How To Clean Antique Wood Furniture

Knowing how to clean antique wood furniture is a necessary skill for anyone collecting antiques. Before cleaning, assess the condition of the antique wood furniture by answering these questions: Is there a large buildup of girt and dirt embedded in the varnish or shellac? Could light surface cleaning do the job? How stable is the finish on the piece?

Before starting to clean antique wood furniture, you need to assemble the following:

  • Well ventilated space
  • Paper towels
  • Rubber gloves
  • The finest grade of steel wool
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Lacquer thinner
  • A paintbrush
  • Metal putty knife
  • Linseed oil
  • Small disposable plastic or metal container
  • Trash bags
  • Oil soap
  • Furniture polish
  • Rags 

Light Cleaning 

  1. If there is only dust or surface grime on the piece, you can get away with just using warm water and oil soap . Be sure to dry the surface thoroughly with paper towels or a dry rag after applying water to ensure that no white water spots appear later.
  2. After trying this procedure, you can use a furniture polish to bring luster back to the surface of the furniture.
  3. Sometimes linseed oil can be used to clean a dusty piece of wood furniture.  Be sure to wipe any excess oil from the surface of the piece.

Deeper Cleaning

  1. Steel wool If you find that the wood furniture is gritty with dirt and grime, you may find that rubbing the surface with the finest steel wool soaked in denatured  will lift out most of the grit to clean antique wood furniture. Be sure to remove the dirt and denatured alcohol with paper towels while the surface is still wet.  You may want to repeat the whole procedure if the wood is not completely clean.
  2. After you have removed the dirt and grime, you should give the surface a final rubdown rubdown with a paper towel soaked in denatured alcohol. By drying the surface quickly, you ensure that it will have a smooth luster.

Deepest Cleaning

  1.  For furniture with sand like texture acquired from years of dirt and grime buildup, lacquer thinner applied with the finest steel wool should do the job. After the surface is wiped down with paper towels, go over the wood again with paper towels soaked in denatured alcohol. This will remove any residue. Be sure to dry thoroughly.
  2. If you find that the furniture is still gritty and in need of more cleaning, reapply lacquer thinner with the finest steel wool and follow the drying and denatured alcohol procedure again.
  3. Repeat this process until the surface of the furniture has a smooth luster.

 Stubborn Dirt: If none of the above methods work, you may need to employ more stringent measures.

  1. Rub the wood surface with the finest steel wool soaked in lacquer thinner and then take off the top layer of dirt with the aid of a putty knife. Be sure to have a plastic or metal container handy to deposit whatever dirt the putty knife takes off.
  2. Go over the area with denatured alcohol after taking the surface grime off with a putty knife.
  3. Wipe the denatured alcohol off the furniture as soon as possible.


  • Antique wood furniture should never be stripped unless it is coated with paint.
  • Stripping wood furniture takes the oils and natural resins out of the wood. 
  • Never bleach the wood.  Bleaching dries the wood completely.
  • Using lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol retains some of the old finish, which protects the wood.
  • If you find that your furniture doesn't have the luster or desired smoothness after you have cleaned it, you can apply a coat of shellac or varnish over the cleaned area.
  • Polyurethane takes away from the value of an antique piece. Only apply polyurethane if you don't care about resale value
  • When cleaning or stripping furniture, always deposit any soaked steel wool or paper towels into garbage bags. Never leave these garbage bags in a closed-in area.
  • Denatured alcohol, lacquer thinner or like materials are highly flammable..
  • Throw out the plastic or metal container used for depositing lacquer or denatured alcohol residue. 


 Antique Wood Furniture–Care and Cleaning

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