An Oil Finish for Wood

To make your own oil finish, pour equal parts of turpentine and boiled linseed oil into a jar, tighten the lid, and shake to blend. (Caution: Wear rubber gloves.) Pour a small amount of the mixture on a soft cloth, and rub the surface of the furniture following the grain of the wood. The wood will appear oily, but within an hour the polish will be completely absorbed, leaving a lovely soft sheen.

Cleaning Wood Furniture

Whether your wood furniture is oiled, painted, or polished affects how it is cleaned. It's obvious when wood is painted, but be sure that you know the surface before you clean it. For example, some wood furniture is lightly lacquered and will not absorb oil, while other woods, particularly teak and rosewood, have no finish and benefit from a yearly application of furniture oil.

Oiled Wood

Oiled wood surfaces have a warm, soft glow and require only an occasional application of furniture oil to keep them looking nice.

  • Be careful never to wax an oil finish. Wax blocks the pores of the wood, causing it to dry out and become brittle.
  • To remove white spots on oil-finish furniture, such as those left by wet drinking glasses, rub them with toothpaste on a cloth. Or rub the white spots with a mild abrasive and oil. Appropriate abrasives are ash, salt, baking soda, or pumice; oils include olive oil, petroleum jelly, or cooking oil.
Painted Wood

For painted wood furniture, the best care is probably the least since some polishes and waxes can damage the color and decoration.

  • Vacuum the furniture regularly with a brush attachment; wipe occasionally with a sponge to remove smudges and finger marks.
  • If you feel you must wax, use a hard paste wax only once a year.
Polished Wood

This kind of furniture is finished with varnish, lacquer, or wax. Any commercial polish will clean wood surfaces quickly. Choose a product that is appropriate for the finish of your furniture. Paste wax gives a harder, longer-lasting finish than spray or liquid polish and is recommended for antiques.

  • If you wear cotton gloves while you wax furniture, you will not leave fingerprints. © 2006 Publications International, Ltd.Avoid leaving fingerprints by wearing cotton gloves.
  • Sprinkle cornstarch over the surface of recently polished furniture, and rub it to a high gloss. Cornstarch absorbs excess oil or wax and leaves a glistening surface that is free of fingerprints.
  • Wipe polished wood furniture with a cloth dipped in tea, then buff.
  • Apply mayonnaise to the white rings or spots on your wood furniture, let it sit for an hour, then wipe off with a soft cloth and polish.
Specialty Woods

The specialty woods used for furniture are wicker, rattan, bamboo, cane, and rush. They usually have a natural finish, but some pieces may have a varnish or shellac coating.

  • Vacuum regularly with the brush attachment.
  • With the exception of rush chair seats that are damaged by moisture, occasionally rinse specialty woods with water to restore moisture to the fibers.
  • Wetting cane seats tightens them; spray the unvarnished side with water, and allow it to dry naturally.

Last but certainly not least are upholstered furnishings. You'll find tips for cleaning these in the next section.