What’s unique about wooden furniture is that regular cleaning and basic care can keep it looking like new. Over the years, if you take the time for proper cleaning and care, your wooden furniture can even last several generations. Just head to any antique store – you’ll hardly see an old plastic table in sight.
On the other hand, wood furniture requires more attention than chemical-based furniture because it is a natural material and susceptible to environmental elements. It can be fickle too: over time polishes and dust can build up to create a sticky mess, or chips and scratches start to look unsightly. But it’s all easily fixed… and worth it: the more love you give your wood furniture, the more years it will give back.
When purchasing your wooden furniture, it always helps to ask if there are any special care or cleaning instructions. Otherwise, we provide some tips below on how to properly clean and care for your wooden furniture so it lasts a lifetime:
- Quick dos and don’ts for cleaning wood furniture
- The best ways to clean different wood finishes
- How to clean wood furniture
- Best products to clean wood
- How to clean wood furniture naturally: home remedies
- How to care for your wood furniture to last a lifetime
Dos & Don’ts
Cleaning & Caring for Your Wood Furniture
- Deep clean your wood furniture regularly – as often as you clean your house – because dust buildups can scratch the surface. This can be as simple as wiping it with a cloth dampened with water.
- Never saturate your wood furniture when cleaning it, nor pour solutions directly onto the wood; use a damp cloth that has been wrung out, and squirt your solution onto the cloth or pre-mix it with water to create a soapy liquid.
- Read the ingredients of your cleaners – avoid any products with alcohol, bleach, and abrasive and harsh chemicals.
- Dust and clean in the same direction as the grain.
- Always use soft cloths, like microfiber or cotton, to prevent small scratches.
- Polish and oils can sometimes do more harm than good; we explain below how to minimize ugly, sticky buildups, and suggest some natural alternatives.
- Protect the surface: become friends with coasters, placemats, heat protectors and felt bases; it only takes a second but will maintain your wooden furniture for years. If you do get rings or scratches, we explain some ways to fix it below.
- Avoid extreme elements, such as sunlight, cold, heat, humidity, or dry air. Extreme environmental changes can cause the wood to warp.
- Try to keep your nail-polish remover and other solvents away from wooden furniture; a spill could strip away the finishing.
- Plastics can leach color into the wood, so opt for natural materials or put down a protector first.
The Best Way to Clean Different Wood Finishes
> Cleaning Painted Wood Furniture
|Painted wood furniture has a protective layer that is harder than natural wood. Still, dishwashing soap and water is enough to remove grime and sticky spills. You can also make a spray from 2:1 water and white vinegar.|
> Cleaning Unfinished Wood Furniture
|Stick to dusting and water, or if needed a soapy solution, which should be applied from a cloth and never directly on the wood. You should dry it straight away.|
> Cleaning Stained Wood Furniture
|Similar to unfinished wood, a damp cloth is sufficient.|
> Cleaning Varnished Wood furniture
|Dusting, a damp cloth, and the occasional soapy water will fix most problems. After cleaning, a polish or wax can help boost the shine. A chamois leather cloth is also effective.|
> Cleaning Veener and Fake Wood Furniture
|This material warps and bubbles easily, so water should be used sparingly or hardly at all. If the top coating is hard, it will handle a little soapy water, but always wring the cloth and dry immediately.|
> Cleaning Wax Finishing
|Liquid detergents can dull wax finishings, so use soapflakes if you have them, or buy a ready-mixed soapy wood cleaner.|
> Cleaning Antique Wood Furniture
|Diluted white vinegar is an effective cleaner if your antique furniture has build-up or grime. Start with a couple of drops in a cup of water and strengthen if needed.|
> Cleaning White Wood Furniture
|The usual cleaning techniques work equally well for cleaning white wood furniture: dust and use soapy water for a deeper clean. You can also spray a mixture of 1:2 parts vinegar and water for removing stains or mold. If the paint starts to flake, that area will need sanding and re-painting.|
How to Clean Your Wood Furniture
You obviously want to keep your wooden furniture clean – but there are some limits. Below are some of the best ways to clean your wood furniture… without damaging it.
Cleaning Unfinished Wood Furniture
Unfinished wood is more susceptible to damage and needs more careful cleaning than finished wood; on the upside, fixing unfinished furniture is much easier than with varnished wood!
In general, avoid water because it can warp or swell the wood. It is also important to be gentle and clean slowly because it’s easy to scratch and mark unfinished wood. You should also clean any spills or marks straight away to avoid deep damage.
