Steps for Cleaning and Restoring Old Wood Furniture

Steps for Cleaning and Restoring Old Wood Furniture

Homeowners love wood furniture because of its natural beauty and elegance, and it can also last for decades with the proper care.  The other great thing about wood furniture is that it will never go out of style.  No matter what your interior décor is like, wood furniture will make an excellent addition.

Because wood furniture is long lasting, many people may hang on to wood furniture and even put a piece in storage for years because of lack of space.  Whether your wood furniture is in storage or not, it will accumulate dirt, grime, and even stains over time that will affect its appearance.  It will take effective dusting, cleaning, and polishing to restore your wood furniture to a like new appearance.

In this guide, we will discuss the best methods for cleaning wood furniture including old wood furniture and newer pieces.  If you decide that cleaning your wood furniture is not enough, you can call the professionals of Furniture Medic by MasterCare Experts for wood furniture refinishing and restoration services.

Wood Furniture after restoration - Furniture Medic in West Chicago, IL

Avoid using silicon dust sprays on wood furniture

Dusting Old Wood Furniture

When cleaning your wood furniture, you should start with dusting.  Dust will consistently gather on the surface of your wood furniture and over time it can create a layer of filth.  Regular dusting will prevent this from happening and even protect the surface of your furniture from scratches. 

When dusting your wood furniture, make sure you remove the dust instead of pushing it around.  Otherwise, the dust will scatter into the air and eventually settle back down onto the surface of your furniture.  You should also avoid using silicon dust sprays on wood furniture. 

The following tools will remove the dust from the furniture:

  • Feather duster: Feather dusters remove dust without scratching wood surfaces.
  • Treated cloths: These lint-free cloths catch and hold dust and debris.
  • Lamb’s wool duster: Dust clings to these dusters because they contain lanolin which attracts dust. These tools are effective for curved areas that cannot be dusted easily with a cloth. 
  • Microfiber cloths: These lint-free cloths can be used to capture and remove dust. They work best when they are slightly damp.

How to Clean Old Wood Furniture

In some cases, dusting your wood furniture is as far as you will need to go.  If there is still dirt and grime on your wood furniture after dusting, then cleaning is necessary.  Wood furniture is somewhat delicate and should not be cleaned with just any product.  You should especially avoid all-purpose spray cleaners because they can harm the wood.

The best strategy for cleaning wood furniture is to start with the gentlest cleaning product and progress to stronger cleaning products if the furniture won’t come clean. 

Dish Soap

Start by using a mixture of water and dish soap as dish soap is one of the mildest household cleaners, yet still effective for removing dirt and grime.  However, it is sill possible for dish soap to cause damage to the finish of some wood furniture.  To test this, moisten a cotton ball and give it one drop of dish soap.  Wipe the cotton ball on a hidden part of the furniture to see if it damages the finish.  If it does not, then you can clean the piece with a water and dish soap solution.

Mix the dish soap with water in a bucket and use a sponge lightly over the surface of the furniture.  It is important to avoid soaking the wood or leaving the solution on the wood surface for too long.  Wood is porous and can absorb the water which will lead to watermarks, swelling, and other damage. 

If there is still grime left over after cleaning the furniture with this solution, you can try a cleaning solution that is a little stronger.

Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits are cleaners commonly used as paint thinners, and they can be used to remove tough dirt and grime from wood furniture.  These cleaners are odorless, but they should still be used in a well-ventilated area.  You should also follow the printed instructions when using a mineral spirt cleaner.

Mineral spirits should be safe to use on clear wood furniture finishes including varnish, lacquer, shellac, and polyurethane, but you should still test the cleaner on a hidden spot of the furniture to make sure.  If the mineral spirits do not affect the finish, then you can use the cleaner to treat your furniture.  Get a clean rag damp with the cleaner and buff away dirt and grime using circular motions.  After cleaning, buff the wood with a dry cloth to restore its shine.

Polishing Wood Furniture

Never use liquid or aerosol furniture polishes

Polishing Wood Furniture

Applying a furniture polish or wax to your wood furniture after cleaning it can help protect the finish and prevent surface damage like scratches.  There are two different types of wood polishes you can use to polish wood furniture; oil polishes and paste or liquid wax. 

Oil Polishes

Oil polishes create a slippery surface to protect wood furniture.  There are oil polish sprays available that you can use to treat your furniture and you can also make a homemade oil polish by combining equal parts olive oil, gum turpentine, denatured alcohol, and strained lemon juice.  Apply the oil polish using a soft cloth and then buff the furniture with a clean cloth.

