How to Clean Wood Furniture Finishes

Many different types of wood finishes are used on furniture and they all need to be cleaned in different ways with different cleaners. For everyday wood care, follow these tips:

  • Dust in the direction of the grain. Years of doing this help hold onto distinctive patterns in the wood.

  • Any soft cloth will do, but clever cloths made from microfibres scoop up and hang onto dust so that you don’t merely shift it somewhere else.

  • Go easy on the spray polish. Over time, polish residue dulls wood. Many people reach for the spray can simply because they love that just-polished smell. If that’s you, get an air freshener and give your wood a break.

    Type of Finish Method
    Paint Neat washing-up liquid is an effective grease and stain shifter on this hard-wearing surface.
    Stain Damp dust only, if possible. Otherwise treat as unsealed wood.
    Unsealed Wash down with water or a soapy washing-up liquid solution, applied from a cloth, not directly on the wood. Rinse and dry promptly. Do not leave wet.
    Varnish Damp dust and avoid over-wetting precious items. Treat tough spots with a solution of diluted washing-up liquid. Polish with a chamois leather cloth or spray polish, applied on a cloth.
    Veneer Clean with care. The fine top layer of wood may or may not be varnished and a thin varnish can easily bubble up in water. If unsealed, damp dust only. If covered with a hard-wearing synthetic coating, wash sparingly with a sponge dipped in soapy washing-up liquid. Rinse and dry.
    Wax Detergent dulls the wax, so use soapflakes instead. Buy a ready-mixed soapy wood cleaner to make this easy. Make up the solution and dip your cloth into it. Don’t get the Table overly wet. Dry with a soft cloth.

Use beeswax polish only on wood that hasn’t been lacquered. The lacquer prevents the wax from penetrating, so why waste your time simply smoothing it on the top?

Varnished or lacquered wood is able to withstand mild cleaning products provided that you use minimal water. Take care not to soak the wood or, worse, let a wet cleaning solution gather on the surface.

Very dilute white vinegar removes surface stickiness on antique furniture. Add a few drops of vinegar to a cup of water, then dip your cloth into the solution and wring it out.

If you want to improve air quality, the dusty places that you can’t see are as important as those that you can. Fresh, dust-free air in bedrooms means a better sleep and an end to morning sneezing.

So use a step-stool and a duster on a pole to dust the tops of wardrobes and other tall dust-catchers. Or why not cheat if your wardrobes have a top pelmet (valance)? Simply drop sheets of newspaper onto the top of your wardrobes and every so often carefully lift off the papers and drop them and the dust that’s with them into the rubbish.

You’ll need to do this with care, however, otherwise you’ll set off a dust storm. So take a large tray with you and stand on a step-stool in front of the wardrobe. Lay a clean sheet of newspaper on top of the dusty one. Fold the edges of both papers into the centre – and drop the lot onto your tray, ready to parcel up with the rubbish.

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