Homeowners have long appreciated the beauty, versatility and sturdiness of wooden furniture and most of all, they appreciate its low maintenance. As the perfect houseplant for brown thumbs, wooden furniture survives on its own, requiring little intervention. Every now and then, however, whether due to an accident or normal wear and tear, you will need to know how to clean wooden furniture to renew its appearance and ensure its longevity. When that inevitable day arrives, follow these steps to restore a wood finish to pristine condition without inadvertently causing damage.
If you are sure about the finish of your wood furniture (paint, stain, or other treatment), use an appropriate cleaning method for that specific wood finish. Otherwise, it is best to clean the furniture in stages, starting with a mild cleaner that does not pose a risk to the integrity of the finish, and then moving to a more powerful solution only if the gentler one fails. Proceeding in this manner means that you can safely clean wooden furniture without knowing exactly what you are dealing with.
STEP 1: Dish soap
Start with perhaps the most humble of household cleaners: liquid dish soap.
- Add a drop of liquid dish soap to a cotton ball moistened with water.
- Next, wipe the cotton ball on an inconspicuous part of the furniture, such as the inside of a chair leg.
If the detergent is messing up the finish in your test area, continue without the dish soap. If the test area shows no signs of damage, it is safe to continue. Mix water and dish soap in a bucket and use this solution to blot all of the furniture. Do not soak the wood; this is a common mistake. Instead, lightly brush the sponge across the surface and don’t let the liquid linger for long. Dry thoroughly.
STEP 2: Mineral spirits
If you want to see if you can clean your furniture a bit, the next thing to try is mineral spirits. Liter containers typically sell for $ 10 or $ 15 (see on Amazon). Be sure to follow the printed instructions for safe use. On the one hand, working in a well ventilated area is a must.
While mineral spirits should be harmless to wood finishes, you should still test the treatment on an inconspicuous part of the furniture to be sure. If you don’t see any discoloration, proceed to wiping the furniture with a clean rag soaked in (but not dripping with) mineral spirits. Finish by wiping off any cleaner residue with a water-dampened rag, inspecting the wood for flaws as you go.
In many cases, mineral spirits can remove years of dirt.
STEP 3: Consider re-finishing
If the finish reacted negatively when you tested mineral spirits on your furniture, don’t take a chance, move on. You will probably need to re-finish the part to really restore it.
Note: To determine what type of finish is currently on your furniture, dab some denatured alcohol on a cotton swab and test it in a small, inconspicuous area. If the finish does dissolve, it means it’s probably shellac. If the finish is alcohol resistant, it is likely oil, lacquer, varnish, or polyurethane.
STEP 4: Prevent future damage
If, on the other hand, you are happy with the results of your cleaning efforts (or if you don’t want to re-finish), you may want to protect your furniture from future damage. To do this, opt for a furniture wax product, such as Howard Feed-N-Wax (see on Amazon) or Daddy Van’s (see on Amazon). Apply the wax liberally with cheesecloth, always making sure to rub in the direction of the grain of the wood. Then polish with a clean cloth.
Note: Always dust wood furniture with soft, lint-free rags. Avoid dusters, as they are not as effective and sometimes have sharp prickles that can scratch the surface of the wood.