How To Clean Old Woodwork

By Robert Robillard on Home Repairs And Remodeling

Cleaning Antique Woodwork

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Dear Concord Carpenter,

What is the best cleaning solution to use on antique woodwork (again, I’m talking about 8″ – 10″ hand-hewn beams and 22″ wide pine wainscoting. I believe they were hand waxed at one point- and I want to preserve the
antiquity.  Any products you would recommend?

Thanks and regards,
Dom

Hi Dom,

That woodwork sounds real nice.  I love wainscoting but years of hand prints, oil and dirt can build up and create a grimy film.

There are three basic approaches you can try and I suggest you start at the least caustic measure and work your way up if needed.

How To Clean Old Woodwork

  1. Soap and water
  2. Solution of water and Trisodium Phosphate [TSP]
  3. Wipe down with Naphtha

Start by using a mild soap and water solution and use a soft rag to wash the woodwork.  [dish washing soap works fine]  Start washing with a damp rag, use only enough soapy water to wet the wood.  Change the rag often.  Most times this cleaning method will work fine.

If the grime and dirt does not come off then step up your cleaning to a solution of warm water and Trisodium Phosphate [TSP]   Follow the directions on the box for mixing.  Start cleaning in an inconspicuous area to see how your woodwork responds to the TSP solution.  Clean the woodwork in the same fashion as with soap and water.

As a last resort you can use Naphtha which is  probably the best all-around cleaning solvent.  To clean the woodwork, dampen a clean rag with the Naphtha and rub a small surface at a time. Wet the rag, not the surface. Switch the rags often.

With all of the cleaning methods – I’ve had good success with stubborn areas by using a green scrub pad or 0000 steel wool.   Make sure you apply a very light and gentle pressure.  You need to be SUPER careful here or you will cut into and through the finish and scratch the wood surface.

Use only enough pressure to remove stubborn areas of wax and polish.  Scrub pads and steel wool can dull the finish.  Toothbrush, toothpicks and dental picks can be useful for cleaning nooks and crannies.

 

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About the author

Robert Robillard

Carpenter / Remodeler / Editor

Rob Robillard is “The Concord Carpenter” Rob is a builder, general contractor, carpenter, woodworker, and editor of Concord Carpenter and ToolBoxBuzzr As a General Contractor and carpenter, Rob owns and operates Concord Carpenter LLC. A full-service remodeling and construction company. Rob is a recognized leader in home building best practices and a source for how-to information for building professionals. On this website, Rob covers all aspects of home construction, building science, home improvement, woodworking, remodeling, and some of the best product and tool reviews. Rob is in charge of our Tool and Product Review series - Concord Carpenter Videos where we post all of our tool reviews and video tutorials. Rob approaches remodeling and building construction with a pragmatic and problem-solving approach. He enjoys using his knowledge and experience to help and educate building professionals as well as DIYers on best practices in the construction and remodeling industry. He's a strong advocate for "raising-the-bar" in the construction trades and promoting the trades to youth. #BeAMentor #Green2Great Craftsmanship, quality, and pride guide his journey on this channel The Concord Carpenter's motto: "Well done is better than well said!" : Read more about Rob

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