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How to clean grime off wood furniture

Want to learn how to clean grime off wood furniture? Our step by step guide will show you how to get your wood gleaming.

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Close up of hand cleaning permanent marker from a wooden surface

Sometimes, regular dusting isn’t enough to clean grime off wood furniture. Over time, hand oils, cooking vapours and cleaning products can build up to leave a sticky layer on the surface of wood that’s hard to remove. We show you how to clean grime off wood furniture with this simple cleaning technique to restore its beauty.

How to clean grime off wooden furniture

This quick and effective method will teach you how to clean wood and lift off years of embedded grime and buildup from your favourite pieces – whether you’re looking to clean pine furniture or salvage your favourite oak armchair.

While there are several methods for removing sticky residue from wood, using mineral spirits is one of the best ways to banish any buildup and remove grime from wood.

However, as a precautionary measure it’s advised that you test this treatment on an inconspicuous area of the furniture first. If discolouration occurs, then refinishing your piece may be the best option and you should seek professional advice. Otherwise, you’re good to go.

You will need:

  • Microfibre cloth
  • Clean cloth for drying
  • Cheesecloth (optional)
  • Bottle of mineral spirits
  • Wax polish (optional)

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Method

  1. Dust your furniture

    Dampen a clean, dry cloth (non-scratching and preferably microfibre) with some water and gently wipe the surface. The moisture will collect the dust, but be careful not to saturate the wood.

  2. Use mineral spirits

    Apply a liberal amount of mineral spirits to another clean, dry cloth. Be careful not to use too much by soaking the wood.

  3. Wipe the surface

    Wipe the cloth over the wood surface in the direction of the grain, paying extra attention to the particularly grimy areas. The dirt should start to lift up straight away.

  4. Clean off residue

    Wipe away any residue from the mineral spirit with the clean, slightly damp cloth you used in step 1. You may need to give this a few goes depending on the size of the furniture.

  5. Wipe away moisture

    Dry away any moisture straight away with a clean, dry cloth. It’s important you don’t leave any damp on the surface.

  6. Polish and buff

    This step isn’t essential, but more of a protective measure. Apply some wax polish with a cheesecloth, rubbing in the direction of the grain. Give it a good buff.

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How to clean wood furniture

Knowing how to clean dirt off wood and remove stains from furniture is usually a simple process, but in order to preserve wood's beauty, the key is knowing what products to use.

Unless your furniture has a protective coating, avoid cleaning it with water or commercial cleaning products not specifically designed for wood – when using these, always follow the instructions on the label.

(Always test any cleaning method on a small, inconspicuous area first to ensure that it’s suitable for your furniture.)

  1. Dust the wood Using a clean, damp cloth that’s been dipped in some water, gently wipe the surface of your furniture. Do not soak the wood, which could cause damage and marks.

  2. Target any grease or sticky spots with a gentle cleaning solution of soap or mild detergent dissolved in water, using a clean, damp cloth to spot-treat the affected area.

  3. Dry the surface Once the mark has been removed, rinse carefully and wipe with a dry cloth.

  4. Treat stubborn stains such as watermarks on wood or alcohol spots can also be cleaned, but will require a stronger solution such as a wood cleaning product. For advice on tackling other stubborn marks to your furniture, read our handy guide on how to remove wood stains.

  5. Give your wood furniture a polish If your furniture has a finish, refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines to check which polishing products are suitable, as this can vary.

Note: Different woods occasionally need different cleaning products, so try to determine the tree your furniture was made from before you apply or purchase a wood cleaning product.

How to clean wood furniture with vinegar

Vinegar is the trusted weapon of choice for many cleaning solutions and is a safe and natural way to clean dirt off wood. Its secret ingredient is acetic acid, a powerful agent in tackling the removal of dirt, grease and grime from wood. White vinegar is best for cleaning wood, but it can still have a slight odour. To combat this, you may prefer to buy odourless vinegar, or you can add a few drops of essential oils, such as lemon, to your white vinegar solution.

  1. Dust your wood Use a moistened and clean cloth that’s been dipped in some water and wipe the entire surface to remove any dust residue.

  2. Mix vinegar solution Measure one part white vinegar (odourless if you prefer) with one part water. Add essential oil, if you are using it.

  3. Test on an inconspicuous area first While vinegar is suitable for all types of wood, it may have an adverse effect on some wood finishes. If it doesn’t damage the wood, continue to the next step.

  4. Use a cheesecloth Dip an area of the clean cheesecloth into the solution and wring it out to make sure it isn’t dripping.

  5. Wipe the furniture Rub the cloth in circular motions, making sure you follow the direction of the grain.

  6. Dry the wood Use a clean, dry cloth to wipe across the surface and absorb any moisture. If there are still marks, you can repeat the above step.

  7. Buff the furniture Finish by using circular movements to buff the entire surface of your furniture with a soft, clean cloth.

  8. Treat any scratches Mixing together a solution of two parts olive oil and one part vinegar. The oil will help to restore and replenish dry wood and remove scratches, while the vinegar will help lift out stains. This solution can also help with removing water marks. Simply follow steps 1-7 above, replacing water with olive oil.

Top tips for polishing wood furniture

Now you know how to remove grime from wood furniture, you might want to polish your furniture as a protective measure. It only needs to be done a few times a year, but for lasting results it’s important you do it properly. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Some fragile or antique wooden items may be unsuitable for use with commercial polish spray or wax, so always read the manufacturer’s instructions first. As you will end up using the same polish time after time, it is worth finding a product that will buff up your furniture beautifully.

  • Always test any polish on a small inconspicuous area first. Once you’ve checked your polish or wax is suitable, dust your wooden furniture with a clean, dry cloth to remove any lingering dirt.

  • Apply some polish, lightly rubbing on the wax along the surface grain to form a thin coat. Leave it to dry before buffing to a clear shine with a clean, soft cloth. For your safety, always clean in a well-ventilated area.

Originally published