Anyone know how to clean bat wing off fine wooden furniture?

Bits o' plaster
For real – it’s not like I could make this up.

In doing some house cleaning today, we (actually Weather- Girl) found a deceased bat on a high bookshelf. Sadly, this is not a super uncommon experience. We have an old house that I assume has a long history as a popular bat roost, and while I think (hope?) we’ve managed to humanely evict all the bats, we’ve found numerous bat carcasses in various places in the house over the years. They’ve usually been in the basement, as they’d make their way down from the attic through spaces in walls, become confused and unable to get back outside, and eventually die there. But there have been the odd exception, including the time I found a dead bat in one of my cowboy boots.

The fellow that raises the current question apparently hid behind some knick-knacks on a bookshelf, and died there belly up. Unfortunately something in his wings turned into glue during decomp, and we’ve got this patch of wing fragments and gluey residue on the shelf. This is a really beautiful bookshelf (part of a matching pair my parents had made for us as our wedding present), so I’m hoping I can somehow clean this gunk off without damaging the shelf. My first thoughts, though, tend towards soaking and solvents, none of which would be good for the wood.

Any thoughts?

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13 thoughts on “Anyone know how to clean bat wing off fine wooden furniture?”

  1. It probably depends on the type of finish that was applied to the shelves as to what you would need to use. If you have a nearby woodworking store (and I don’t mean Home Depot or Lowe’s, but an actual woodworking specialty store), they might have someone who can help you. Alternately, you might try contacting a woodworking magazine, like Fine Woodworkng or Popular Woodworking, though I don’t think their specialty is decomposed flying rodents! ;-)

  2. Can you show us a picture of the offending bat wing? It might help with some solutions, though I must admit that I am without any in particular.

  3. This may be a question you can ask your local morticians and coroners. If anybody knows how to clean dead things off of other things, it’s them.

  4. visiting from p.z.’s place. i don’t know for sure if this will work, but i’ve used murphy’s oil soap to clean all manner of gunk off of furniture and wood floors, without damaging the wood. needless to say, i haven’t tried it on dried bat wings — merely stuff like 60+ years of “pledge” residue on grandmother’s desk, petrified cat barf in a hidden corner, crayon on table, etc. if the finish is too damaged, the results may not be perfect, but it shouldn’t make things any worse, and the oil makes it possible to gently remove the junk.

  5. There’s a very mild solvent/cleaner marketed under the name “Goo Gone” that we’ve used to clean the residue of those super cheap pricing stickers off of finished wood. According to the label, it removes blood and tree sap too, so it might be able to handle decompsed bat.

    That, a soft rag, and lots of gentle rubbing.

  6. Thanks to everyone for their ideas!

    My mother quite sensibly suggest that I call the fellow that made the bookcases in the first place. He said that he used a lacquer finish, and that some lacquer thinner would probably take off the protein gunk and lacquer (which it may have soaked into). Hopefully this wouldn’t damage/alter the stain, and we can just spray some new lacquer on and call it good. (It’s the top of a high shelf, so perfection is not required.)

    That said, I think we’ll try one of the less destructive cleaning options first. Oil soap seems worth a shot (and we have it in the house), and while I’ve never heard of Goo Gone, it sounds like something everyone with pets and teenagers ought to have in the house :-).

    I did take some pictures of the bat in its deceased entirety before removing him and discovering he’d left much of his wing behind. (I’m just not convinced there’s an emoticon for that.) They’re still in the camera, though, so I’ll have to try to move them to the computer later today (I’m on air at the campus radio station at the moment). I can also grab a shot of the current “gunky” state before we actually try anything.

    Boy, there’s a fine photo essay if I heard of one. I’m guessing Pulizter…

  7. Goo Gone is great stuff. I’m kinda the Solvents Queen. I collect stuff that removes stuff. And these days Goo Gone is what I always try first.

  8. Before trying any harsh chemicals, you should be able to remove most of the bat by soaking it with an agressive protease solution like papain (word of warning: the stuff literally smells like dog crap, but it cleans up easily). You can purchase papain through chemical suppliers like Sigma, but it will cost you an unreasonable price for a small amount. It is a common ingredient in meat tenderizers, but it is very dilute at that point. You can find digestive aids in nutritional suppliment stores that use papain as an ingredient as well. These will be more concentrated than meat tenderizers and will contain other enzymes that may help.

    Your best bet would be to contact one of the major enzyme suppliers and see if you can talk them into a free sample. They give these out regularly to prospective customers, but you might find a salesperson sympathetic to your situation that will send you one anyway. Remember, a small amount of enzyme will go a long way. One gram of a sufficiently concentrated sample will be enough to make a couple liters of “bat cleaner”. Just remember to give it time to soak and work.

    Companies to check would be:

    Enzyme Development Corp.
    Genencor Intl.
    Novo Nordisk
    Valley Research, Inc.

    I recommend trying EDC and Valley Reasearch first. They are smaller companies than the other three and are more likely to be friendly to an odd request.

    Good luck.


  9. If you lean toward the exotic, perhaps you could borrow some of those beetles that museums use to get dead animal off bone. Or perhaps you could lay it down where ants will find it?

    Since glue is mostly protein, anything that removes glue might work.

  10. Thanks a ton to everyone for all the feedback! I think we’re going to hit up the local hardware stores (it’s a farm community, so there are lots of hardware stores) for some Goo Gone and see where that takes us.

    @Monado: I love the idea of using beetles or ants, but I lost Grissom’s phone number and the ants are unlikely to be cooperative in Minnesota this time of year :-).

  11. One of the wackos from PZ’s place.

    You could get some maggots and put them in an upside-down jar over the area. I believeflies are how taxidermists deal with issues of getting rid of flesh. I don’t think that flies would harm the furniture. Otherwise a taxadermist might be able to give you an idea.

    Mike Fox

  12. Scrape the bat lumps off with a paint scraper, spatula or some similar device working carefully from the edges to the center taking care not to damage the finish. Use metal or plastic, whatever your skill level will allow. Make sure the edge is clean and smooth and the corners are rounded.

    Once that is done the slime can be removed with mineral spirits, available anywhere paint is sold. This is non-reactive with all finished except wax and oil. If you have a poly or varnish finish on the furniture that may have provided the wood with enough protection. If it is lacquer and the bat didn’t penetrate the finish into the wood clean with mineral spirits. If it marred the finish and it cant be wiped off as described, or you have a compromised lacquer finish and it penetrated to the wood, ie, colored the wood, or if it is a shellac finish the finish will have to be removed. Common paint stripper can be used and it wil deal with the organic residue since that is what most finishes are any how. I use it to degrease the crevaces around handles on my frying pans. Sure beats scraping-up the calphalon. Wood damage may be sanded out or cleansed with solvent short of cutting through the wood patina and creating a bright spot.

    Treating a chemical discoloration from the wood being soaked in bat guts will probably require bleaching. This is done with swiming pool chlorinator, oxalic acid or a combination of industrial hydrogen peroxide and sodium hydroxide in order of toxicity. The whole area, such as a drawer front or table top needs to be done, spot repairs create their own problems. After that the color needs to be reintroduced into the wood to match the rest of the piece. Then a clear finish is applied to also match.

    Or you could call a professional.

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