Bad wood can happen to the best of us. We've all been there – stumbling across the perfect piece at a thrift shop, rummaging through the ruins of a neighborhood garage sale to get a closer look. That's when you see it: the scratches, the dust, the dirt, the decades of damage ruining an otherwise beautiful piece of furniture or decor.
But it doesn't have to. I've yet to meet a scratch, discoloration or minor to moderate blemish that a good cleaning, oiling and waxing couldn't fix – or at least seriously improve. Pieces that came through the door dried, worn, dusty or dirty, all easily refreshed in 3 easy steps and just 20 minutes or less.
You can, of course, get a much better result from fully stripping and refinishing or otherwise restoring a piece (or having someone else do it for you). But when you don't have the finishing chops (or time) to do it yourself, or if you'd prefer to keep some of the vintage patina and preserve the original finish, a little 3-step cleanup is the way to go. I'll usually do this to anything new I bring home while I wait on patience or money to come through for a full redo.
Let's get started.
Murphy's oil soap (available at your local Ace, Home Depot or similar)
Clean white rags (old Tshirts, kitchen towels are my go-to; paper towels tend to shed)
You can find most of the above at any good antique or furniture store, or your local hardware store. Shop small, shop local. If all else fails, order off Amazon at 2 am and buy your latte at the local coffee shop the next morning to make up for it. Karmic points and all.
Step 1: Using a clean white rag, clean the wood surface with Murphy's. I like to spray the cloth and then apply. You're done when you've successfully transferred dirt from the wood and into the rag. Dirty rag = clean wood.
Step 2: Apply a small amount of oil to a clean white rag (double dipping between cleaners & oils discouraged). A little goes a long way and gloves don't hurt here (your hands will thank you). Gently rub into the clean wood, reapplying oil to rag as needed, until entire surface is lightly oiled. Wipe off any excess with a clean corner of the rag.
Let dry. It shouldn't take long, especially on larger pieces that require more time to cover, but you can always go the cautious route and let it sit overnight. I usually store my rags in plastic bags so I can reuse them later or wipe off any excess that doesn't dry without having to dirty another rag. Faded white Ts are a hot commodity in our house.
Step 3: Shake bottle of Howard's well, getting the wax and oil to blend. Apply a small amount (penny or less) of Howard's Feed-n-Wax to a clean white rag. Gently rub into the cleaned and oiled wood. Add more wax to rag and repeat until the entire surface is waxed. Wipe off excess and let dry completely. I like to air it out overnight in my porch to get any lingering oil vapors loose.
Couple of notes:
- This works best for furniture, similar large pieces or decor. The oil can have a bit of an odor, so it's always best to take proper breathing precautions and do all of the above in a nice ventilated room or garage. And of course, avoid using oil on anything that might come into contact with flame (e.g. candleholders) or food (e.g. bowls).
- To refresh wood dinnerware, serving pieces or items that might come into contact with flame (see above), opt for a standard dish soap and warm water cleaning followed with a coat or two of food-safe mineral oil. You can buy this at most hardware or drugstores (or IKEA) and can reapply as needed.
Tip: Buying something called "mineral oil" in a nondescript jug at the drugstore can be up to $10 cheaper than buying fancy kitchen-specific mineral or cutting board oil. Don't be fooled – in most cases, it's the exact same thing with a nicer label. The power of advertising.