Cleaning Antique Furniture: Two Methods

Cleaning Antique Furniture: Two Methods


If you have an antique piece of furniture in your apartment, you should clean it from dust from time to time just like any other thing. However, you should not use a wet cloth, but look for special furniture cleaning products in stores. There are many of them, some are expensive, some are cheaper, but none of them usually damage the furniture and you can wipe off the dust.

It's a different story with furniture that has been lying in attics, sheds, garages for decades, and the dirt has already eaten into the wood.

We use two different methods in our workshop:


1. With linseed oil:

If the old varnish is relatively well preserved, you can try cleaning with highly diluted linseed oil. Soak a piece of metal wool (quite fine, grain size 00 to 1) with linseed oil diluted in turpentine (in a ratio of 5:1 to 3:1, depending on the viscosity of the linseed oil) and rub down the entire piece of furniture, cleaning more thoroughly especially dirty areas. Then carefully wipe off all oil and dirt residues with a dry cloth. Then repeat the same thing in the places where there is still dirt. After a while, when the linseed oil starts to dry, it is advisable to wipe the furniture again thoroughly with a dry cloth. At first, it will seem that the furniture is newly varnished, but after a few days it will become matte again.


Advantages of this method:

  • You will get a relatively decent looking piece of furniture from a dirty item quickly and cheaply.
  • The cleaned item will retain its old, patinated look.
  • Sometimes it is possible to make light rings, left on tabletops by wet glasses of drinks, also disappear.
  • If you do not manage to get the desired look, you will at least not have damaged anything.
  • This method usually works well for cleaning mahogany and oak furniture.
  • Turpentine is a traditional anti-worm remedy.



  • Some dirt will still remain in the wood pores.
  • If the furniture is made of light wood (curly birch, Karelian birch) and has lost its previous varnish coating in places, you can smear the wood even more with dirty metal wool.
  • If you do not wipe it thoroughly and the linseed oil is not diluted enough, the furniture will be sticky and will dry for several months.
  • On toned furniture, light spots may appear if you rub in one place.


Where to buy:

Hardware stores.

  • Metal wool may not always be available, you may be able to get by with a slightly abrasive dishwashing sponge.
  • Instead of linseed oil, you can use natural linseed oil varnish.


2. With water and detergent:

The second method is much harsher and more complicated. The basic principle is warm water and soap.


This method can only be used on solid wood furniture. You must be absolutely sure that the furniture is not veneered in any places. It often happens that a piece of furniture is made of solid oak, but the surface is made of pine and veneered with oak (covered with a thin layer of oak). In the past, veneering was done with carpenter's glue, which dissolves in warm water.


Washing is very simple:

  • Take a brush and some detergent and rub until all the dirt comes off, then rinse with warm water.

  • Scrub smaller carvings with an old toothbrush.

  • If the furniture has been standing in the kitchen or is smeared with oil in the garage, it is better to use the most popular dishwashing detergents.

  • If you use detergents with abrasive additives, be aware that it will be more difficult to wash them out of the wood pores.

  • If the washing of the furniture takes a long time, it is necessary to wash it in parts and periodically dry the washed areas (even with a hair dryer) to prevent water from soaking deeper into the wood.


So far, everything was very simple.

Next, the furniture must be dried thoroughly.

Most likely, you will find that along with the dirt, you have also partially washed off the varnish layer and the whole piece of furniture has become stained from the detergent.

If the furniture looks uniform when moistened with water, it will be the same after varnishing.


As the only correct method, I would recommend lightly sanding the furniture with very fine sandpaper (240 - 400) and coating it with shellac.

Of course, at this point you can also putty the small defects with the appropriate shade of putty.


Shellac can be purchased both dry and already diluted.

Shellac can sometimes be found in art stores or specialized paint stores.

Shellac can be purchased at a reasonable price from online stores in other European countries


Juris Kraulis