How to Clean and Care For Varnished Wood Furniture

Teenager varnishing woodworking project

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Varnished wood is one of the most common surfaces available in furniture. It looks attractive and it is durable and easy to maintain. Easy maintenance alone may be one of the biggest reasons for its popularity. Like all furniture, it needs regular care to look good, and sometimes you may want to give it some special care too when it starts looking tired and dull. Here are some simple and easy ways to do it.

Regular Care and Cleaning

Everyday care for varnished wood is simple:

  • Protect from water and other liquids, such as alcohol, food, or cosmetics. Coasters work really well to protect table surfaces.
  • Some experts recommend vacuuming with a brush attachment, but regular cleaning with a dry, soft, lint-free cloth does the job better. Cleaning with a soft cloth removes dust and smudges, and it also gives a soft shine to the wood surface.
  • To remove stickiness or light soil wipe with a damp cloth. Follow up by rubbing with a dry cloth immediately. Test in an inconspicuous spot before you do this because you do not want to damage the furniture, and never leave a damp cloth sitting on the varnished surface.

Special Care

From time to time, you might have to clean your varnished wood furniture more thoroughly to restore its appearance and sheen. This also works well on used furniture purchases.

  • To protect varnished wood, apply a coat of paste wax. You don’t need to do this very often. While applying wax helps protect from moisture and dust, never do this more than once a year to prevent wax buildup.
  • If there is wax buildup, remove it with a cloth dampened with mineral spirits or synthetic turpentine. Do not use natural turpentine as it may leave a sticky residue. Make sure to follow all label directions when using solvents. Don't use near any flame, spark, pilot light, and absolutely no smoking. Protect your skin by wearing rubber gloves and wash the gloves in hot sudsy water before storing. Air-dry rags to evaporate the solvent before disposal.
  • Some varnished finishes can be washed if they are badly soiled, but first, test in an inconspicuous area. If the surface streaks or turns white and hazy, do not wash.
  • If it is safe to proceed, use a solution of mild detergent and lukewarm water. With a clean sponge or soft cloth wash, rinse and dry only a small area at a time. You will have to work to avoid over-wetting the finish. Avoid excess water, especially around joints. When completely dry, polish or wax.
  • Polish can be used to give your furniture shine, but avoid using polish very often as overuse can cause buildup. When you do use it, use a silicon-free variety. Silicon can leave a dull film over time.
  • Oil soaps can also be used on some varnish finishes, but always test first in an inconspicuous spot.