A brush, microfiber broom or a vacuum with a brush head is the first step to remove dirt and debris from the grooves in the wood. Follow this with a wipe of a dry, soft cloth. Regular maintenance will reduce the need for more aggressive cleaning.
If you need a deeper clean, you can try flicking a stiffer brush and vacuum up the dirt after. Don’t rub too hard with the stiff bristles.
You can also try adhesive rubber, which is a natural product that you stick into the grooves to bring up dirt. Erasing compounds also work, which you rub into the wood remove dirt and vacuum after.
For stubborn stains, you can try mineral spirits. With a damp towel, wipe it sparingly and gently across the whole table. Always test in an inconspicuous place to make sure there aren’t any adverse effects.
Deep Clean Your Wood Furniture
A periodic deep clean helps your wood furniture last longer, even if it doesn’t appear dirty to the eye. If you regularly clean your wood furniture, a deep clean is only necessary two to four times a year.
Move through the stages of light to deep cleaning, and always start with softer cleaning products before moving to the hard stuff:
- Dust off the surface – it is important to remove particles first so you don’t push dirt and grime deep into the cracks; for wood grooves, you might also need a vacuum with a soft-brush extension.
- Remove light dirt with soap, water and a damp cloth, which you should rinse often and wring well so it doesn’t leave excess water on the wood; test the detergent first in a hidden area – if it shows damage, use water only.
- If you still have stains or grime, try a cleaning product, preferably a natural one; mineral spirits can also help with stubborn stains, although test first and wash off with a damp cloth afterward.
- For extra shine on treated furniture, put on a wax or natural polish; make sure the table is thoroughly clean so you don’t trap grime underneath the slippery layer. Lint-free cloths, like cotton, work best.
- Dry immediately and thoroughly with a fresh cloth.
Keep the Dust Bunnies at Bay
The name is cute but dust or airborne particles build a filmy layer on your wood furniture that can scratch the surface. Dust often – at least once a week – using a soft or damp cloth with water, like an old cotton t-shirt or microfiber cloth. A damp cloth is ideal to avoid swirling dust into the air.
If you opt for a duster, lambswool is effective for getting dust out of hard places, which is ideal for cleaning carved wood furniture and hard-to-reach places. Shake it outside after use to get rid of the dust, or you can vacuum or wash it with mild dishwashing soap.
Clean Off Old Polish & Dust Buildups
If you’re cleaning old or antique wood furniture with a significant buildup of dust and polish, all is not lost. One natural remedy is to steep two tea bags in hot water, and once cool, dampen a cloth and wipe the wood. The tannic acid is a great remedy to bring back the shine to old, grimy wood.
How to Clean Grime & Spills Off Wood Furniture
If your wood furniture becomes grimy or sticky from spills or food, soap and water is often sufficient. Otherwise, try a natural home cleaning remedy or a non-abrasive product. Wiping it dry afterward is the best way to reduce streaks on the surface, which can make it look dull.
Cleaning Water Stains & Discolorations from Wood furniture
If you have water rings from hot or cold drinks, there are a couple of home remedies to clean your wood furniture. Depending on the finish, it may take it off slightly, so afterward, you may need to add a polishing agent or oil.
- Rub on non-gel toothpaste until the stain disappears.
- Mix equal parts of baking soda and toothpaste and apply to the stain; wipe off with a damp cloth.
- Rub on an essential oil like lemon or orange, in a circular motion.
- Apply wood furniture wax, or natural wax, like beeswax.
- Wipe on petroleum jelly and leave overnight; rub it off the next morning.
- Equal parts of baking soda and water (1/2 cup), and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar (this can take off the varnish for when you can’t reach those really stubborn stains).
How to Clean & Maintain Veneer Furniture & Fake Wood
Moisture is the enemy for all wood furniture, but even more so for veneer and other composite products. If your budget allows, always opt for solid wood furniture if you want it to last. If not, you’ll need to be more aware of regular humidity changes and cleaning with water, otherwise, it won’t take long for the veneer to warp or bend.
Ink Stains & Difficult Marks
If you have a tricky ink stain, sanding is always a backup option. However, you might have some luck rubbing on a paste of baking soda (1 tablespoon) and water (1 teaspoon), then wiping if off with a damp cloth. Rub gently and dry thoroughly after.
If it’s treated wood, try the good ‘ole soap and water first. If you try anything stronger, it’s a good idea to test it in a non-visible place in case it wrecks the finish.
