost anything that lays on it, including dirt, oil, and chemicals. These contaminants can keep your wood from withstanding everyday use, appearing unsightly. Luckily, you can prevent these foreign elements from degrading your wood by applying a coat of natural finish such as tung oil. This coating sinks into the wood to create a slightly hardened seal that transforms the beauty of wood and protects it from degrading elements. But as with all finishes, age will start to take its toll. That means you will want to know What is Tung Oil and How to Remove it so you can apply a different finish to enhance the visual appeal. 

You can use turpentine to remove the tung oil original finish with a lot of ease. Dip and saturate a clean cloth with turpentine, then rub it over the surface with tung oil. Allow the turpentine to stay over the surface and observe. Once the tung oil softens, rub it off with the help of fine steel wool. Additionally, naphtha or xylene works as alternatives to turpentine, the steps remains the same.

In this article, I have discussed different aspects of tung oil. More so, how you can remove it from your wooden surface especially if you are looking to apply a new finish. Keep reading for more.

What Is Tung Oil?

Tung Oil for outdoor wood furnitureTung oil is a natural drying oil used as a wood finish, and it’s similar to soy, linseed, and walnut oils. This wood finish dries clear upon exposure to air and penetrates the wood grain to enhance beauty and protection against destructive elements. 

Tung oil remains among the most popular wood finishes worldwide, and it’s extracted from the seeds of tung trees in East Asia. 

Artisans favor this wood finish because it cures to a non-oily solid, which lasts longer than wax-based products and mineral oil. You will also appreciate the demanding results on almost all surfaces that allow the oil to penetrate stripped wood, weathered wood, and unfinished wood.  

How to Remove Excess Tung Oil from Wood Using Turpentine

Tung oil dries to develop a solid coating that transforms your wood’s beauty and offers durable protection against impact. Most of today’s tung oil is mixed with additives to enhance its strength. That means it can prove challenging to remove once dry. Learning to remove tung oil can help you fix unevenly dried spots on your wooden surfaces. 

Use the following steps to remove excess tung oil with turpentine. 

Items Needed

  • Turpentine.
  • Mask or respirator.
  • Goggles.
  • Lint-free cloth.
  • Solvent-resistant gloves. 
  • Clean cotton cloth. 

Step 1: The first step in removing excess tung oil with turpentine is doing a test spot on a section of the wood. Apply the paint thinner to a corner of the wood and let it sit until it begins bubbling; then, try removing the tung oil. If it doesn’t damage the wood, you’re good to go. 

Step 2: Wear your protective clothing, including solvent-resistant gloves, goggles, and masks. You will also want to work in a well-ventilated workspace since turpentine presents a severe health hazard if mishandled. 

Step 3: Soak a clean, lint-free cloth in a container of turpentine and apply a generous amount of the paint thinner to the excess tung oil until you achieve uniform coverage. Repeat this and allow the turpentine to stay for some minutes to act. Once you notice the surface starts to form bubbles, it’s ready to scrape off. 

Step 4: Use fine steel wool to gently scuff the softened tung oil finish to avoid damaging the wood’s surface. If the turpentine proves challenging to come off, soak the steel wool in more turpentine, allowing it to sit for some time before striping the whole surface to bare wood. 

Step 5: Use a dry lint-free cloth to wipe out any tung oil and turpentine residue, as this might compromise the adhesion of the new wood finish you want to apply. Then clean up your workspace and dispose of the dirt. 

How To Remove Sticky Tung Oil Using Mineral Spirits

Tung oil offers aesthetic appeal and a durable coat of protection to wood surfaces. This durable coating will keep your wood from being susceptible to moisture and everyday wear and tear. However, sometimes this wood finish still appears to be sticky even after a few days of application because of the following reasons: 

  • Over Application of Oil:  too much application of tung oil can keep it from drying as expected. Therefore, it is advisable to wipe out any excess before proceeding to the next step. 
  • Cold or Humid Weather: tung oil dries slower in moist and damp weather. 

