If you need advice on how to clean antique wood and keep it looking its best, you’ve come to the right place.
Wood has been used in carving and crafting as far back as the Stone Age, so there’s been plenty of time to fine-tune the best methods for cleaning it!
Widely featured in all types of antique furniture, it’s also been beautifully used in wooden fireplaces throughout history - from Jacobean oaks to Neoclassical pines.
Here are our top tips for how to clean antique wood but remember, if you don’t feel confident about taking on the job yourself, it’s best to reach out to an expert in antiques.
In general: how to clean antique wood
It’s recommended to dust regularly throughout the year
Start by dusting. Clean the wood with a dry, very soft cloth or brush to remove any dust from the surfaces and for hard-to-reach spots, use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment.
It’s recommended to dust regularly throughout the year. Don’t be rough - don’t scratch your precious antiques!
Next, dilute some mild dish soap or detergent in water. Dip a cloth very lightly into the mixture, then wring it to remove all the excess soap and water.
It’s very important that the cloth is barely wet before you use it, as moisture can damage old wood.
Make sure that you’re not ‘washing’ the wood though
To test your homemade cleaner, wipe the cloth using light strokes along the grain, on a small section of wood hidden from sight, just to be on the safe side.
Then use a second, completely dry cloth to remove any remaining moisture from the wood.
In most cases, that’s how to clean antique wood. If you’re happy that your cleaning solution is working, repeat the exercise for the remaining surfaces.
Just make sure that you’re not ‘washing’ the wood though - water really can damage it, by getting into the grain and causing swelling or buckling.
How to clean antique wood with mineral spirits
Grime and oily fingerprint stains are harder to remove though, so here’s how to clean antique wood with mineral spirits without damaging it.
Put a little on a clean, soft, cotton cloth - make sure you only use a very small amount.
Again, try it on a small hidden part of the wood to make sure it won’t damage its finish.
Gently wipe the cloth along the grain before the mineral spirits evaporate.
How to clean antique wood with a shellac finish
If your antique has a shellac finish, it’s vital not to clean it using alcohol of any kind
A note of caution - if your antique has a shellac finish, it’s vital not to clean it using alcohol of any kind, such as an isopropyl solution for hardwood floors.
In general, it’s very risky to use alcohol on wood in case it damages the finish, but this is particularly important when planning how to clean antique wood with a shellac coating.
If you need to check for shellac, you can use denatured alcohol such as methylated spirits and a cotton swab. Carefully rub the swab on a hidden part of the wood.
If the finish dissolves then it’s probably a shellac finish.
To protect your antiques, after cleaning you could apply an additional wax finish
To protect your antiques, after cleaning you could apply an additional wax finish.
For this, use beeswax rather than a spray polish which could dull the wood over time.
Take the polish and put a small amount on a soft cloth, gently wipe the wood and then re-polish using a second clean cloth.
In rare cases, the only finish on your wood could be wax, which isn’t ideal for cleaning generally. If so, only use soap flakes, rather than the soapy mixture described earlier.
Conclusion: how to clean antique wood - if in doubt, call an expert!
We hope you found this guide helpful - for a second opinion, BADA offers advice on cleaning antique furniture, wood or otherwise.
You may also like our guide to cleaning antique brass.
Always remember that if you’re not completely confident about cleaning your antiques, it’s time to bring in the experts - just make sure they’re a LAPADA or CINOA member first.
If you’d like to ask us about how to clean antique wood, or about anything in our stock, please contact us.