How to Clean Wood Furniture

Hand cleaning wood furniture
Jovo Marjanovic / EyeEm / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 5 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 5 mins - 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Almost every home has pieces of furniture made from or accented with wood. As a natural element, wood brings warmth and versatility to almost any design style. While wood is durable and easy to care for, it does need to be cleaned properly to maintain its good looks.

How Often to Clean Wood Furniture

Food and drink spills should be cleaned away immediately. Too much liquid can cause wood to darken and warp or the finish to become cloudy.

Weekly dusting will remove the small particles that can scratch the surface of wood furniture. Use your favorite furniture polish once a month to bring a shine and help buff out any small scratches or nicks.

Depending on how often you polish the furniture, it will eventually need a deeper cleaning. This should be done when the finish looks dull or has darkened.

Warning

If you feel that your wood furniture is a valuable antique, do not touch the finish beyond weekly dusting. Have the item evaluated by a professional appraiser before you polish or deep clean the wood. Overzealous cleaning can reduce the value of the furniture significantly.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Microfiber cloths
  • Cotton cloths
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Rubber gloves

Materials

  • Disposable electrostatic dusters
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Tea bags
  • Mineral spirits
  • Cotton balls and cotton swabs

Instructions

Routine Cleaning of Wood Furniture

  1. Clean Away Spills

    Use a paper towel or soft cloth to blot away liquid spills and condensation from drinks immediately. 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.

  2. Dust Regularly

    Use a microfiber cloth or a disposable electrostatic duster like Swiffer to remove dust. Don't forget the legs, arms, and smaller wood supports of the furniture. After dusting, use a soft cotton cloth to buff the surfaces to remove smudges and create a shine.

  3. Remove Heavy Grime

    If the wood has been in storage or has been neglected, mix a solution of one teaspoon of dishwashing liquid to two quarts of water. Dip a sponge or soft cloth into the solution and wring until it is only slightly damp.

Deep Cleaning Wood Furniture

Too much polish or wax can leave the surface of wood furniture looking cloudy or dark. There are several ways to clean it away. To protect the wood, start with the most gentle method and progress to stronger methods only if needed.

  1. Use Black Tea

    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 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, buffing to a shine.

  2. 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 grain of the wood. Move to a clean area of the rag as the grime is transferred. Finish by buffing the wood with a soft, dry cloth.

Tackle Problem Stains on Wood Furniture

  1. Water Rings

    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.

  2. Ink Marks

    Dip a damp soft cloth in some dry baking soda and rub the stained area gently until the stain disappears. Use a clean damp cloth to wipe away any baking soda residue and dry with a soft cloth.

    The baking soda may dull the finish slightly, so use some wood polish to bring back the shine.

  3. 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 area of the cloth 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.

  4. 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 the dusting/upholstery attachment of your vacuum to suction away the mold.

    Follow the methods for deep cleaning to help clean away remaining spores and restore the finish of the wood.