September 28, 2023

Exploring the Waterproof Properties of Lacquer: A Comprehensive Guide

Lacquer is a protective coating consisting of a resin and cellulose ester, dissolved in a volatile solvent, with added pigment. It produces a polished, lustrous surface on the wood. The shiny coating or finish to materials such as wood or metal. 

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Lacquer coatings enhance the appearance of a face material by creating a high gloss finish and a protective cover that is smooth and highly durable. They are applied during the manufacturing process but can also be added later. 

Lacquer comprises nitrocellulose, varnish gums, a nitrocellulose solvent boiling between PLO-180 0, hexahydro phenol, ethyl acetate, aliphatic alcohol, and a mixture of benzene series of hydrocarbons. Lacquer was used in Japan as early as 7000 BCE, during the Jōmon period. 

It originated in China in the 2nd millennium B.C. It is for a wood finish, lacquerware, skin cosmetics, ornaments, dye for textiles, and the production of different grades of shellac for surface coating. This article will explore waterproofing as a lacquer finish and the types of lacquer. 

Understanding Waterproofing

A. Definition and Mechanism of Waterproofing 

Waterproofing makes a structure waterproof or water-resistant so that it remains unaffected by water. Such objects work in wet environments or underwater to specified depths. There are two main types of integral waterproofing systems: hydrophilic and hydrophobic. The mechanism of water resisting admixtures is to reduce the porosity of concrete. 

B. Factors Affecting Waterproofing Capability 

1. Surface Porosity 

Porosity is a measure of how much air can pass through your object. That affects how well the furniture absorbs water and how fast the water dries. A more porous object absorbs water more quickly, but it will dry more quickly.

2. Coating Thickness 

Achieve waterproof coating thickness by controlling the amount of material per square meter. If the lacquer thickness is brushed to 2 mm at a time, it will cause the surface to dry on the outside, but the internal moisture cannot evaporate. The waterproof layer is weak and soft.

3. Exposure to Moisture

High humidity environments allow foundation, floors, windows, ceilings, attics, and crawl spaces to be exposed to more moisture, affecting the drying and curing of waterproof membranes.

Exploring Lacquer’s Water Resistance

A. How Lacquer Protects Against Water Damage 

Lacquer is not 100% impervious to water but offers a reasonable degree of protection against moisture. Lacquer is an effective waterproofing agent. If exposed to enough water, it can break down and allow moisture to seep through. That is why you should reapply Lacquer periodically to maintain its efficacy.

B. The Science Behind Lacquer’s Water Repellency

When lacquer dries, it produces a solid, durable finish. It is chip-resistant, waterproof, and breathable. Apply lacquers to multiple surfaces, such as wood and metal, and they come in a range of colors, and clear finishes. The coating is for waterproofing, weatherproofing and resistance to abrasion, acids, alkalis, saline weather, solvents, chemicals, and mold.

Types of Lacquer

A. Traditional Lacquer Types 

1. Nitrocellulose Lacquer 

Nitrocellulose lacquer is a high-gloss finish used when manufacturing cars, musical instruments, and furniture. It works where a high-quality finish is required. They dry rapidly, demonstrate excellent polishing properties and enhance the appearance of the grain in wood.

2. Shellac 

It works in food coatings, cosmetics, and varnishes. Shellac is a natural glue and clear coating. Shellac gives a high-gloss finish in a warm tone, but it is not highly durable.

3. Waterborne Lacquer 

Waterborne lacquers offer excellent clarity, build, and resistance. Waterborne lacquer is a water-reducible, self-cross-linking, low VOC emitting technology with color retention and is ideal for cabinet, millwork, furniture, and other high-traffic interior wooden surfaces.

B. Modern Lacquer Alternatives 

1. Polyurethane Lacquer 

Polyurethane is a plastic that protects the wood. The lacquer finish is more like water, as it is absorbed into the surface of the wood, forming a stronger bond that is more difficult to disrupt. 

2. Acrylic Lacquer 

Acrylic lacquer is an Automotive formulation that gives a lustrous, durable finish. It dries quickly and has superior adhesion to metal.

3. Catalyzed Lacquer

Catalyzed lacquers contain nitrocellulose and urea resins, making these products much more durable.

Factors Influencing Lacquer’s Water Resistance

A. Application Method and Technique 

Use a bristle brush of high-quality natural bristles to apply the lacquer. Work quickly by adding a thin coat. Lacquer is sprayed onto a surface or applied with a brush.

B. Quality and Formulation of Lacquer Products 

A lacquer with a quick-drying solvent mixture of 35-65 volume per cent ethyl acetate, 10-30 volume per cent ethyl alcohol, and 20-40 volume per cent toluene dissolve therein from 10 to 50 Weight per cent of a coating composition consisting essentially of 42 to 46 parts of cellulose nitrate. 

C. Environmental Conditions and Exposure 

1. Indoor vs. Outdoor Applications 

Lacquer is a bit thinner than other products, making it penetrate deeper. That makes it a durable seal that protects the wood from the inside. 