So how do you remove sticky tung oil with mineral spirits? Find out below, assuming the tung oil is still moist with no dry sections: 

Things You Will Need

  • Mineral spirits.
  • Rubber clothes.
  • Goggles. 
  • Mask. 
  • Clean cotton cloth. 


Step 1: It’s always good to equip yourself with protective gear to avoid contacting the mineral spirits, which can cause severe damage. Put on your gloves, safety goggles, and mask or respirator before proceeding. Again, make sure your workspace is adequately ventilated. 

Step 2: Dampen the clean cotton cloth in mineral spirit but don’t make the cloth too wet. Run the damp cotton cloth over the sticky tung oil along the wood grain rather than against it. Remember to use the mineral spirit sparingly to finish the entire surface. 

Step 3: After making the first pass, unfold the cotton cloth to reveal a clean area and soak it again in mineral spirit. Mineral spirits evaporate quickly, so work faster.

Continue applying mineral spirits going with the wood’s grain to make it easy for you to wipe away the oil residue off the workpiece. Then wipe down the tung oil residue using a clean and dry cloth. 

Fixing Uneven Drying Tung Oil Finish Using Wood Restorer

Using a wood restorer is a quick fix to uneven drying tung oil finish, and it is a less vicious approach than using turpentine or mineral spirits. It helps replenish the original beauty of natural wood surfaces while blending out minor blemishes, abrasions, and scratches. 

This product has a simple wipe-on process. Start with soaking fine steel wool in the wood restorer solution. Then rub the uneven drying Tung oil following the wood’s grain.

Again, you can agitate the surface with a stiff bristle brush towards the wood’s grain if fine steel wool doesn’t work well. Repeat this step until the uneven drying tung oil comes off. 

Wipe the residue with a clean cotton rag or rinse with a garden hose with a nozzle until the workpiece is clean enough. Then allow the wood to air dry independently, or you can wipe it with a dry cotton cloth. 

How to Remove Dried Tung Oil Finish By Sanding? 

Woodworker using Rigid, the Best Cordless Random Orbital SanderA decently applied tung oil finish offers a sleek moisture-resistant coating on wood surfaces. And unlike other wood finishes, tung oil remains flexible when completely cured, and it’s not susceptible to cracking resulting from seasonal environmental changes that make your wood expand and contract.

Because of these characteristics and its resistance to wear and tear, tung oil is a suitable finish for tables, countertops, and others. 

However, as it ages, tung oil becomes worn, and you will need to restore it to resume visual appeal. An excellent way to fulfill this is by sanding the dried tung oil finish. The following stepwise process will guide you on how to remove an existing tung oil finish. Read along: 

Step 1: Give your tung oil surface thorough cleaning with a damp cloth to remove all debris that can prevent a smooth sanding process. 

Step 2: Use No. 0000 steel wool to sand the dried tung oil finish until smooth. Work towards the wood grain direction to make the wood more receptive to a new coat of finish or paint. Sanding against the wood grain leaves unwanted blemishes that defeat the essence of sanding your wood. 

Step 3: Rinse the sanded area with clean water and a tack cloth, then repeat sanding back and forth to remove the remaining tung oil finish and the micro-scratches left behind in the first phase. 

Step 4: After sanding, wear a pair of gloves and pour a reasonable amount of tung oil onto a dry rag. Apply the new coat of tung oil working in the wood’s grain direction in thin coats. Please don’t intend for full coverage at once.

Instead, take your time to apply light and even coats. And examine the dull spots in the tung oil that imply places where wood is dry. Apply another thin coat of tung oil to the dry areas until you achieve a uniform appearance. 

Let the new coat of tung oil sit for 24 hours. Remember the number of coats needed is based on the state of your tung oil finish when you start. You can also apply any other finish or paint after sanding.

Pros and Cons of Using Tung Oil

Tung oil is a natural 100% wood finish resistant to alcohol, moisture, and everyday wear for lasting beauty and protection on wood. It has a proven history of its aesthetic appeal on wood surfaces. 

This highly fancied wood finish comes with numerous benefits, which is why it is a favorite pick for woodworkers. However, it also has a few setbacks, like any other wood finishing product, which I will unfold in this guide. For instance, it’s mainly chosen for its long-lasting beauty in woods rather than its wearability.

