The Best Way To Clean Antique Wood Furniture

Introduction

Antique wooden furniture is beautiful and can add a lot of character to your home. But taking care of that furniture can be a little more challenging than taking care of more modern furniture. If you want to keep your antique wood furniture in the best possible condition, you’re in the right place.

In this article we’ll talk about the best way to clean antique wood furniture, and how you can identify what cleaning your wood furniture needs. There are a few steps to this process, but it’s not difficult once you know what to look for.

Let’s get started.

How To Clean Antique Wood Furniture

There are a few steps to cleaning antique wood furniture. Following these steps is important because there are a lot of different finishes antique wood furniture can have, and each finish might need slightly different care and cleaning.

Before You Start

The first step you need to do before you start is to determine the type of finish on your antique wood. Some products, even products designed to help you clean antique wood, are too harsh and can cause irreversible damage to the finish.

So, no matter what product you decide to use, the first step is to spot-treat a small spot in a less noticeable area. As long as there is no damage from the product in your spot test it’s probably safe to use.

But, if there is any discoloration or changes to the texture of the finish, that product isn’t a good match for the finish on your antique wood furniture.

A Simple Finish Test

Here is a simple test that will help you figure out what kind of finish you have on your antique wood furniture.

Get some denatured alcohol. Soak a cotton swab or Q-tip in the denatured alcohol and choose a small testing area on your furniture. This area should be out of sight most of the time since denatured alcohol may damage certain finishes.

If your finish dissolves in the denatured alcohol, that means you probably have a shellac finish. Shellac, unfortunately, is very hard to clean. However, you might be able to get an expert to remove your furniture’s finish and re-finish it with something that’s easier to care for.

That’s an extreme option, so let’s talk about how to clean most antique wood furniture finishes.

Best Way to Clean Antique Wood Furniture From Dirt

Here is the recommended way to clean antique wood furniture:

Supplies Needed:

  •       Oil soap
  •       Two cotton cloths/rags
  •       Small bowl
  •       Measuring cup
  •       Fork (to mix water and oil soap)
  •       Rubber gloves (optional)

Instructions:

 

  1. Don a pair of rubber gloves. (Optional but recommended)
  2. Pour one ounce of oil soap into six ounces of water.
  3. Mix with a fork.
  4. Gently press a dry, soft cloth into the oil soap and water mixture.
  5. Lift the cloth and wring excess water/soap mixture from it.
  6. Move the soapy cloth in small circular motions along the grain of the wood.
  7. Work along the wood grain, down the length of the furniture.
  8. Once you've worked the wood surface, use the dry cloth to wipe away any moisture.
  9. Gently rub the wood in small circular motions, making sure you get all the moisture out.
  10. Once you've gone over the furniture, if the wood is damp, use a fresh, dry cloth to remove any remaining moisture.

It’s important to clean with the grain of the wood in your furniture. Moving against the grain can streak or change the way the grain looks, which can affect the look of your furniture.

It’s also important to make sure you’re getting into all the details, especially in scrollwork and carved sections, so that the whole piece is thoroughly polished.

If you’re looking for a good oil soap for cleaning antique wood furniture, we’d recommend Murphy oil soap. Since this brand is 98% naturally derived, it's one of the gentlest and most effective oil soaps you can get, and it even smells good!

 

How to Clean Mildew on Antique Wood Furniture

Mildew can be a tricky stain to clean on anything, but it’s especially tricky on antique wood furniture. Thankfully, this process makes it much easier and will effectively take care of all or most of the staining from mildew.

Here’s how you do it.

Supplies Needed:

  •       Distilled white vinegar
  •       Air mask
  •       Goggles
  •       Rubber gloves
  •       3-4 Soft cotton cloths
  •       Linseed oil, olive or vegetable oil
  •       Small bowl
  •       Whisk or fork

Instructions:

  1. Clean the furniture with a soft cloth to remove superficial dust and debris.
  2. Mix oil and vinegar in a 1:1 ratio in the bowl using a whisk or fork.
  3. Dip a small area of the cloth into the mixture and work it into the wood along the wood grain in small circular motions.
  4. Wipe away the loosened mildew and residue with a clean dry cloth.

You may need to mix the oil and vinegar several times as you clean the furniture since it may separate while you work.

It's also worth experimenting with different oils to see which oil works best on your furniture, and how they affect the finished polish. While the differences are subtle, each oil can leave a slightly different sheen and color on your furniture.

Having soft cloths is especially important for cleaning antique furniture. You’ll need soft cloths for pretty much any cleaning for your antique wooden furniture, but it can be hard to know which options are best. Looking for facial cloths, like these bamboo facial washcloths, can help guarantee soft fabric that won’t harm your furniture’s finish.

 

Mineral Spirits to Clean Antiques

Mineral spirits are one of the most effective cleaners you can get for antique wooden furniture, but you’ll need to know how to use them to clean your furniture effectively.

Here’s what you need to know.

Supplies Needed:

  •       Soft, 100% cotton cloth
  •       Mineral spirits

Instructions:

  1. Dab a little mineral spirits on a clean cloth.
  2. Work quickly before the mineral spirits evaporate.
  3. Move the cloth in small circular motions along the grain of the wood.

After cleaning you may want to rehydrate the wood of your antique wooden furniture. That’s where mineral oils come in. This natural mineral oil for cutting boards and other wood furniture is an excellent option since it’s food-safe, effective, shelf-stable, and soaks completely into the wood within 4 hours. That way you don’t have to wait too long before you can start using your furniture again.

 

Optional Wax Application

Cleaning your furniture might be the last step, but you can also add a wax coating to help better protect your furniture and help it last longer between cleanings. The wax acts as an extra layer of protection and helps keep everything looking good and also helps keep the wood at the same moisture level, which is important for preservation.

Waxing your antique furniture is relatively simple, but it can add additional steps to the care of your antique wooden furniture.

Here is a specialized furniture wax we highly recommend for use waxing your antique wooden furniture. This blend is designed to offer a lot of protection while being easy to apply. The wax is based on beeswax and leaves an attractive matte finish that highlights the natural luster of antique wood.

Plus, this wax is both baby-safe and food-safe, so you can use it even in homes with small children.

Once you've waxed the furniture piece, you'll need a soft cloth to buff it by moving along the wood grain in small circular motions. Buffing the wax helps rub it into the wood, providing better protection. It also helps remove excess wax, so you don’t have any getting on your clothing or smudging. 


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