How to Clean Antique Wood Furniture: A Step-by-Step Guide

Antique wood furniture is a cherished possession that can add warmth and character to any home. However, antique wood furniture cleaning can be a daunting task, as the wood and finish can be easily damaged if not cleaned properly. Moreover, burn marks or wax residue on the furniture cause more harm to the wood furniture, shortening its lifespan. Traditional cleaning methods may be too harsh, stripping away the patina that gives antique wood furniture its unique charm. Thankfully, there are safe and effective ways to clean antique wood furniture without damaging it.

In this article, we will explore some of the best practices for cleaning and maintaining old wooden furniture. We’ll discuss the importance of identifying the type of wood and finish, the benefits of using natural and gentle cleaning solutions, and how to properly store and care for antique wood furniture. By following these tips, you can help ensure that your antique wood furniture remains beautiful and functional for years to come.

cleaning antique wood furniture

Necessary Supplies to Clean Antique Wood Furniture:

Cleaning antique wood furniture requires special care and attention to preserve its unique character and historical value. To effectively clean antique wood furniture, you will need a few essential supplies to ensure that the cleaning process is gentle and non-abrasive. With the right supplies and techniques, you can ensure that your antique wood furniture remains beautiful and functional for years to come.

Methylated Spirits:

Methylated spirits are also known as denatured alcohol. It’s a commonly used cleaning solution for antique wood furniture.

methylated spirits

It can effectively remove dirt, grime, and other surface contaminants without causing damage to the wood or finish.

Protective Gloves:

One way to protect your hands during the cleaning process is to wear protective gloves. Gloves can help prevent skin irritation or allergic reactions that may occur from exposure to cleaning solutions or other chemicals.

protective gloves

Cotton Swabs:

Cotton swabs are a useful tool for cleaning antique wood furniture, especially in hard-to-reach areas or small crevices. It is used to apply cleaning solutions or to gently remove dirt and grime from delicate areas of the furniture.

cotton swabs

Murphy’s Oil Soap:

Murphy’s Oil Soap is a gentle, yet effective cleaner that is specifically formulated for use on wood surfaces. It is made from natural ingredients, including vegetable oil and potassium hydroxide, and does not contain harsh chemicals or abrasives that can damage the wood or finish.

murphy's oil soap

Cotton Clothes:

Cotton clothes are soft, absorbent, and gentle on the delicate surface of the wood. They can be used to remove dust, dirt, and grime from antique wood furniture without scratching or damaging the surface.

cotton cloth


A whisk can be used to gently whisk away dust and debris from the surface of antique wood furniture, especially in areas where a cloth or brush may be too large or cumbersome to use effectively.


White Vinegar:

It’s a versatile and effective cleaner that can be used to clean and restore antique wood furniture.

white vinegar

Air Mask:

An air mask is a crucial tool to have when cleaning antique wood furniture, especially if you’re using any cleaning products that may release harmful fumes or dust particles into the air.

air mask

Protective Goggles:

These goggles can protect your eyes from any chemicals or debris that may fly up during the antique wood furniture cleaning process.

protective goggles

Linseed Oil or Vegetable Oil or Olive Oil:

Linseed oil, vegetable oil, and olive oil are all-natural oils that can be used to clean and protect antique wood furniture. These oils penetrate the wood grain and can help bring out the natural beauty and shine of the wood. You can use any of them.

olive oil

Wood Wax:

It is a type of protective coating that can be used on antique wood furniture to help preserve its natural beauty and protect it from damage.

wood wax


Mayonnaise is a common household item that can be used to clean and restore antique wood furniture. Its high oil content can help moisturize and protect the wood while also removing dirt and grime from the surface.



Naphtha is a solvent that can be used to clean antique wood furniture, particularly to remove tough stains or old wax buildup. It is a powerful and flammable solvent that should be used with care and caution.


Volcanic Rocks:

Volcanic rocks, such as pumice stone, can be used to clean antique wood furniture without causing damage or scratches. These rocks have a porous surface that is gentle on wood while still being effective at removing dirt and grime.

volcanic rocks

Additionally, you will need a bowl and a measuring cup to prepare the solution.

Determine the Wood Finish First:

Before cleaning antique wood furniture, it’s important to determine the finish of the wood. Different finishes require different cleaning methods and products, and using the wrong one can cause damage to the wood.

