How to Get Wax off Wood

Melted candle with wax on wood
Alicia Llop / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 20 mins - 1 hr, 20 mins
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Furniture makers, wood artisans, and floor installers have been using wax to protect and beautify wood for centuries. Wax is not as water- and scratch-resistant as today's polymer finishes; however, it does give a warm glow to most types of wood. The problems begin when the wax isn't wanted, like when a candle drips and puddles of wax accumulate on a wood surface. (Some candles even contain dye that can leave a permanent stain.) We'll explore different ways to remove wax from wood surfaces.

Before You Begin

The most important rule when removing wax from wood is to not cause additional damage to the finish. The correct method depends upon the type of wood finish on the floor or furniture—wood surfaces can have a polyurethane finish, be painted, or be unfinished, raw wood. Always start with the most gentle, basic steps and then move on to advanced wax removal as needed. Be patient and work slowly!

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Plastic scraper
  • Hairdryer
  • Iron
  • Old cloths
  • Handheld vacuum
  • Stiff-bristled nylon brush

Materials

  • Distilled vinegar
  • Ice
  • Plastic bag
  • Furniture polish
  • Olive oil
  • Talcum powder

Instructions

Basic Wax Removal for Every Type of Wood Surface

  1. Allow the Wax to Cool

    Allow the dripped wax to cool completely and harden before you attempt to remove it. If you are in a rush, place an ice cube in a plastic food storage bag and put it on the wax for 10 to 20 seconds.

  2. Scrape Away Gently

    Use the edge of an old credit card or a plastic scraper—never metal!—to pop the hardened wax off of the wood surface. Do not use a heavy hand and keep the edge of the plastic flat against the wood surface—no gouging.

  3. Remove the Loose Wax

    Use a soft cloth or your fingers to pick up the loose pieces of wax.

  4. Clean and Polish the Wood Surface

    To remove any small traces of wax that remain or stains from colored wax on light wood finishes, dip a soft cloth in a mixture of one part distilled white vinegar and two parts water. Wring the cloth well so it is just damp. Wipe the surface following the grain of the wood. Move to a clean area of the cloth as the wax is transferred.

    Finish by buffing the surface with a soft, dry cloth or apply a light coat of furniture polish.

    Tip

    A few drops of olive oil on a soft cloth makes a beautiful furniture polish for finished wood surfaces.

Using Heat to Remove Tough Wax Stains

If the wax is still visible, you can try using heat to lift the wax from the wood.

  1. Select the Iron Temperature

    Allow the iron to heat on the lowest temperature setting. Do not use a steam setting. If you do not have an iron, use a handheld hairdryer set on medium heat.

  2. Cover the Wax Stain

    Cover the wax stain with an old cloth. Use a cloth that is larger than the stain to protect adjacent wood from the heat of the iron.

  3. Heat and Absorb the Wax

    Place the iron flat on the cloth directly over the wax stain for 15 to 20 seconds. The heated wax will be absorbed into the towel. If you do not see an oily spot on the towel, repeat the heat for another 15 seconds. Move to a clean section of the old towel as the wax is absorbed and continue heating until all of the wax is gone.

    If using a hairdryer, follow the same procedure but direct the hot air from the hairdryer onto the cloth over the stain.

  4. Polish and Buff the Wood Surface

    Use a clean cloth to buff the wood. Use a bit of furniture polish, if needed.

Wax Removal From Rough, Unfinished Wood

  1. Harden the Wax

    Use some ice cubes in a plastic bag to harden the wax. It should take less than 30 to 60 seconds for the wax to become hard.

  2. Scrape Away Surface Wax

    Use a plastic scraper or edge of a credit card to remove as much of the surface wax as possible. Hold the plastic edge flat against the wood surface and pop off the wax.

  3. Absorb the Wax From the Wood

    Since raw, unfinished wood often has grooves or a porous surface, the wax is more difficult to remove. Sprinkle the area with talcum powder to help absorb the wax from the grooves.

  4. Apply Heat

    Follow the instructions for using an iron or hairdryer to heat the wax. Use a cloth over the talcum-powdered area to protect the rest of the wood. The talcum powder and the cloth will absorb the wax.

  5. Remove Any Residue

    Allow the wood to cool completely. Use a stiff-bristled nylon brush or a handheld vacuum to remove any talcum powder residue. Repeat the process if needed.

  6. Clean With Vinegar Solution

    If a stain remains on the wood from the oils in the wax, dip a cloth or brush in a solution of one part distilled white vinegar and two parts water. Follow the grain of the wood and wipe the stain. Allow the area to air-dry and repeat if needed.