Cleaning Old Wood Furniture

Do you love old furniture and accessories?  I sure do and always have.  I just try to imagine the history of each special piece.  Our family business is selling some of what we collect.  It’s such a rush to find old treasures.  Quite often it’s hard to sell what we find and every now and then I find a piece that will stay with us forever.  This antique rocking horse is one of them.  I was thrilled to find it.  It’s missing it’s head and the paint is pretty much worn off, but I’m in love.

This piece was pretty dirty when I found it and while I was cleaning it up I thought I would pass on some of the cleaning and refreshing tips I’ve learned over the years to you.  There are so many opinions on how it should be done, but through my research and experience I’ve learned some lessons.

Many love the look of painted furniture.  I do, too.  I’ve painted a lot of furniture and it’s a great way to refresh an old piece.


What I like about preparing to paint a furniture piece is that there’s not much prep involved at all.  I usually just dust it and then start painting.

But, there are times when I just can’t bring myself to paint.  Either the piece’s value will decline too much if painted or it’s just so beautiful on its own.

In that case there are some tips I use when cleaning and refreshing.

This horse had been in a dirty shed so it was pretty bad.

  1. First, I like to vacuum a piece’s cracks and crevices to get rid of any hiding or built up dirt.
  2. If the item has a build up of furniture polish or heavy waxes or oils I will use a soft rag (socks, old t-shirt, etc.) and some mineral spirits to wipe the piece.  This will usually soften the finish and remove a lot of the dirt and grime.  I like to use cotton swabs to get into the corners.
  3. Next, I will use a small amount of Dawn mixed with some warm water and clean the furniture using another soft rag that has really been squeezed out until it’s just slightly damp.
  4. Then I will repeat with only clear water and let dry.
  5. Once dry I apply a furniture wax with another clean, soft rag being careful to use a thin coat of wax.  Let sit for about 15 minutes.
  6. Repeat with a second coat of wax.
  7. I then like to polish in a circular motion with another clean rag.  The wax will harden over time and protect the piece.

That’s usually all I do.  Some times there might be a need to lightly sand a rough edge, but I try to avoid much sanding unless I’m totally refinishing a piece of furniture.

On a side note, I don’t like to use furniture oil like lemon oil.  Oil is usually intended to make a piece look shiny or to moisturize a piece.  The oil can stay wet even if it’s soaked into the wood and attract a lot of dirt and dust.  I don’t like to use a furniture polish either.  It can build up and cause the finish to look gummy.

I’m not at all a professional, but I hope these ideas help you if you’re looking to clean some old furniture or vintage pieces.

Dru About Dru

There are so many things I could say but I will just start with the basics. Mother to 4. Grandmother to 11 (Yes, 11. All under the age of 9.) I am a former Army wife and we spent 15 years traveling around the world. It was such a thrill to have seen so many places and meeting lifetime friends. I spent many years working in the craft industry and love getting together with friends and creating. I have a lifelong love of thrift shops, antiques, and yard sales.


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