If your wood furniture looks dull afterward, you can wipe on a thin layer of wood polish or a natural alternative, like lemon oil. Wipe with the grain and buff till it looks shiny.
If you find it on your furniture, someone probably needs a lecturing first. Then try scraping off as much as you can, and freezing it with a bag of ice (preferably one that doesn’t leave water stains!). Leave it for around 10 minutes, then use something blunt to scrape the rest off.
Scratches & Nicks
For scratches that are small or shallow, you can generally use a special marker, shoe polish or even coffee grounds can do the trick. Just pick the color closest to the wood, and rub in the direction of the scratch.
If the damage can’t be treated with polishes or touch-up sticks, then sanding it back or painting it is always an option.
How to Clean Odors from Your Wood Furniture
You can try sprinkling baking soda on the surface of your wooden furniture, or place a pan of coal inside if there are drawers.
Dry Wood Furniture Care & Cleaning
If your wood furniture starts looking dry and faded, it may be time to re-oil. Before oiling, sand the surface with a fine steel wool (grade #0000) or sandpaper, and do a thorough clean. Apply the oil liberally, and let it dry at least 24 hours before putting anything else on it, such as a wax coating.
The Best Cleaning Products for Wood Furniture
When cleaning your wooden furniture, aggressive cleaners can end up hindering, not helping, the wood. Harsh or abrasive cleaners can even take off the finish. Many professional recommend against using any commercial grade wood cleaners.
Some people use wood cleaning products, furniture oils, or oil-based polishes. These can protect the surface by making it more slippery, but they don’t actually build a protective layer.
Unlike the myths and advertising, you cannot feed or nourish wood with oils and polishes. Especially once it has a protective finish, the wood is sealed and can oils can’t penetrate it.
Many commercial wood furniture sprays and polishes have silicone oil. You might see a little of the protection that they claim, but residue and build-up can interfere and potentially need professional attention. That ‘fresh polish’ smell might be addictive, but like all things addictive, they hardly bring any good.
Don’t be distracted by easy care or magic cleaners – a regular dust and wipe is usually enough to bring back the shine.
Avoid overuse of cleaners with ammonia or silicone, like polish. Either use polish sparingly, or not at all. It doesn’t really benefit treated wood, and instead you usually end up building a sticky film that attracts dust and dirt.
If you do use polish for extra shine, only apply a thin layer and buff well. Never combine polishes with wax protectants, otherwise, you could end up with a sloppy mess.
If you want to try a natural wood cleaner, you can try ¼ cup of vinegar, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 4 tablespoons of oil (olive, mineral or other). Use it as a spray and always shake well before using it.
In some cases, wooden furniture with varnish, polyurethane, or shellac will benefit from a sporadic application of wax. Wax tends to provide a harder, longer-lasting protection, and smears less than sprays or polishes. It also creates a slippery surface which can reduce scratches.
If you want to clean your wood furniture naturally, beeswax can be a good alternative, especially for older wood furniture that might be fragile or not have intact finishing. However, if your wood furniture has been lacquered, beeswax polish can’t penetrate the finish, so it’s not useful.
If you don’t get the desired shine, repeat the waxing process again, making sure the table surface is clean.
Cleaning Your Wood Furniture with Home Remedies
Some say that you can revive grimy wood furniture with home remedies: try mixing equal measures of olive oil, denatured alcohol, gum turpentine, and strained lemon juice. Wipe it on your wood furniture with a soft cloth and buff it off with a clean cloth.
How to Clean Wood Furniture Naturally
You can find many recipes online to clean your wood furniture naturally, all with slight variations. In general, the common ingredients include vinegar, oil, lemon or orange oil, lemon juice or baking soda.
Like commercial cleaners, you should test it in an inconspicuous spot first. You still need to use natural cleaners with caution, and not overuse them.
For a light cleaner or dusting spray, you can try 1 cup of water, ¼ cup of vinegar, 2 teaspoons of oil (coconut, mineral, or vegetable), and. 10–15 drops of lemon oil. Make sure you shake it well, and wipe off with a soft cloth.
If you want to avoid vinegar, you can swap it out for Castile soap; then add 4 cups of warm water and 10–15 drops of lemon or orange oil. This works well for cleaning wood furniture and floors.
If you need something stronger or have a stubborn stain, try: equal parts of water and vinegar (1 cup each), a tablespoon of oil, and 15 drops of orange oil (optional). Put it in a spray bottle, and you have yourself a cleaner and wood care product in one. It can be used on any wood furniture, like tables, chairs, cabinets, door posts, and more.
