Furniture Care and Cleaning

Furniture Care and Cleaning

Antique Wood Furniture:

(For antiques with the original finish.)


Avoid extremes of humidity and temperature, which accelerate cracking and checking of finish, and loosen joints and veneer. Do not set beverage glasses, vases of flowers, etc. on surfaces without coaster or mat protection.


Vacuum or dust with a soft cloth. Occasionally use a cloth just barely dampened with solvent-based cleaning wax to wipe the surface to pick up more dust, and immediately wipe with a dry cloth or soft paper towel. Do not use spray waxes and polishes on surfaces as they will leave a higher gloss and some silicone which may make future refinishing more difficult.

Occasionally wax with paste (carnauba) wax. Rub on a very light coat with a soft cloth with the grain of the wood (or put a lump of wax inside a few layers of folded cheesecloth and rub onto wood thus preventing heavy smears); then buff at once with soft cloth, turning often, until wax coating is hard. (Old cotton tee-shirts are good.) Be sure all wax is completely buffed until hard to avoid smears and streaks. Here a small electric polisher is a great “arm-saver” on all smooth surfaces; wipe surface gently with clean soft cloth after applying wax to remove any loosened soil and then let set several minutes (following wax label directions) before power buffing.

An occasional re-buffing will renew the soft gloss. Paste wax helps cover small cracks and checks in old finishes, and can easily be removed with solvent when desired.

NOTE : Antiques that have been refinished should be treated according to type of finish.

Since old finishes may be affected by cleaning treatments, always test the first time on any inconspicuous place on furniture to be sure it is compatible with finish. Generally, the above treatments are satisfactory.

Piano – Care and Cleaning


Avoid extremes in humidity if possible, as excessive dampness or dryness is damaging. Sudden changes in temperature affect both the tone and the wood. Do not put near a register, radiator or window. Have it tuned regularly.


Follow manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning. The lacquer finish on the wood only needs to be dusted with a vacuum cleaner brush, and sometimes wiped with a soft, untreated dusting cloth or paper towel. It may not require waxing. Vacuum the keyboard.
If waxing of wood finish is desired, use a wax or polish to give the desired amount of gloss. Old ivory keys yellow with age which is natural and cannot be changed; clean them with a cloth barely moistened with denatured alcohol as too much moisture loosens the keys; never use soap which stains ivory. Modern keys are made of plastic (usually acrylic) and may be wiped with a damp cloth, followed by a dry cloth. Follow manufacturer’s instructions in guide with piano.

For stubborn soil, wipe keys with a cloth wrung out of mild detergent and water solution; wipe with damp cloth; dry with dry cloth.

Wood Furniture – Alcohol Stains

Alcohol stains are caused by spilled drinks and by many medicines, lotions, and perfumes. Since alcohol dissolves many finishes, it is important to react quickly. Wipe up the spill quickly and rub the spot vigorously with your palm or with a cloth dipped in a small amount of furniture polish.

For older stains use a paste of rottenstone, baking soda or cigarette ashes mixed with mineral oil, linseed oil, or lemon oil. Rub lightly in the direction of the grain. Then wipe with plain linseed oil. Rub briskly with the grain of the wood, using a clean soft cloth. Wipe frequently to compare and match gloss of the repaired area with the original finish.

Powdered pumice (from paint store) is a harsher abrasive than rottenstone. Test to be sure it will not damage finish.
Rottenstone is a very fine abrasive, found in some hardware and paint stores.

Wood Furniture – Burns

Light cigarette burns which have not penetrated the finish may be removed with a thin paste of rottenstone, soda or cigarette ashes mixed with mineral oil or linseed oil. Rub lightly in the direction of the grain. Wipe with plain linseed oil. Repeat as necessary, then polish. Another remedy for minor burns or blemishes is to dip a cotton swab in paint remover and rub the damaged area gently to remove charred material. Scrape the area if needed. Use one to two drops of clear fingernail polish to fill the depressed area. Let set and repeat until you build up the area to the same level as the wood around it. If the burn is too deep to be restored by this method, consult a professional.