Steps to Determine the Wood Finish:

Here are the steps to determining the wood finish of antique furniture:

  1. Wear the Gloves First for Your Safety. Gloves can protect your skin from any harsh chemicals or cleaning agents you may use during the cleaning process.
  2. Pour a small amount of Methylated Spirits in a Mixing Bowl. Make sure to use a glass or ceramic bowl and not a plastic one, as the chemical can damage the plastic.
  3. Next, dip a cotton swab into the solution. Make sure to saturate the cotton swab with the methylated spirits, but not to the point where it is dripping.
  4. Apply the solution to a hidden spot on the antique wood furniture. Choose a hidden spot, such as the underside of a table or the back of a chair, to ensure that the finish is not damaged.

Wood Types Based on the Results:

Based on the general steps for determining wood finishes, the following are some possible wood types and their corresponding finishes:

Shellac Wood:

It’s a natural resin. You can get it from the lac beetle. Mostly it’s used as a wood finish and was popular in the early 20th century. Shellac wood typically has a warm, amber tone and a glossy finish. Water and alcohol can damage it. You should be careful when cleaning or refinishing shellac wood furniture.

shellac wood

Varnish Wood:

Varnish is a type of finish that creates a hard, protective coating on the surface of the wood. It is commonly used on furniture, floors, and other wooden surfaces that are exposed to wear and tear. You can identify varnished wood by its clear, glossy appearance and hard texture.

varnish wood

Polyurethane Wood:

It’s a type of synthetic varnish, commonly used as a finish for wood furniture. It is a clear and durable coating that provides protection and enhances the natural beauty of the wood.

polyurethane wood

Lacquer Wood:

Lacquer is a type of wood finish that creates a hard and durable coating on the surface. It is often used for furniture and other decorative items.

How to Clean Antique Wood Furniture?

Cleaning antique wood furniture requires special care and attention to preserve its beauty and value. Here are some steps to follow:

Dust the Furniture:

Use a soft, dry cloth or feather duster to remove any loose dirt or dust from the surface of the furniture. Be gentle, and avoid using any abrasive materials that could scratch or damage the wood.

Test a Small Area:

Before cleaning the entire piece of furniture, test a small area with your cleaning solution to make sure it won’t harm the wood. Apply a small amount of the solution to an inconspicuous spot and wait a few minutes to see if it causes any discoloration or damage.

Use a Cleaning Solution:

Measure out 1 part oil soap to 6 parts water. For example, if you’re using a measuring cup, add 1 cup of oil soap and 6 cups of water. Mix the oil soap, and water in a bowl. If using a spray bottle, shake well to mix the solution.

Apply the Cleaning Solution:

Dip a soft cloth or sponge into your cleaning solution and wring out any excess moisture. Gently wipe the surface of the furniture, being careful not to saturate the wood with too much water. Work in small sections, and rinse your cloth frequently to avoid spreading dirt or grime around.

Dry the Furniture:

After cleaning, use a dry cloth or towel to remove any excess moisture from the wood. If the wood is still damp, let it air dry completely before placing any objects on it.

Polish the Furniture:

Once the wood is completely dry, you can apply a thin layer of furniture wax or polish to help protect and restore the wood’s natural shine. Apply the wax or polish with a soft cloth or brush, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

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How to Clean Mold and Mildew from Antique Furniture?

Cleaning mold and mildew from antique furniture can be a delicate process, as harsh cleaners or scrubbing can damage the wood’s finish. Here are the steps to safely and effectively clean mold and mildew off antique wood furniture:

  1. Use a soft-bristled brush to gently remove any loose mold or mildew from the surface of the furniture.
  2. Mix equal parts white vinegar and vegetable oil or olive oil in a spray bottle bowl properly. For example, if you are using a measuring cup, add 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 1/2 cup of oil.
  3. Spray or dab the solution onto the moldy or mildewed areas of the furniture.
  4. Allow the solution to sit on the surface for 10–15 minutes.
  5. Use a soft-bristled brush or cloth to gently scrub the mold or mildew away. Be sure to work with the grain of the wood to avoid damaging the surface.
  6. Once you have removed the mold or mildew, wipe the surface with a clean, damp cloth to remove any remaining solution.
  7. Keep the furniture in a dry and well-ventilated area to prevent any mold and mildew from returning.