If you have wood that needs extra care, or you want to maintain a dark color, add more oil, for example, ½ cup of apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup of olive oil, 1 table spoon of lemon juice (to disinfect), and essential oils (lavender, lemon or orange).
Natural cleaners may need to be repeated until you see results, or you may need to tweak the ingredients depending on how stubborn is the stain.
Cleaning Wood Furniture with Oil
One downside of some oil cleaners – especially those with a high percentage of oil like pure olive oil – is that they can make the surface looked smeared and show fingerprints. If there’s too much oil, it can also attract dust. So apply sparingly and choose a light oil.
There are many natural oils that are less sticky than olive oil: grapeseed oil or linseed oil, for example. With a regular application, it can stop natural wood furniture from drying and cracking. It is less effective on treated wood.
Oil can be a great natural alternative for wood furniture in the kitchen, where food might be involved, like chopping boards and counter tops.
To apply, pour small portions of oil onto a cloth and wipe it on your futnirure. Leave it to dry itself.
Cleaning Wood Furniture with Vinegar
Vinegar and oil can act as a natural polish for cleaning your wood furniture. Mix 1 cup of olive oil with ¼ cup of white vinegar. Use it sparingly, though, because excessive oil can attract dust and give you a grimy layer.
Just pour the solution on a soft cloth and wipe it into the wood in the direction of the grain. Then buff it off with a dry cloth.
How to Care For Wooden Furniture
Like everything in our homes, time takes its toll on wooden furniture. It will eventually show signs of wear and tear, but you can fix it – or even prevent it altogether – with some attention and care. The same rules apply for all types of wood, natural and fake, from fine wood furniture to reclaimed wood furniture.
Avoid Hot & Cold
Wooden furniture changes with temperature, where it responds by expanding and contracting. Of course, many of us wouldn’t survive the winter without a heater, and others, air-conditioning in the summer.
So does this mean most of us can’t have wooden furniture? Don’t worry, your furniture will survive – but try to avoid putting it side by side one of these elements. Where possible, place your furniture as far away as you can from air-conditioners, heating units or vents. The best way to maintain your wood furniture is to keep it within the ideal temperatures of 60–80 degrees.
Dampness Is the Devil
Like temperature, humidity also creates physical changes in the wood. High humidity causes the wood to swell, and low humidity shrinks it, causing the wood to dry and crack.
Eventually, if the wood is subject to continual humidity changes, that’s when you get warping – sometimes to the point of breaking.
The ideal humidity level is between 30 and 45 percent. If you plan on storing wooden in places like attics or cellars, you might want to check the humidity levels first.
There are several affordable devices to help:
- a humidity gauge can tell you if your storage space is suitable;
- you can buy a humidifier or dehumidifier if you live in an area that experiences any of these extremes.
In the drier months, use a humidifier to bring the moisture up to the 40 to 45 percent level.
No Excessive Sunlight
Chemical changes can occur in the wood if it sits directly under ultraviolet sunlight or even florescent lights. It can bleach and fade the wood’s color, as well as degrade the finishing.
You can prolong the life of your wood furniture by placing it out of direct sunlight, or closing the curtains or blinds during hours of direct sun. There are also UV filters for artificial lights.
It’s easy for a hot mug or condensation from a cold glass to penetrate the finish and leave those dreaded crop circles all over your wooden furniture. Likewise, hot food or pans should never be placed directly on the table without a trivet or potholder.
Try to cover the table any time you use it, with placemats or coasters during meals, felt bases on lamps, or a tablecloth for craft activities. If not, always act quickly once you see any damage; moisture can travel, and the deeper it goes, the harder it is to get out.
In some cases, blowing a hairdryer on the area can help release the trapped moisture. Some swear by using the steam from a low-heated iron. You can also try rubbing car wax, petroleum jelly or toothpaste on the moisture, then wipe it off with a damp cloth.
Wood is a bug’s candy, so watch for beetles and termites and stick to your country’s guidelines and regulations for home fumigation. This is also why it’s important to check when buying wood furniture, that the seller buys certified and fumigated wood, or offers a guarantee.
If you do see bugs, act quickly. Contact a professional in your area. Home remedies are also possible but may take longer. For example, you can inject a high-percentage alcohol into the bug holes.
If you plan on using a table lamp or other decoration on any wooden furniture – be it your desk, a side table, dressers, shelves or consoles – a felt base or some other type of protection will go a long way to prevent scratches.
If your furniture piece becomes unrepairable, there’s only one step left: now it’s time to maintain the environment by recycling your wood.