How to Clean Oak Furniture

The important thing to remember when you're cleaning oak furniture -- or any wooden furniture, for that matter -- is that you're cleaning the finish, not the wood itself.
A gentle soap solution is best for cleaning oak furniture.A gentle soap solution is best for cleaning oak furniture.
Use the gentlest cleaner you can to accomplish the task at hand, keeping in mind that strong detergents and solvents can dull the finish or even dissolve it. You must take special care when cleaning limed oak; the liming material rests on the surface of the wood and is usually covered only by a single coat of finish, and you can easily rub it off.

Step 1

Dust frequently with a microfiber dusting cloth. Rub lightly to avoid pushing dust into to the grain, and wipe with the grain of the wood to avoid leaving cross-grain streaks.

Step 2

Wash with a mild soap solution to remove everyday grime that you can't simply dust off. Mix an ounce of dish soap with a gallon of warm water, dampen a soft, clean cloth and wipe with the grain. Avoid dishwasher or laundry detergent -- both can dull lacquer and varnish finishes.

Step 3

Clean stubborn scuff marks and stains with a hot wash. Mix 2 tablespoons of turpentine and 4 tablespoons of boiled linseed oil in a gallon of water hot enough to require the use of rubber gloves. The turpentine removes oil-soluble dirt while the linseed oil replenishes and restores the finish. Use this solution sparingly on damaged furniture, because it may weaken glue joints.

Step 4

Polish a dull oak finish with lemon oil. Apply a small amount of the oil to a soft rag and wipe with the wood grain. Don't pour the oil directly on the furniture, or you'll get uneven distribution.

Step 5

Remove old, dull wax with mineral spirits. Moisten a rag and rub a section of the wood until all the wax is removed and the rag no longer discolors. Wash with gentle detergent solution, then apply new wax with a soft rag and buff it with a buffing cloth.

Things You Will Need

  • Microfiber dusting cloth
  • Dish soap
  • Soft cloth
  • Turpentine
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • Lemon oil
  • Mineral spirits
  • Paste wax


  • Remove white moisture marks on a finished oak surface by covering them with mayonnaise and leaving it overnight. When you wipe off the mayonnaise in the morning, the marks should be gone.
  • Repair small nicks in the finish with a raw walnut or Brazil nut meat. Rub the nut meat over a nick, and the natural oil in the nut will make it disappear.


  • Avoid abrasive material, such as steel wool or kitchen scouring pads. They dull the finish.

About the Author

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.