So stick around as more interesting facts are ahead. 

Pros of Tung Oil 

They include:

  • Waterproofing: Upon exposure to air, tung oil hardens to form a tough, water-resistant coat to keep water from penetrating the wood. The oil molecules in this wood finish bind to your wooden surface. Besides being water-resistant, tung oil also has other fascinating qualities, such as resisting aggressive products like acetone, alcohol, and chemicals. 
  • Non-toxic: Pure tung oil is non-toxic, making it great for kitchen utensils, butcher blocks, cutting boards, countertops, wooden bowls, etc. However, even the zero-VOC finishes give off natural volatile organic compounds. Whether or not these VOCs are enough to be rated toxic depends on your tolerance or sensitivity to chemicals. 

It’s interesting to understand that many of the wood finishes marketed as tung oil aren’t accurate versions. Even if product manufacturers label their package as tung oil, some blend polyurethane and paint thinner, making it toxic.

So before purchasing this intriguing wood finish, check the ingredient list printed on the package’s side. The words”petroleum distillate” will help you determine that the finish is not tung oil. 

  • Easy to Apply: Tung oil offers a quick hand-rubbed finish for all wood types. Simply wipe on this wood finish and let it air dry independently at room temperature. Even better, applying it does not require prior experience as even beginners can master the trick and get the job done, provided each coat dries to the touch. 
  • Attractive Color: Tung oil is known for its deep golden rich color with a wet floss appearance on the surface. Apply it sparingly, and you will appreciate the visual appeal it leaves as it blends with the wood. For best results, sand your finished wood with 600 grit sandpaper after applying each coat of tung oil. 
  • Doesn’t Yellow With Time: Unlike other wood finishes, tung oil doesn’t suffer discoloration over time. Instead, they maintain the default color of your highly fancied furniture for long periods. They also don’t require frequent maintenance because it doesn’t discolor in any situation.
  • Flexibility: Despite this wood finish manifesting a durable and solid coat, it has good flexibility qualities, meaning it can expand and contract in extreme conditions to avoid cracking. Most standard paint and finishes don’t offer this characteristic, and their surfaces can break as moisture tries to escape their surfaces or because of temperature variation. 

This flexibility makes tung oil a versatile product even if it cures to a solid polymerized structure. Its compatibility with wood is also exceptional, and you will appreciate that it doesn’t leave dull spots on wood due to expansion or contraction. 

Now that you’ve understood the benefits of tung oil don’t forget that it still has some disadvantages. Let’s jump in! 

Disadvantages of Tung Oil

Some of the limitations of tung oil include:

  • Slow Penetration: Pure tung oil penetrates slowly on wooden surfaces, and the scratches that enter this finish expose the bare wood underneath. Besides, you have to apply eight coats of this finish which is time-intensive, as you also wait for 3 hours for each coat to dry. 

However, many vendors compensate for this by adding turpentine to enhance the penetration of tung oil in the first coat. This reduces the drying time while keeping the product cost low. 

Note: You should apply subsequent coats with pure tung oil. 

  • Unpleasant Odor: One of the inevitable problems you will face with tung oil is to bear the unpleasant smell. This wood finish elicits an odor for a few days after applying it. However, the unpleasant smell diminishes with time, and you can make it further unnoticeable by adding a coat of shellac, wax, or lacquer.
  • Difficult to Store: Storing tung can prove difficult, especially if the container is exposed to direct sunlight. Based on the level of exposure to sunlight, the oil’s surface in the container starts to develop a film, or you will notice gummy deposits throughout the container’s edges. 

Once you discover these signs, you should dispose of the entire container considering the oil won’t cure as needed if applied. 

Does Alcohol Dissolve Tung Oil? 

It’s not advisable to use alcohol as a thinning agent for tung oil because they blend to form a slimy mixture, which, if applied, won’t attain demanding results.

Tung oils need to be thinned with non-polar solvents such as mineral spirits and turpentine to penetrate a wood surface quickly, reducing the drying duration. 