Wood Furniture – Candle Wax

Scrape away as much wax as you can using your finger, a plastic kitchen scraper, or a stiff piece of cardboard.

Applying ice cubes in a plastic bag to the wax may help it to crumble. Wipe up water as ice melts to prevent water spots.

Remove remaining traces of wax with a cloth moistened with mineral spirits (paint thinner) or cream furniture wax. Repeat if needed. Re-polish entire surface area.

Wood Furniture – Cloudy or Streaked Surface

This may be caused by grease deposited from cooking or heating; or it may be oily cloths rubbed on waxed finish, or too much wax/polish applied and not wiped dry. Clean by rubbing with furniture wax/polish containing solvent, and wiping off with clean, soft cloths.

Wood Furniture – Cracking and Checking

Checking and cracking of finishes is usually caused by exposure to extreme heat or cold, or extremely dry or wet environment, and appears as thin, hairline cracks. It may also be affected by thickness of finish, chemicals in the finish, and age. Although it is usually necessary to refinish the surface, waxing with paste wax will improve the appearance when checking is not too extreme.

Apply thinly, in a circular motion, and polish dry at once with a clean cloth. Try to rub the wax out of the cracks; if it dries in there, it may appear white. To remove the white lines, rub with a cloth saturated in turpentine. Use an old toothbrush to get wax out of the crevices. Wash with mild soap and warm water, rinse with clear water and dry well. Rewax the surface. NOTE–When working on a checked finish, always use a circular motion.

Wood Furniture – Dark Spots

Rings and discolorations caused by some plastic or rubber items react with the finish and cannot be removed without refinishing. Dark spots and discolorations that have not penetrated the finish may be removed with a rottenstone and oil paste.

Wood Furniture – Grease Stains

Removing grease stains on furniture is at best a very difficult procedure. If the stain is very deep or old, it may be impossible to remove. One of the methods described below might aid in removal of less severe stains. They may also damage the finish so that refinishing is required.

Method 1:

Place a blotter over the greasy spot. Press with a warm iron. Repeat until the spot is removed. Heat of iron may soften and damage the finish.

Method 2:

Caution : Dry-cleaning spot remover and mineral spirits are poisonous and flammable. Follow caution on labels.

Use in well-ventilated area. Do not use near flame, spark, or pilot light. Do not smoke. Do not get on skin or clothing. Make a thick paste of Fullers Earth and liquid dry cleaning spot remover. Apply to the spot and allow the paste to dry. Brush away dry residue. Repeat several times if necessary. Solvent in spot remover may soften and damage finish, so test before using.

Method 3:

Saturate the area with mineral spirits. CAUTION: Dry- cleaning spot remover and mineral spirits are poisonous and flammable. Follow caution on labels. Use in well-ventilated area. Do not use near flame, spark, or pilot light. Do not smoke. Do not get on skin or clothing.
Place Fuller’s Earth, talcum powder, sawdust or an old cloth over the spot to absorb the grease as it is drawn out by the first application. Continue until the spot is removed. The mineral spirits will remove most finishes so that refinishing is needed.

Wood Furniture – Ink Stains

If ink is spilled on a worn or damaged finish in which the unsealed wood is exposed, it will penetrate deep into the wood and become almost impossible to remove. If, however, the finish has been protected with a layer of wax, ink can often be blotted up immediately without staining. The following methods may be helpful should a stain occur.

Blot the spot immediately before the ink has a chance to penetrate the wood. Clean the surface using a cream wax or damp cloth. Do Not Rub–keep turning the cloth to prevent smearing. Should the stain persist, treat the spot with rottenstone and oil as for alcohol stains.