2. Humidity Levels 

Do not spray Lacquer when the relative humidity is above 65%, and do not spray if the dew point is within 20 degrees of the ambient temperature.

3. Temperature Variations

Lacquers provide a fast responding visual indication even if you are within 1% of the temperature required. Lacquer sprays are for furniture, lamps, picture frames, and more. Use outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. Use when the temperature is between 50-90°F (10-32°C) and humidity is below 65% to ensure proper drying. Do not apply to surfaces, when heated, exceed 200°F.

Testing and Evaluating Lacquer’s Waterproofing Ability

A. Standard Testing Methods 

1. Water Immersion Test 

Element’s water immersion testing services evaluate a coating’s resistance to in-service immersion conditions. That helps determine the coating’s suitability for corrosion protection during its service life.

2. Humidity Test 

Humidity Water resistance testing of painted or coated panels is done by placing them in an enclosed chamber containing heated, saturated air and water vapor. Temperature-humidity test chambers are more affordable than complex test chambers that simulate simultaneous combinations of real-life environmental influences.

3. Water Beading Test 

In the water beading test, droplets are applied to the surface of a substrate. The more greasy or oily this is, the more pronounced the beading. Use the water bead test to see if your existing surface is ready for a recoat. It is super easy and only takes a minute.

B. Interpreting Test Results

Waterproof describes the ability of a material to hold in or hold out water and is related to its low permeability. To install a waterproofing system fit for their designed purpose, understand what exactly is meant by low permeability and water resistance.

Factors That Can Compromise Lacquer’s Water Resistance

  • Wear and Tear 
  • UV Exposure 
  • Chemical Interactions

Maintaining and Enhancing Lacquer’s Water Repellency

A. Proper Cleaning and Maintenance Techniques 

Use a soft microfiber cloth soaked in warm water. Wring it out, add a few drops of white vinegar, and wash your furniture in circular motions. Dry it with a cloth, and you are done.

B. Applying Protective Topcoats

When applying a clear coat to your piece of painted furniture, you can use a paintbrush, roller, or sprayer.

 C. Rejuvenating and Restoring Water Resistance

Mix four parts of denatured alcohol with one lacquer part in a clean jar and mix. Brush this concoction onto the finish, working only one area at a time. That dissolves the old finish somewhat and causes it to be revived. Wait a few hours to see how well the lacquer is coming along.


Varnish is a proven sealant with excellent waterproofing properties. Apply wood varnish at a room temperature of 65 to 70 degrees Celsius. Be creative enough to use varnish on any surface.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A. Can lacquer be used on outdoor furniture? 

Yes, lacquer is suitable for outdoor furniture due to its durability and weather resistance. When using it:

  • Consider weather resistance to prevent fading, cracking, or warping.
  • Benefit from enhanced durability, reducing the need for frequent refinishing.
  • Enhance the furniture’s appearance with a smooth, glossy finish.
  • Perform periodic maintenance, including cleaning, sanding, and reapplication as needed.
  • Apply lacquer correctly as per manufacturer guidelines for best results.

B. How long does lacquer’s water resistance last? 

The durability of lacquer’s water resistance depends on factors like lacquer quality, surface preparation, and maintenance.

High-quality lacquer, applied correctly, can last many years. Yet, it’s not permanent, and wear and environmental exposure can affect it.

To extend water resistance:

  • Apply correctly as per instructions.
  • Maintain by cleaning with mild soaps and avoiding abrasives.
  • Shield from harsh conditions like extreme temperatures or moisture.
  • Consider periodic reapplication for heavily used or exposed surfaces.

C. Can lacquer be used on bathroom fixtures? 

Yes, you can use lacquer on bathroom fixtures. Lacquer is versatile and can protect metal or wooden fixtures, enhancing their appearance, increasing durability, and simplifying cleaning. Ensure you apply the appropriate lacquer type for the material correctly. Periodic maintenance may be needed for ongoing protection and improvement.

D. Can lacquer prevent water damage on wood surfaces? 

Yes, lacquer is an effective wood surface sealer. It creates a protective moisture barrier, preventing water absorption that can lead to swelling, warping, and mold growth. Proper application and maintenance are essential for sustained protection. Choose the right lacquer type and apply it correctly for long-lasting water damage prevention.

E. Is lacquer resistant to staining?

Catalytic lacquer is known for its resistance to water, alcohol, and staining due to its protective properties.

Lacquer, a coating applied to materials like wood and metal for protection, creates a durable surface, making it suitable for various uses.

Water: Lacquer is highly resistant to moisture, making it ideal for humid environments.

Alcohol: It withstands alcoholic spills without staining, making it popular for entertainment furniture.

Stains: Lacquer guards against common household stains like food, coffee, and ink, thanks to its smooth, hard surface.

However, while lacquer resists staining, it isn’t entirely impervious. Prolonged exposure to harsh chemicals can damage or discolor lacquered surfaces, necessitating regular maintenance.

David D. Hughes

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