If you look after solid wood furniture and clean it regularly, not only will it last a very long time, but it will also look good for many years. If you don’t look after it, you will find that it becomes dirty and possibly also greasy and grimy. If it is neglected, cleaning solid wood furniture becomes much more involved. The same applies to furniture that has a visual build-up of polish, oil or wax.
If solid wooden furniture is badly neglected, even more drastic measures may be needed. For instance you may have to sand and even bleach the wood and then work on achieving a totally new finish.
There are various proprietary products that we can use to clean our furniture, but to a large extent your choice will be guided by the finish that has been applied to the wood. In other words the finish on your wooden furniture and the product you use to clean it both need to be compatible.
Finishes for Wood Furniture
Up until the early part of the 20th century, most wooden furniture was either French polished, or it was given one or more coats of varnish or some sort of lacquer. The most complicated of these finishing methods is undoubtedly French polish. Caring for furniture that has been French polished can also be demanding.
Way back in the 18th century, wood furniture was traditionally finished with a mixture of beeswax and brick dust. French polish, which was given its name due to the Frenchman who first devised the rather elaborate polishing method, then became the primary method of finishing high quality wood furniture (nobody bothered much with cheap items).
French polish creates a deep, lustrous finish that highlights the beauty of the wood grain, and provides a protective coating that needs only the occasional wax polish treatment to maintain it. The problem though is that the surface is not particularly tough, so any scratches and spills need to be attended to immediately. If, for instance, you spill nail varnish on a French polished table, you will lift the polish when you remove the nail varnish – and ultimately the entire table top is likely to need to be re-polished from scratch.
Today varnish, as such, is not favored, largely because it usually contains a stain that tends to alter and deaden the appearance of the wood. There are now a variety of sealants on the market (many that are clear, some that are tinted). These include polyurethane that can be used to produce a lovely sheen on the surface of wood. Antique wax and furniture oils are also available, and widely used.
The Best Ways to Clean Wood Furniture
The main products that people use to clean their wood furniture are those that are sold at supermarkets, general stores and hardware outlets. They include wax products, various oils, and products that are packaged into spray cans. Apart from wax, many products do not penetrate the surface of the wood, which means that they don’t actually “feed” the wood, in spite of claims and or a belief that they do. However, some of these products do have the ability to fill fine scratches and blemishes, thus adding protection to the surface and making it a lot easier to dust clean.
Having said that the finish given to wood furniture determines largely the way it is cleaned leads to the premise that certain products suit certain finishes. For instance, contemporary wood furniture that has been protected with hard-wearing lacquer usually only needs to be wiped clean with a damp cloth. If you spot finger marks on the surface, use a damp chamois leather to clean them off and then rub firmly with a soft, clean duster. If necessary you can also use a little furniture cream or spray polish on lacquered finishes from time to time.
If the item has been French polished, rubbing the surface with a soft, clean cloth is usually ample. You can also polish it now and then with a little wax or even with a tiny bit of furniture cream. Sticky marks should be removed immediately with a cloth soaked in warm, soapy water and then wrung out. If anyone spills alcohol (wine seems to be common problem, especially on dining tables), wipe it up immediately. Some people say that rubbing the area with the palm of your hand helps to restore some of the oil that the alcohol inevitably takes out of the wood.
Furniture that has been waxed should be cleaned in the same way as furniture that is French polished. Don’t use coarse rags or wax or polish that has been colored.
If you furniture has been varnished or sealed with some other proprietary product, it is usually sufficient to wash the surfaces with warm water and a little washing up liquid. Be sure to rinse with clean water and wipe dry.
Take special care when cleaning veneered surfaces because if liquid gets in under the veneer it can cause it to bubble – which is a dead giveaway that the wood is not solid.
Solid wood furniture that has not been finished or sealed in any way can be scrubbed clean and then oiled when they are completely dry.
How to Treat Stains and Marks on Solid Wood Furniture
No matter how careful you are, chances are that you’ll have to deal with spills and stains at some time or another.
- Drink stains, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and milk, should be mopped up immediately. Rub the palm of your hand over the spot, and/or wipe the surface with a little furniture oil or polish.
- Hot tea or coffee should also be mopped up immediately. If there is a heat mark on the surface, remove with methylated spirits or white spirit. When the damaged spot is totally dry, re-color wood if necessary and then polish first the damaged area, and the whole surface. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try.
- Blood and urine should be removed as quickly as possible. Blood is unlikely to stain treated wood, but if the wood hasn’t been treated you will have to sand the surface lightly and then swab with a little hydrogen peroxide – which is, of course, bleach. Use polish or oil to restore the surface color and feel.
- Adhesives of all types should be removed before they dry. Then rub the mark with salad oil or a little smooth peanut butter. You can also try cold cream.
- Candle wax, grease, fat and oil from food can usually be removed with a little lighter fuel. If the surface is veneered, cover the mark thickly with talcum powder and then several layers of tissue. Iron with a warm, dry iron to lift the wax or oil from the surface.
Homemade Furniture Products
If you really want to go back to basics, why not make your own furniture polish? An excellent recipe can be quickly whisked up using equal quantities of boiled linseed oil (don’t use raw linseed oil and don’t try and boil your own), turpentine oil (which is not as harsh as mineral turpentine) and ordinary white spirit vinegar. Mix the ingredients together well, pour into a bottle with a lid, and shake well. Apply the polish with a soft cloth and then wipe it off until the surface appears to be “dry”. Then polish with a soft, clean cloth or duster.
And here’s a homemade mixture that will remove polish build-up quickly and effectively. Combine a half cup of vinegar with half a cup of warm water. Immerse a clean, soft cloth in the liquid and then wring it out. Rub the surface using firm, even movements. Then dry with a clean, dry cloth.