How To Clean And Restore Wooden Furniture

wooden furnitureYou may have a piece of slightly worn, scratched or soiled wooden furniture that needs to be restored so as to enhance its beauty. Stripping and refinishing the furniture is a time consuming process and is often not essential to restore the furniture to its near-original state. This article aims to familiarize you with a few methods of cleaning and restoring your wooden furniture which will help you to retain the original character of the piece of furniture.

These methods to be employed include cleaning the furniture, abrasion, over-coating with a new finish, re-amalgamation, padding and patching. Each of these processes is briefly explained below:

Cleaning the furniture

Cleaning and washing the wooden furniture depends on the type of dirt that has to be removed from the surfaces. It is important that water is used sparingly for cleaning up the dirt as it can loosen the glue that binds the wooden pieces together. Most commonly a mixture of gum turpentine, boiled linseed oil and hot water is used. A soft cloth dipped in the mixture and wrung out can be used to wipe the furniture. It is then buffed up using dry cloth. Cleaning removes accumulated soil, oils and built up polishes.

Alternately, a mixture of ammonia and water can be used to remove the dirt. However, the chances of it clouding the finish are higher. A mineral spirit wash can be used on soiled wood to remove grease, grime, wax and oils. The surface may then be polished using lemon oil or surface wax.

Abrasionwooden furniture sanding

You can use abrasion techniques to remove wax buildup, superficial stains and scratches on the wooden furniture pieces. A white ring on your furniture is usually on the top of the polish that sits on top of the finish. However, dark stains may already have made their way into the wood through the finish.

There are different mixtures that you can use as abrasive polish. A mixture of motor oil, paraffin oil and boiled linseed oil or a mixture of gum turpentine and boiled linseed oil can be applied as abrasive polish using 0000 steel wool. Care has to be taken to rub the mixture along the grain. If the stain is white and is superficial, you can try by dabbing a bit of toothpaste on a soft cloth and rubbing it over the stain.

Over-coating with new Finish

If the coat of finish has thinned out, then a new coat needs to be applied over the old one. The wooden surface is first cleaned as mentioned above to remove soils and wax. Then a coat of stain is applied in case the old layer is worn out. After the stain dries out thoroughly, you can apply a coat of clear finish. The best appearance is obtained when the same finish as the original one is applied (e.g., varnish over varnish or shellac over shellac). If what you applied is a coat of surface finish (not a penetrating oil finish) the best outcomes are got by wiping it with steel wool when completely dry and thereafter applying a coat of paste wax.


This process involves the removal of the damaged finish from the wooden furniture pieces using a solvent and then re-applying the solvent as the new finish. It is important to remember that every finish dissolves in a specific solvent: shellac – denatured alcohol, lacquer – thinner, varnish – commercial stripper, and penetrating oils – commercial stripper. The solvent is applied using steel wool or brush after cleaning the furniture pieces. The solvent is applied until the defects disappear. A coat of paste wax can then be applied to make it look like new.


It is the process of applying a layer of new finish over an old one. A roll of cotton cloth can be dipped in padding lacquer and rubbed over the surface quickly using rocking motions. As the lacquer dries quickly, care should be taken to see that cloth impressions are not there on the wood. Padding gives a glossy finish. A rub with steel wool gives a dull finish.


Patching is the method that you can use to remove defects such as large scratches or gouges from the surface. Shellac or wax sticks (you can use even crayons) in the same color as the wood can be melted and poured into the gouges with a slight excess on the top. This can be scraped away gently using a spatula or a razor blade till the surface becomes smooth. In case you expect that the specific part of the wooden furniture will be susceptible to more wear and tear in the future, it is a good idea to coat it with shellac and finish it with varnish or lacquer.

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