Sometimes the furniture that you find, thrift, or have been charitably gifted (thanks Uncle Larry for the dilapidated chair) is filthy and barely discernable as something that would reside in a home. It takes a keen eye to spot a diamond in the rough.

If you have a tugging feeling that there might be something special there, I say give it a chance. Bring it home and give it some elbow grease. You might be able to return it to its original glory.

I have an old wood dresser that I inherited from my mom when she passed away. She had it since forever and it’s simple presence in my home makes me feel closer to her.

My project for the week was to give this family heirloom a once-over. I’m no expert so I like to keep wood cleaning on the non-invasive side, using mostly household products.

Whether you’re cleaning a family heirloom or a piece you found at the side of the road, there are some tips to make the job easier. It can be super intimidating to visit the wood care section at the hardware store. Rows and rows of tins, tubs, and tubes, so I’m here to help. 


  1. Remove dirt & dust

If the piece is very muddy, dusty, or dirty start with a once over with a damp rag. Soak the rag with warm water and dish soap solution and ring out the rag well before using. Make sure to work out any sticky spots with your damp cloth.

Dry the piece with a microfiber cloth after the water soap solution.

If the piece isn’t super dirty but kind of dusty you can skip the water soap solution step and go straight to a once-over with a microfiber cloth.

It’s important to remove the dirt and dust so that the oil treatment used can penetrate the wood.

2. Treat the wood

Choose the wood care product that’s right for your intended outcome.

There are a variety of wood care options available at the hardware store and it can be intimidating. Let me break down the products for you:

  • Wood Oil: Replaces the natural oil in wood that will dry out over time. It will add a natural tint to the wood, but not as dramatically as a stain would. Oil also protects the wood from further damage.

Common types of wood oil are Danish Oil, thin oil that can be used for most projects. Linseed Oil is a rich oil that takes longer to absorb. Good to use for longevity so that you don’t need to oil consistently. Teak Oil beautifies the wood grain and is long-lasting. Commonly used for exterior furniture. Hard Wax Oil is a plant-based, food-safe product that is best for kitchen countertops, chopping boards, and butcher block.

  • Wood Varnish is used to protect the wood. It’s good practice to use a varnish on pieces that get a lot of wear and tear, like coffee tabletops.
  • Wood Stain is used to change the colour of the wood but offers no protection.
  • Wood Polish, commonly used for hardwood floors, offers a protective coat with no build-up. Comes in liquid or spray options.
  • Wood Cleaner is intended for removing dirt and stains but not to treat the wood on its own. Commonly used for decks. Some cleaners also include oil which makes it great for general furniture cleaning and care.

Check to see if your product requires protective gloves before using it. Also, a good idea to wear a mask and work in a ventilated place.

Using an old clean sock, rub the oil into the piece following the grain. Start with a small amount and work your way up depending on how dry the wood is. Let it stand for 30 minutes and then wipe clean with a dry rag. Immediately after applying the oil, the wood might feel sticky. That’s normal and will go away once it’s dried.  

3. Clean the Hardware

The tough part about cleaning hardware is knowing what your hardware is made of. If you’ve thrifted the piece, you might not have a clue. It’s important that you know because cleaning with the wrong thing could tarnish your hardware.

Common hardware materials are brass, steel, wood, plastic, and glass.

Here’s a sneaky trick to help you find out what your hardware is:

Brass is a common material used for furniture pulls and it is not magnetic. If you touch a magnet to the pull and it magnetizes then you know you’re dealing with a steel pull.  Some hardware is steel with brass plating – in this case, you need to be careful about your cleaner. You don’t want to unintentionally damage the brass platting.  

Safe & easy cleaning methods for each material:

Brass (vinegar method): Remove hardware and place in a large stock pot filled with vinegar. Bring vinegar to a low boil and leave for 4 minutes. Remove the Hardware and let it cool. Buff it up a bit with a very fine steel wool
Brass plated steel (soapy water method): Place in a bowl of soapy water. Clean with a toothbrush.
Wood (vinegar & water method): spray with a vinegar & water solution and scrub with a toothbrush. Dry well. Don’t soak the hardware.
Plastic & Glass (glass cleaner): I like to use glass cleaner if they’re dirty, otherwise vinegar, water, and lemon spray will work well.

4. Removing White Rings

I’m terrible for remembering to use a coaster, and my four-year-old is no better, so there are white rings on all our wooden surfaces.

For light water stains, mix equal parts vinegar and olive oil and work the stain with a soft cloth. Wipe clean when you’re done.

For dark water stains you’re going to need something stronger and some sand paper. A dark stain means the moisture has penetrated the wood. To remove it, sand down with a fine sand paper and use a mold and mildew cleaner. Once the spot has dried, you’ll be able to stain or varnish the spot to match the wood.

5. Treat sticky drawers

This happens because the wood has dried out. The simple solution is to moisturize the wood. You can buy nylon drawer slide tape to fix the problem, but I usually use candle wax or heavy bar of soap because it’s handy.

Remove draws and rub the drawer slides with wax or soap. Put the drawers back in and voilà!

What a professional can help with

If you’re dealing with an heirloom or something that you’re too nervous to work on, then you might want to hire a professional.

A wood restoration expert can help with restoration, refinishing, repair, and upcycling. Some of these providers also offer to pick up and deliver once the piece is finished.

The dresser is shining and the wood has been completely revived!

Until next week!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: