or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 6/1/08

   June 7th, 2008

Mr Clean bottleWhen you're a librarian, even your friends are patrons. A friend of mine asked me this in email:

Do you know how to remove nail polish from a wooden table?

Ha. I mean, this is definitely serious, but still, it's kind of funny. Anyway, the library has a bunch of "how to clean anything" type books, but their suggestions varied greatly. They all said not to use nail polish remover, but beyond that, they suggested using more nail polish (with the theory that the wet on the dry would make the dry wet again and thus easier to clean off), vinegar, dry cleaning powder, etc.

Since none of these seemed like sure things, I went online to see what else was available. I found two websites with suggestions, and it seemed that mineral spirits was safest way to go.

I emailed all of this to her, including the two urls, and she replied:

Okay, now, this just pisses me off - I went to that same wiki answers site and had NO LUCK outside of "nail polish remover." Ha - how do you find this stuff? It's a gift.

It's not a gift, it's library school training, and the fact that finding information is what I do for a living. To the people that fear Google will replace librarians, I simply say, no, it will not.

And here's something else Google can't do: after emailing what I had found, I kept checking through our reference books. Eventually, I found the Stain Buster's Bible, which suggests using amyl acetate (banana oil) to remove nail polish from finished furniture. It says to get the chemically pure kind (from a pharmacy), but to go easy because it can also remove the finish.

I emailed that, too, but haven't heard back yet if any of these methods worked. I'm hoping "the patron" will provide a full report in the comments section.

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3 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 6/1/08”

  1. Stephanie Willen Brown Says:

    ha! I tell my friends that providing answers to their ref questions is one of the ways I show my affection for them. 🙂 I even created a blog for the answers, but I should update it a bit more often … http://libraries4friends.blogspot.com/

  2. Sarah Says:

    Hi Brian, just wanted to share this site as well: How to Clean Stuff: wooden floors. (Scroll down on that page for the bit about removing nail polish from wood surfaces.)

  3. Liz Says:

    Okay, I confess – I was the one who got clear nail polish on a mahogany table. Not only that, but clear nail polish with Kleenex stuck in it.

    After an unsuccessful search for banana oil, I decided to give the non-acetone nail polish remover a try, with less-than-disastrous results. I took Q-tips and dipped them in a tiny bit of the remover and worked small areas at a time, quickly following it with a wet washcloth to prevent the remover from eating into the finish.

    It removed most of the polish and tissue remnants, but left a weird residue behind, so I stopped. I may still try the banana oil (if I can find it), and I found a post that said mixing mayonnaise with cigarette ash can fill in finish gaps (now to find a smoker, some mayonnaise and a person with no sense of smell…).

    For now, though, I’ve put a coaster over the spot, and in all likelihood that will be the permanent solution.