How to Clean Antique Wooden Furniture

If you own antique wooden furniture, you may be wondering how to clean it without damaging the furniture piece.

The good news is that you can easily learn how to clean antique wooden furniture. The bad news is that not all pieces can be cleaned.

Want to know more? Read on for our complete guide on the best way to clean old wood furniture.

We will also tell you exactly whether you can clean your piece or whether it needs to be handed to a professional.

How To Safely Clean Antique Wood Furniture

Step 1: Test & Inspect

For this first step, you want to check the finish of your wood. 

If your wood has a shellac finish, it must be completely refinished. But other finishes mean that you can go ahead and tackle the cleaning process yourself.

To test your wood finish, grab some denatured alcohol and a cotton swab.

Dip your swab into some denatured alcohol and apply it to the wooden piece.

how to clean antique wood furniture

You may want to choose an inconspicuous spot on the bottom of the furniture piece for this.

If the wood finish dissolves, you have a shellac finish, and you need to take your piece to a professional to have it refinished.

If the finish remains the same, you can move on to the next step and tackle the cleaning process yourself.

Step 2: Dust

Whether cleaning old mahogany furniture or simply cleaning your outdoor patio furniture, you cannot discount the importance of giving it a good dust before cleaning.

It is also an important part of maintaining your wooden furniture and the first step towards cleaning your wood furniture naturally.

how to clean antique walnut furniture

You can use a feather duster or even an old t-shirt or microfiber cloth. Run it over the surface of your furniture piece and ensure you get the dust out of those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies as well.

You can even use a vacuum with a soft bristle attachment for even better results. If the furniture is covered with upholstery, the new rotovac sheardry upholstery tool works wonders for sprucing up the material.

Step 3: Mix Cleaning Solution

Once your furniture piece is dust free, it is time to prep for cleaning.

There are a couple of options for cleaning solutions that you can use to clean antique wood. Most of them can be made with things you probably have lying around the house.

clean antique furniture

An easy go-to option is mixing equal parts warm water, vinegar, and dish soap. If you don’t have vinegar you can also mix one part of dish detergent with six parts of water.

But note that vinegar is an effective agent against mildew, so many people recommend including it.

Many purists believe in using oil soap (as opposed to dish soap) for antiques (it’s actually considered the best way to clean oak furniture).

So, if you want to follow this route and use the best product to clean wood furniture, mix one part oil soap with six parts water. You may want to use a fork to ensure that it blends.

Step 4: Wipe Down

The next step is to wipe down your furniture piece with the cleaning solution. 

You will need two cloths here, one for cleaning and one for drying. It is best to use microfiber or 100% cotton cloths for this purpose.

Dip your cloth into the cleaning solution and wring out any excess water.

Clean your furniture piece with your soapy solution, working in circular motions and moving along the wood grain down the length of the furniture.

As you work your way from top to bottom, you may notice your cloth becoming grimy. 

how to clean antique furniture

If this is the case, swap it out for a new one and repeat the dipping and wringing process before you clean the furniture piece.

You may want to apply extra pressure to those grimy and hard-to-reach crevices.

Then, follow this with the dry cloth and buff the piece until it is dry, using circular motions. Do this until the moisture from the cleaning process has been thoroughly removed.

Step 5: Finish

If you notice persistent ring marks, fingerprints, or other stains after cleaning, you may want to turn to mineral spirits to complete the cleaning process.

Simply dip a cotton cloth in the spirits and wipe down the problem areas. Continue wiping the area until the wood comes out clean.

If the stain remains, you can also use non-abrasive steel wool (we recommend the #0000 kind) and gently buff the problem areas until the stains are removed.

Step 6: Wax

Your last step is to wax the antique piece. This step is optional but will get your antique piece looking good as new.

Waxing, like dusting, can be an important part of wood furniture maintenance (especially in cleaning and caring for teak furniture).

You can’t do it immediately after the previous step, though. Wait at least an hour after finishing your cleaning procedure before commencing with the wax.

To wax your furniture piece, simply apply a small amount of wax to a cotton cloth.

Rub the antique piece with the wax cloth in circular motions until the surface becomes glossy. Allow the wax to set. The specific type of wax product will tell you the length of time it needs to rest.

clean antique wood furniture

When the time has elapsed, take a clean cotton cloth and remove the excess wax from the surface using circular motions. 

You can use a bit of force to get the buffing process going here, as this will make more of the wax melt and give your antique piece a brand-new glossy finish. 

Remember to work along the wood grain and not against it.


Are you ready to start cleaning your antique furniture? Not only will it give it a brand-new shine, but it can also make your antique pieces maintain their essence and beauty for longer. 

With a few cotton cloth, a can-do attitude, and some easy-to-access products, this process is a breeze. 

Just ensure that your specific wood piece will respond to cleaning by always testing it before applying any cleaning solution. 

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