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Other Ways to Clean Antique Furniture:

While a solution of oil soap, and water or oil and white vinegar can be effective for cleaning antique furniture, there are other ways to safely and gently clean and maintain these valuable pieces. Depending on the condition of the furniture, the type of wood and finish, and the specific cleaning needs, different methods and products may be more appropriate. Here are some other ways to clean antique furniture:


Mayonnaise is an unexpected yet effective method for cleaning and polishing antique furniture. To use mayonnaise, simply apply a small amount to a soft cloth and gently rub it onto the surface of the furniture. Let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it away with a clean cloth, revealing a revitalized and polished finish.

However, it’s important to note that this method may not be suitable for all types of antique furniture, so it’s always best to test it on a small, inconspicuous area first.

Volcanic Rocks:

You can use volcanic rocks, such as pumice or lava rock,to clean antique furniture without the use of harsh chemicals or abrasive materials.

To use volcanic rocks, simply dampen the rock and gently rub it onto the surface of the furniture, being careful to follow the direction of the grain. Once the surface is clean, wipe it with a soft cloth and apply a furniture wax or oil to protect and restore the natural shine of the wood.

Things to Remember:

When it comes to cleaning antique furniture, it’s important to proceed with care and caution to avoid damaging the piece. You can use many effective methods and products to clean and maintain antique furniture. But it’s important to keep a few key considerations in mind.

Avoid Using Harsh Cleaners:

When it comes to cleaning antique furniture, it’s important to avoid using harsh cleaners that can damage the finish or surface of the wood. This includes cleaners that contain bleach, ammonia, TSP, naphtha or other harsh chemicals that can cause discoloration, fading, or other damage to the piece.

Avoid Sunlight or Shady Areas:

When it comes to placing and storing antique furniture, it’s important to avoid areas with direct sunlight or excessive shade. Exposure to sunlight can cause the wood to fade or discolor, while areas with excessive shade can promote the growth of mold and mildew.

Don’t Try to Clean the Paint Stain or Wood Chippings:

It’s important to avoid trying to clean or remove any paint stains or wood chippings. These imperfections are a part of the history and character of the piece, and attempting to remove or clean them can detract from the value and beauty of the furniture.

Spot-testing is a MUST:

Spot testing is especially important if you are working with a particularly delicate or valuable piece of furniture. To spot-test a cleaning solution, apply a small amount to an inconspicuous area of the furniture and wait several minutes to see if any discoloration or damage occurs. If there is no negative reaction, you can proceed with cleaning the rest of the piece.

Call in the Pros:

When it comes to cleaning antique furniture, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If you are unsure about the best way to clean or care for a particular piece or if you have concerns about the condition of the furniture, it’s always a good idea to consult with a professional antique restorer or conservator.


Cleaning antique wood furniture requires a delicate touch and a gentle approach. From using natural cleaning solutions such as oil soap and white vinegar to avoiding harsh chemicals and direct sunlight, there are many things to keep in mind when it comes to cleaning and caring for these valuable pieces. Remember to always spot-test new cleaning solutions, avoid attempting to clean paint stains or wood chippings, and consult with a professional antique restorer if you have any concerns or questions.


What is the best way to clean antique wood furniture without damaging it?

You should use a gentle and natural cleaning solution, specifically designed for antique wood furniture to clean them without causing any damage.

Can I use regular household cleaners on antique wood furniture?

You shouldn’t use regular household cleaners on antique wood furniture, as they may contain harsh chemicals that can damage the delicate finish or cause discoloration.

How often should I clean my antique wood furniture?

Generally, it’s a good idea to dust the furniture regularly with a soft cloth and to perform a deep cleaning once or twice a year, or as needed.

What should I avoid when cleaning antique wood furniture?

When cleaning antique wood furniture, it’s important to avoid using harsh chemicals, abrasive cleaning tools, and direct sunlight or heat.

Should I polish antique wood furniture after cleaning it?

It depends on the type of antique wood furniture and its condition. In general, it’s not necessary to polish the furniture after cleaning it with a natural cleaning solution.

Can I use a steam cleaner on antique wood furniture?

No, you shouldn’t use a steam cleaner on antique wood furniture. The high heat and moisture can damage the delicate finish and potentially warp or crack the wood.

Are there any natural or homemade cleaners I can use on antique wood furniture?

Yes, you can use several natural or homemade cleaners on antique wood furniture. For example, a mixture of oil soap and water, white vinegar and oil, or lemon juice and olive oil can be effective at removing dirt and grime while also nourishing the wood.

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