How to clean wooden furniture
Homeowners have long appreciated the beauty, versatility, and sturdiness of wooden furniture, and most importantly, they appreciate its low maintenance. As the ideal houseplant for brown thumbs, wooden furniture survives on its own, requiring little intervention. However, from time to time, whether due to accident or normal wear and tear, you will need to know how to clean wooden furniture to renew its appearance and ensure its longevity. When that inevitable day arrives, follow these steps to restore a wood finish to pristine condition without inadvertently causing damage.
If you are certain of the finish of your wood furniture (paint, stain, or other treatment), use a cleaning method appropriate for that specific wood finish. Otherwise, it’s best to clean furniture in stages, starting with a mild cleaner that poses no risk to the integrity of the finish, then moving to a stronger solution only if the milder one fails. Doing it this way means you can safely clean wooden furniture without knowing exactly what you’re dealing with.
STEP 1: Dish Soap
Start with perhaps the humblest of household cleaners: liquid dish soap.
- Add a drop of liquid dish soap to a cotton ball soaked in water.
- Next, wipe the cotton ball on an inconspicuous part of the furniture, such as the inside of a chair leg.
If the detergent ruins the finish in your test area, continue without the dish soap. If the test area shows no signs of damage, it is safe to continue. Mix water and dish soap in a bucket and use this solution to mop the entire piece of furniture. Do not soak the wood; this is a common mistake. Instead, lightly brush the sponge over the surface and don’t let the liquid linger for long. Dry well.
STEP 2: Mineral spirits
If you want to see if you can make your furniture a little cleaner, the next thing to try is mineral spirits. One-liter containers usually sell for $10 or $15 (see on Amazon). Be sure to follow the printed instructions for safe use. For one, working in a well-ventilated area is a must.
Although mineral spirits are safe for wood finishes, you should always test the treatment on an inconspicuous part of the furniture to be sure. If you don’t see any discoloration, wipe the furniture with a clean cloth dampened (but not dripping) with mineral spirits. Finish by wiping off any cleaner residue with a water-dampened cloth, inspecting the wood for imperfections as you go.
In many cases, mineral spirits can remove years of dirt.
STEP 3: Consider refinishing
If the finish reacted negatively when you tested mineral spirits on your furniture, don’t push your luck, move on. You will likely need to touch up the part to truly restore it.
Note: To determine what type of finish is currently on your furniture, dab some denatured alcohol on a cotton swab and test it in a small, inconspicuous area. If the finish dissolves, it’s probably shellac. If the finish is alcohol resistant, it is probably oil, lacquer, varnish or polyurethane.
STEP 4: Prevent future damage
If, on the other hand, you’re happy with the results of your cleaning efforts (or don’t want to do any refinishing), you might want to protect your furniture from future damage. To do this, opt for a furniture wax product, such as Howard Feed-N-Wax (see on Amazon) or Daddy Van’s (see on Amazon). Apply the wax liberally with a cheesecloth, always making sure to rub in the direction of the grain of the wood. Then buff with a clean cloth.
Note: Always dust wooden furniture with soft, lint-free cloths. Avoid feather dusters, as they aren’t as effective and sometimes have sharp prickles that can scratch the surface of the wood.