Anyone who has ever owned antique or just plain old wood furniture knows that sometimes you need to give it a deep cleaning. Some people believe the only way to clean old wood furniture is to refinish is, but often all the furniture needs is to be cleaned.
You could buy wood soaps that you use with water which wouldn’t really do the job. There are decades of grease and dirt ground into the wood, so we need something stronger than soap and water to get it out. You could also buy a ready-made cleaning product, but there is something better, and cheaper, available.
Using a clean jar, pour in two parts linseed oil, one part turpentine, and one part vinegar. The amount you use will depend on the size of your project, but keep in mind that you really don’t want any of this stuff left over, so it is better to err on the side of not enough and that you end up having to make more than to have way too much left over. Put the lid on the jar and shake well. Do NOT smoke or use near flames! Turpentine is highly flammable!
Either take your project outdoors or open the windows of your home. Either way, understand that lots of fresh air is essential. The fumes from the turpentine can make you sick, so make sure that you’ve got some sort of fresh air source before you begin. Furthermore, if you plan on doing this in the house, make sure you have drop clothes underneath your project as this can get very messy.
You should only use fine steel wool. If your project requires anything more, then you probably should be refinishing it instead of cleaning it.
Wearing rubber gloves, dip the steel wool into the mixture. Using circular strokes, scrub the wood. After scrubbing a section, wipe it with a rag. Look at that dirt! The mixture literally pulls the years of dirt out of the grain of the wood.
You probably should test this mixture on some small corner of your project. There seldom is a problem with darker woods, but lighter woods might change colors, and you need to know whether you can live with the change. I used this method on an oak side board my husband had had for years stashed away in storage. It was a blond oak and quite frankly, a not very pretty color if you ask me. I began cleaning it with this mixture and it promptly began turning a deep, rich, and red oak. I never liked the piece before but now I think it is lovely; however, my husband about screamed when he saw it. To each his own.
Continue with dipping your steel wool into the mixture and performing circular scrubbing motions on your wood. Wipe off what remains when you’ve finished scrubbing an area – don’t let it dry without first wiping it off! Dispose of whatever remains of the turpentine mixture when you are finished – do not save this for a later use. Moreover, properly dispose of the rags you were using as otherwise they might catch on fire.
When you’ve finished you will have a much different – and better – looking piece of furniture. You should now condition the wood with beeswax or something like that. Don’t use a spray wax; instead, use something that you rub into the wood and can hand buff to a beautiful glow.
Very often furniture does not need to be refinished to look good, it only needs to be cleaned. Antique furniture usually shouldn’t be refinished because refinishing it decreases its value. By merely cleaning the piece with this mixture you retain the value of it while improving the look of both the furniture and your home.