How to Clean Old Wood

Antique furniture, cabinets, floors and carpentry often times contains a build up of dirt and grime. Clean your old wood without removing the protective finish and restore the piece to it's original beauty.

Antiques need careful attention when cleaning.


If you find that the wood is becoming sticky, the finish is probably coming off also. The broken down lacquer is what is sticky. If you see damage to the wood or the color is being removed, stop using all water based solutions. Do not use anything abrasive to clean the surface of wood, like steel wool. It can scratch the surface and remove the finish.


Topical exposure to naphtha can cause a burning sensation on the skin within a period of minutes to an hour, followed by contact dermatitis-a rash-that can last for days to weeks. Use with caution and wear gloves. You should also be working in a well ventilated area.

  1. Begin removing the water-soluble dirt by using a mild dish detergent (not one intended for a dishwasher) and water. Use a soft cloth to rub the grime from the wood with the soapy solution. Use the water solution sparingly. Too much water can soak in and damage the wood. Quickly dry the area with a clean cloth.

  2. If the wood is still dirty, use a stronger cleaning solution. Check for a phosphate free TSP solution at your local hardware store. Apply the cleaner in the same manner you did the soapy water.

  3. If water based solutions are not helping get all of the dirt and grime off of your wood, try using a solvent. Naphtha is an excellent choice to try. You can find naphtha in the paint aisle. Apply naphtha the same way you did the water based solutions.

  4. If you can't find naphtha, mineral spirits will work also. It just takes a bit more elbow grease to get rid of the dirt and grime.

  5. Your old wood should now be clean. You can apply a wax to it to refresh the wood.