If stain remains, apply an oxalic acid solution with a medicine dropper or glass rod (two tablespoons oxalic acid to one pint lukewarm water). Allow the solution to stand a few minutes and rinse. The oxalic acid solution is a bleach and works slowly, so give it time to work on the stain. It may also bleach out part of the natural color. The bleach will work better if the spot is sanded lightly before application.(CAUTION: Oxalic acid is poisonous. Follow label directions.)

Wood Furniture – Nail Polish

Do not apply nail polish remover to the stain; it will quickly damage finish. Instead, soften the nail polish by rubbing it with a cloth saturated in mineral spirits.

CAUTION: Dry-cleaning spot remover and mineral spirits are poisonous and flammable. Follow caution on labels. Use in well-ventilated area. Do not use near flame, spark, or pilot light. Do not smoke. Do not get on skin or clothing. If the finish is hard, apply paste wax with fine 0000 steel wool in the direction of the grain. Apply a small amount of oil to an oil finish.

Wood Furniture – Paint Stains

Never use paint remover or strong chemicals to dissolve paint. They may cause extensive damage to the finish. Wipe off water-thinned paints with wet cloth. Wipe surface immediately with dry cloth to prevent water damage to finish. Caution: water will make shellac finish sticky.

Remove fresh oil-base paint by rubbing the spot with a cloth saturated in liquid solvent-base wax.

For paint stains that have dried, cover the spot with boiled linseed oil. Let stand until softened; then remove with a cloth dampened with boiled linseed oil. If any paint remains, remove with rottenstone and oil, using the same procedure as prescribed for alcohol stains; or gently scrape off paint with stiff cardboard, a plastic bowl scraper, or a fingernail.

Wood Furniture – Scratches

Light scratches will often disappear when carefully rubbed with furniture polish or paste wax. Deeper scratches can be hidden by carefully rubbing with a piece of oily nutmeat such as Brazil nut, black walnut, or pecan.

Be careful to rub the nutmeat directly into the scratch so it will not darken the surrounding wood. Color the scratch with brown coloring crayon or liquid shoe dye (especially good on walnut). Stain the scratch with iodine: Mahogany–use new iodine; Brown or cherry mahogany–iodine that has turned dark brown; Maple–dilute one part iodine with one part denatured alcohol.

Commercial scratch removers or stick wax to match the wood finish can also be used.

After the scratch has been hidden, polish or wax the entire area. Deep scratches on some modern furniture finishes which resist staining are almost impossible to hide.

Many spots will disappear if rubbed with a solution made of equal parts of boiled linseed oil, turpentine and vinegar, or with a cleaning-polishing wax. If the mark is stubborn, rub with 3/0 or 4/0 steel wool instead of a cloth. Rub with the grain of the wood. Do not use steel wool on high gloss finishes. Turpentine is flammable so follow cautions for solvents: no flame or spark nearby, do not get on skin, do not breathe.

Rub spot lightly with a paste of powdered pumice or rottenstone and linseed oil.

Spots on all finishes except lacquer can be treated with a cloth dampened with spirits of camphor, essence of peppermint or oil of wintergreen. As these may make the surface tacky, do not rub. When dry, you may need to smooth the roughened spot by rubbing with a paste of powdered pumice or rottenstone and linseed oil.

Alcohol spots often respond to a quick exposure to ammonia. Rub lightly with a cloth dampened with non-sudsy water and a few drops of household ammonia.

Not all treatments will work on all finishes. When completed, wax/polish entire surface. If spots cannot be removed, refinishing may be necessary.

Wood Furniture – Yellow Spots on Light Wood

As bleached or blond furniture ages, the chemicals used to bleach out the natural wood color begin to lose their effect, causing a change in color. Often this change is so gradual that it is not detected until a new piece is purchased in the original shade. Exposing light furniture to direct sunlight can cause a change to occur in only a few days resulting in unattractive yellow spots. Since nothing can be done to remove these spots, it is necessary to keep furniture of this type out of the sun.