There are a couple of drawbacks with oil polishes as they do not provide a protective hard surface like waxes and furniture treated with oil polishes will show fingerprints.  Oil polishes can also make it more difficult to refinish the furniture.

Furniture Waxes

Paste wax and liquid wax furniture polishes provide wood furniture with a long-lasting, hard finish that protects better than oil polishes.  A paste wax can last for up to two years while liquid waxes may need to be reapplied more often because they leave a thinner coating.  When applying a wax polish, you need to make sure you apply it correctly or it could cause streaks on the surface.  No matter which type of wax you are using, apply it in light coats and rub it in the direction of the wood grain.

These tips will help you apply furniture wax:

  • Put a spoonful of wax on a cotton cloth and knead the wax with the cloth until it is soft.
  • Rub the cloth on the surface of the furniture until the surface becomes dull.
  • Use a soft, clean cloth to wipe off excess wax.
  • Repeat these steps until you have waxed the entire piece.
  • If there is a streak, wipe away the excess wax until the streak disappears.
  • Apply a second coat for a deeper shine.

One thing to remember is that you should never use liquid or aerosol furniture polishes or dust spray because these products can dissolve the wax.  Dust waxed furniture with a lamb’s wool duster.

Cleaning Old Wood Furniture

When cleaning old wood furniture, you need to take a more delicate approach to avoid damaging it or affecting its appearance.  These steps will help you clean old or antique wooden furniture:

  • Get a commercial cleaning product and #0000 steel wool and follow the directions to apply the cleaner. Make sure you wipe the cleaner on with the grain.
  • You can restore the finish with a commercial finish restoring product and #0000 steel wool. Choose a restoring project that is as close to the wood stain as possible and apply it to a small section at a time using light to moderate pressure and working with the wood grain.  Use a clean, lint-free cloth to wipe the furniture clean after application.
  • Apply a wax-based conditioner monthly to protect against drying and cracking.

Cleaning and restoring old furniture can be a difficult job.  If you have antique wooden furniture and you want to make sure it is restored properly, call our professionals at Furniture Medic by MasterCare Experts.  We provide professional antique furniture restoration that will preserve your piece’s status as an antique.

Hope Chest in Wheaton, IL - Before Restoration

The longer mold sits on the furniture, the more damage it can cause

Cleaning Water Damage and Mold from Old Wood Furniture

Wood furniture can become affected by water damage and mold because wood is porous.  This means that wood absorbs water which can result in water marks, swelling, and buckling.  Water damaged wood furniture is also vulnerable to mold growth as mold forms on materials that provide it with moisture.  It is important to address water damage and mold on wood furniture to prevent the damage from getting worse.

Water Damaged Wood Furniture

The most common type of water damage on wood furniture is water marks from setting drinks directly on the surface.  If there is a water mark on your wood furniture, you can use the following steps to remove it:

  • Apply a non-gel toothpaste to the stain and use a soft cloth to rub it in until the stain is gone.
  • If the stain persists, use a mixture of equal parts baking soda and toothpaste instead.
  • Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe away the toothpaste and dry the area.

If the water stain won’t come out after taking these steps, it is possible that the water got underneath the finish.  In this case, the furniture will likely need to be stripped and refinished.  It may be best to call a furniture restoration professional like Furniture Medic by MasterCare Experts to handle the removal of deep water marks or the repair of buckling or cracking caused by water damage.

Cleaning Mold from Furniture

If you notice mold or mildew on your furniture, you should remove it immediately.  The longer mold sits on the furniture, the more damage it can cause.  Exposure to the mold can also make you and others in your home sick. 

These steps will help you remove light mold growth from your wood furniture.  If the mold growth is extensive, you may need to call our furniture restoration experts.

  • Use a soft brush attachment to vacuum the furniture and remove loose spores.
  • Dip a cloth in a mild soap solution, wring it well, and wipe the affected areas.
  • Immediately rinse the area and dry with a clean cloth.
  • Apply a wax furniture polish to keep it protected.

Old Wood Furniture Restoration from Furniture Medic by MasterCare Experts

By following the wood furniture cleaning tips mentioned above, you can improve the appearance of your wood furniture and protect it from surface damage and stains.  If your wooden furniture still looks worn out after cleaning, it will likely need to be refinished or restored by professionals.

Our professionals at Furniture Medic by MasterCare Experts provide wood furniture refinishing and restoration to restore the appearance of your wood furniture, and we can also restore antiques.  We even offer color matching services in which we will apply a new wood stain that matches the original wood stain to restore its appearance. 

You can call Furniture Medic by MasterCare Experts at (630) 653-3131 or use our Submit Your Project feature to get started.

Posted by Rick Armstrong