Whichever method you choose to thin your tung oil, ensure you take precautions to avoid unnecessary damage. The oil itself is not the issue, but the solvents used in thinning your tung oil are highly combustible.

Therefore, you should be careful with the disposal of rags used with tung oil. Give the rags enough time to dry thoroughly on a non-flammable substrate like a concrete block. If not, wash the rags thoroughly before throwing them. 

How Do You Touch Up Tung Oil Finish? 

Despite tung oil’s durable and aesthetic qualities, it often wears over time due to frequent use or improper application. If this wood finish degrades, it appears unappealing to the eyes and loses its ability to protect the wood from destructive elements.

However, don’t worry if this happens, as you can touch up your worn tung oil to resume shine. 

Check out these steps: 

Step 1: Clean the Wood With a Damp Cloth

Insert a clean cloth in warm water and wring out any excess. Wipe your wood surface using linear strokes or smooth circles, then allow the surface to dry completely before proceeding to step two. A good wipe own raises the wood’s grain, making sanding easier for a smooth overall finish. 

Step 2: Strip the Existing Finish With TSP Solution

Mix two tablespoons of trisodium phosphate into a gallon of water spread the mixture over the existing finish with a sponge, and give it time to act. Note that TSP is highly toxic.

Be sure to wear long-sleeved clothing, rubber gloves, and a mask when handling this formula. It’s also wise to do the stripping in a well-ventilated workspace to prevent toxic fumes from causing harm. 

Step 3: Sand the Surface

Run high-grit sandpaper over the wood surface in tight circles to smooth out the existing imperfections in the wood’s grain. Ensure you cover all parts of the wood, including corners and recessed nooks. This way, the first coat of tung oil will enter the wood quickly. 

Step 4: Clean the Sanded Wood

Go over the sanded spots with a wet cloth to remove the sanding dust. Then use a thin brush to remove stubborn particles hidden in grooves as any lingering dust can create inconsistencies in the finish. 

Step 5:  Thin the Tung Oil

Pure tung oil has poor penetration qualities. And for that, you will want to mix equal parts of oil, mineral spirits, or turpentine in a large container. Combining the oil with a thinning agent allows you to apply it lightly, providing a glossier finish and maximum durability.

However, don’t thin the tung oil if you will be finishing surfaces used for food, such as cutting boards and spoons. I say this because the chemical solvents in thinners can blend into foods, making them dangerous to ingest. 

Step 6: Apply the Oil

Place a folded lint-free rag over the mouth of the tung oil bottle and turn the bottle upside down. This way, you will enjoy greater control over where the oil ends than spilling it directly on the surface. You can also choose a wide-tipped brush to apply this finish. 

Run the finish into the wood’s grain direction because going with the grain allows more subtle natural patterns to reveal. Continue polishing the wood to achieve even coverage. And don’t disregard the edges and corners. Allow the tung oil to sit for an hour to dry, then proceed with multiple coats as provided in the package. 

Note: For the more durable finish, sand the finished wood lightly after each coat to help subsequent layers stick. Use light touches to avoid sanding deeply into the finish.

Here’s More On Tung Oil Application:

How Long Does Tung Oil Last? 

Pure tung oil can withstand years of ill-use because of the natural ingredients. Expect this wood finish to last 10+ years if maintained properly. But don’t bother recoating this finish at least once a year.

On the other hand, polymerized or thinned tung oil has a limited shelf life because of the ingredients. You can expect thinned tung oil to last less than four years, especially under high traffic. 

Does Tung Oil Seal Wood? 


Yes, tung oil seals wood to keep it from degrading elements such as harmful cleaning materials, moistures, dirt, and other surface contaminants. Besides, a coat of tung oil also adds a layer of protection for maximum durability and longevity.

However, you can only enjoy this by applying this finish correctly. If not, your finished wood will likely succumb to the abovementioned elements. 


Learning how to remove tung oil from the wood is an essential DIY skill you should practice to restore your wood’s beauty. The process isn’t so involving, especially if you follow the tips highlighted in this guide. However, be careful when using products such as turpentine to avoid skin contact.

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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