The Author:

Anne Field, Extension Specialist, with credit to MSU Extension

10 thoughts on “Furniture Care and Cleaning

  1. My name is Martha and I am a professional pianist, musical theatre instructor and youth minister. I received my degree in music education and musical theatre in 1981. I learned a great tip on cleaning piano keys from one of my college professors and it has been great. Simply dampen a paper towel with clear rubbing alcohol and clean each key individually. This will remove all stains from messy fingers on the keyboard (very important with kids) and will remove the most irritable stain to a musician – perspiration stains. This will work on ivory as well as plastic keys.

    I also own a beautiful 5 1/2 ft, high gloss ebony grand piano. My former home had gas heat which caused a dull film to form over the entire instrument and just using a damp cloth did not remove the film. After contacting the manufacturer, I was told to “wash” my piano with 1 tablespoon of liquid dish detergent with 1 quart of warm water. When this solution dried, I then used clean warm water and a cloth to “rinse” and dry. I then used an old t-shirt to polish it to a shine that made my piano look brand new. This will not work on anything but high gloss ebony finishes but it does work beautifully. All the old film is gone and it looks just like the day I bought it 10 years ago. Good luck!

    1. Thank you for sharing your tip on cleaning piano keys! It’s always helpful to hear from professionals in the field. I will definitely give your method a try on my own piano keys. The tip on washing the piano with dish detergent is interesting as well, I will keep that in mind for high gloss ebony finishes. Thanks again!

  2. Use limestone when building your house. The limestone keeps the warm heat in and keeps outside heat from entering.

    1. Thank you for sharing your tip, its perfect for those looking to improve energy efficiency in their homes.

  3. I need to clean a blond bedroom set that is in great shape except for the aged darker areas. How do I clean them and get it back to that great blond color?

    1. To clean and restore your blond bedroom set, you’ll need a few supplies. Here’s what you’ll need:

      – Mild soap or dish detergent
      – Warm water
      – Soft cloths
      – Wood cleaner or bleach (optional)
      – Sandpaper (optional)

      Here are the steps to follow:

      1. Remove any dust or debris from the surface of the furniture with a soft cloth.

      2. Mix a small amount of mild soap or dish detergent with warm water in a bucket.

      3. Dip a soft cloth into the soapy water, wring it out well and gently scrub the areas of the furniture that have darkened.

      4. Rinse the cloth thoroughly and wipe down the furniture with clean water to remove any soap residue.

      5. Allow the furniture to dry completely before moving on to the next step.

      6. If the dark areas still persist, you can try using a wood cleaner or bleach to lighten them. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and wear gloves and eye protection when working with these products.

      7. For any areas where the finish has become rough or damaged, you can use sandpaper to smooth out the surface. Start with a fine grit and work your way up to a coarser grit as needed.

      8. Once you’re satisfied with the cleaning and restoration, apply a coat of furniture oil or wax to protect and nourish the wood.

      With these steps, you should be able to clean and restore your blond bedroom set to its original beauty.

  4. I have a Wurlitzer piano with a black lacquer finish. We have someone who cleans for us, who is excellent in all of her work. Nonetheless, I discovered three spots on the piano where she set a floor cleaner by method products. The first ingredient lists water(aqua) ethanol. The stains are formed by the outline from the oval bottom of the bottle. I found a similar mark on my kitchen counter which I finally removed with rubbing alcohol. I fear that if I try alcohol on the lacquer finish it would be a disaster. Is there anything that you would recommend?

    1. I understand your concern about using rubbing alcohol on a lacquer finish. It’s always best to be cautious when trying new cleaning methods. I would recommend reaching out to a professional piano technician or a specialist in lacquer finishes to get their advice on how to safely remove the stains. They may have specific products or techniques that they can recommend. Better to be safe than sorry!

    1. You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It’s always great to find helpful tips and information on caring for our furniture. If you have any specific questions or tips of your own, feel free to share!

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