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Cleaning Wood Furniture




Wood Furniture Cleaning

The type of finish on the wood, not the type of wood, determines how to care for it, clean it, and repair damage; so know what kind of finish it has. Finishes may be soft (oiled or stained) or hard (lacquer, shellac, varnish, or polyurethane), or painted. Ask when buying new furniture.

If you know which finish is on your wood furniture, follow the appropriate procedures. Excessive dampness, dryness, heat, or cold can damage wood furniture. Sunlight can change the color. Rubber or plastic mats should not be used unless marked safe for wood, since some may soften or stain the finish. Wipe up spills at once to prevent spots that require refinishing.

Polish not more than 3-4 times a year unless it gets heavy use, with a polish recommended for the kind of finish. Too much polish may build up a cloudy film; wipe off polish before it dries completely.

Do not mix types of polish. Oil causes wax to become gummy. Clean the furniture surface thoroughly before changing furniture care products.

Regular Cleaning

Vacuuming with a dusting brush attachment gently removes dust from furniture surfaces, preventing buildup. If no vacuum cleaner, use a clean soft cloth, turning it often, or soft paper towels to pick up dust. Dust furniture before vacuuming floors. If the finish is water resistant, a barely dampened towel or cloth will pick up dust.

Pads, mats and coasters on furniture, mats under vases, glasses, cups etc. protect them from spills and stains, and from heated objects. Do not use plastic or rubber on natural wood surfaces as they may soften and damage finish. Use felt under objects set on top of furniture that could scratch it.

Test For Existing Finish on Furniture

Rub a few drops of boiled linseed oil into the wood
If it absorbs, the wood has an oil finish.
If it beads up, the wood has a hard finish
Rub acetone over a spot in a gentle, circular motion
Polyurethane finishes shed acetone like water
Lacquer dissolves in 30 seconds with rubbing.
Varnishes and shellacs turn to a sticky, gel-like substance after a minute or two (continue)
Try a few drops of denatured alcohol
Shellac dissolves quickly in denatured alcohol
Varnish reacts slowly


Cleaning Outdoor Furniture

Outdoor furniture generally pleads for cleaning at the first sign of spring. Remember always test an inconspicuous spot before using a new cleaner.

Mix a bucket (make sure the bucket is clean) with liquid dish soap, some Borax and ½ cup hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water. Saturate the furniture thoroughly and allow to set for 15 minutes. Scrub with a nylon scrub brush and rinse. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's guidelines for cleaning. Some fabrics will not tolerate peroxide.

If any of the metal has rusted, first try using a rust remover found in automotive stores. If the rust refuses to budge, use a #800 emery paper and dry sand paper to sand the metal and repaint.


Cleaning Paneled Walls and Woodwork

Regular removal of dust with a soft cloth or a vacuum cleaner brush is all the cleaning needed for most real wood paneled walls and woodwork. Occasionally, if soil sticks to the surface, clean with a commercial cleaner made for wood paneling, or a cleaning wax made for wood, following directions exactly. Always test a cleaner you have not tried before on a small inconspicuous area to be sure it does not damage the finish of the wood, before starting to clean. (See Hardboard note below.)

In cleaning wood, the type of finish is most important in deciding what to use so that the finish is not injured. The type of wood is not important, except when color is a consideration. Wood paneling and woodwork, with heavy, longtime buildup of grease and dirt may need stronger treatment. Moisten a cloth with mineral spirits and test by rubbing on a hidden spot to be sure it doesn't damage the wood finish. If satisfactory, use to rub on a small area of the soiled woodwork, turning the cloth.

  • Caution: Most solvents are very flammable and dangerous to breathe! Open doors and windows for ventilation. Be sure there are no sparks or flames (such as pilot lights) in the area! As solvent cleaning removes oily residues, it also may dull a waxed finish. Apply a wax suitable for wood finish. Usually this will be a solvent-based wax which must be polished. Some spray-type solvent-based waxes will not need heavy polishing, but one must avoid spraying them on other surfaces.

Hardboard and Simulated

Hardboard panels are often made to look like wood or other building materials and have a plastic coating which can be washed with detergent solutions and rinsed like painted walls. If very dirty, use a stronger solution, testing first in a hidden spot to be sure it doesn't damage the finish; or use a commercial household cleaner whose label says it's safe for painted walls, and rinse thoroughly. Do not use solvents on hardboard or particleboard panels, as it may damage the surface.




Stained but not forgotten...


Whether it’s a splash of salad dressing, a drop of barbeque sauce, or a full assault of coffee, stains happen. They happen to the cautious as well as the careless and usually when we least expect it.

These tips are for washable fabrics only. Always test for color-fastness in an inconspicuous spot first.

Here are a couple of quick tips I’ve gathered:

Red Wine
Salt is great for “holding” red wine at bay until the item can be washed. This has saved countless pairs of jeans and blouses.

Shampoo is great for getting out cosmetic stains.

WD – 40 is great at getting out greasy stains (salad dressing, lipstick and butter). Spray on the stain, wait about ten minutes, and work in undiluted dishwashing soap – launder in the hottest water possible for the fabric.