How to Clean Wood Furniture the Right Way
Almost every home has pieces of furniture made from or accented with wood. As a natural element, wood brings warmth and versatility to virtually any design style. Wood is durable and easy to care for, but it needs to be adequately cleaned to maintain its good looks.
Dust is abrasive. Remove it gently to avoid scratching the surface of wood furniture. The cleaning task can take 5 minutes or an hour; the time it takes depends on how much wood you have. Don't skip this task since accumulated dust can harbor microscopic dust mites or spider-like insects.
How Often to Clean Wood Furniture
You should clean food and drink spills away immediately. Pooling liquid can cause wood to darken and warp or make the finish cloudy.
Dust frequently, such as every few days or at least weekly, to keep dust buildup to a minimum. Dusting will remove the tiny particles that can scratch the surface. Use your favorite furniture polish or make your own once a month to bring a shine and buff out minor scratches or nicks.
Too much polish or wax can leave the surface of wood furniture looking dull, cloudy, or dark. Depending on how often you polish the furniture, it will eventually need a deeper cleaning. Two methods work. Start with the gentler method of using a tea solution, and if that doesn't work, progress to a more potent method with mineral spirits.
Do not touch the finish beyond weekly dusting if you have valuable antique wood furniture. Overzealous cleaning can reduce the value of the furniture significantly.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Microfiber cloths
- Dust mask
- Electrostatic or feather duster
- Cotton cloths or paper towels (Optional)
- Bucket (Optional)
- Sponge (Optional)
- Rubber gloves (Optional)
- Cloth rags (Optional)
- Cotton balls and cotton swabs (Optional)
- Water (Optional)
- Dishwashing liquid (Optional)
- Tea bags (Optional)
- Mineral spirits (Optional)
Routine Cleaning of Wood Furniture
Clean Away Spills
Use a paper towel or soft cloth to immediately blot away liquid spills and condensation from drinks. For sticky messes, dip a cloth in plain water and wring until only slightly damp. Wipe away the mess and immediately use a dry microfiber cloth to buff the wood back to a shine.
Use a microfiber cloth, feather duster, or electrostatic duster like Swiffer to remove dust. If you are sensitive to dust, wear a dust mask and consider using a damp cloth for dusting instead of a duster. After dusting, use a soft cotton cloth to buff the surfaces, remove smudges, and create shine. Don't forget the furniture's legs, arms, and smaller wood supports.
Remove Heavy Grime
If the wood has been in storage or has been neglected, mix one teaspoon of dish soap solution with two quarts of water in a bucket or container. Dip a sponge or soft cloth into the solution and wring until it is slightly damp.
Deep Cleaning of Wood Furniture
Make Black Tea Solution
The tannins or tannic acid in tea can cut through waxy build-up on wood. Brew two black tea bags in two cups of hot water. When the tea is cool, dip a soft cloth, cotton balls, or cotton swabs in the solution and wring until just damp. Start at the top of the piece and gently wipe in the direction of the wood grain.
Rinse the cloth in plain water to remove the grime. Wring and rewet with the tea solution, wring, and continue wiping. Finish by drying each cleaned section with a soft cloth and buffing it to a shine.
Clean With Mineral Spirits
Mineral spirits is a petroleum distillate used to thin oil-based paints and clean stains and varnishes to remove waxy build-up. Always wear protective gloves and gear when using the product and work in a well-ventilated space.
Place a small amount on an old rag and wipe the furniture following the wood grain. Move to a clean area of the rag as the grime is transferred. Finish by buffing the wood with a soft, dry cloth.
Tips to Keep Wood Furniture Clean Longer
Manufacturers add varnish, polyurethane, or shellac to protect a furniture's wood surface. You can apply wax or polish to protect the manufacturer's original finish, which helps to reduce surface scratches.
Paste or liquid furniture wax gives wooden pieces a hard finish and long-lasting protection. Wax doesn't smear and is more durable than sprays or polishes. Depending on how often you dust and maintain your furniture, paste wax finishes can last up to two years. Liquid wax is easier to apply but leaves a thinner coating and may need to be used more frequently than paste wax.
Furniture polish can give wooden furniture luster, but it doesn't last as long as wax. Liquid polishes in the form of oil polish or emulsion cleaners won't damage wood finishes and leave a lovely sheen, but they vanish not long after the liquid dries. Certain aerosol furniture polishes also have a downside: They contain silicone oil and other solvents that can eat through varnish.
Removing Different Stains on Wood Furniture
Water rings or marks left by wet glasses and cups are common problems on wood tables or surfaces. If possible, treat them as soon as possible. There are two methods to try before you decide to refinish the entire piece.
Rub some olive oil or mayonnaise into the whitened area of the wood. Allow it to sit for one hour and then buff away.
Place some non-gel toothpaste on a soft cloth and rub the water ring until it disappears. Wipe away the toothpaste residue with a damp cloth and buff the wood surface with a soft, dry cloth.
Dip a soft, damp cloth in some dry baking soda and rub the stained area gently until the stain disappears. Use a clean wet cloth to wipe away any baking soda residue and dry with a soft cloth.
The baking soda may dull the finish slightly, so use wood polish to bring back the shine.
Stickers or Glue Residue
Use the edge of a credit card or plastic scraper to loosen as much of the sticky residue as possible. Place a dab of olive oil or mineral oil on a soft cloth and rub it across the stained area. Move to a clean cloth area as the residue is transferred, and reapply more oil if needed.
Finish by using some wood polish to even out the shine on the entire wood surface.
Mold or Mildew
If possible, take the wood furniture with mold outside to clean to prevent spores from spreading to other areas of your home. If that is not possible and the mildew is dry, use your vacuum's dusting or upholstery attachment to suction away the mold.
Follow the methods for deep cleaning to help clean away remaining spores and restore the finish of the wood.
When to Call a Professional
If you suspect your wood furniture piece is an antique or collectible crafted by a revered wood maker, have the item evaluated by a professional appraiser before you polish or deep clean the wood. Depending on the region and the item being assessed, it can cost between $25 and $300 an hour to get a qualified appraisal.
Remember that good-quality solid wood furniture has longevity. Even if furniture joints are starting to loosen or scratches have overtaken a furniture piece, it's considerably cheaper to repair than replace. And, it's significantly better for the environment to reuse or upcycle than discard.
A furniture repair professional can repair and restore wooden furniture, making it look new. They can sand and fill gouges, dents, or unsightly scratches or cracks in the wood. If you're tired of the color or want it to match another wood tone in your home, they can color-match it, paint it, stain it, and protect it. Furniture woodworkers charge about $30 per hour. Depending on the amount of work needed and size of the piece, it can cost on average $150 to $300 to fix a smaller piece of furniture. Considering that new furniture pieces can cost thousands of dollars, furniture repair or refurbishment can be a great deal.
Dust mite allergy. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Control indoor allergens to improve indoor air quality. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Merrick, Levine et al. The glow of grime: Why cleaning an old object can wash away its value. Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 14, no. 5, pp. 565-572, 2019.