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How to Clean Wood Furniture to Make It Look New

All of the steps and supplies you need to know for how to clean wood furniture and why non-painted furniture is making a comeback in design trends.

I found a dark walnut wood dresser and nightstand on Facebook Marketplace earlier this week, and I actually did not paint it! Gasp! (Who the heck am I anymore?)

Regan’s old laminate dresser, while I loved the color, just wasn’t giving me the rich nostalgic warmth I really wanted in her bedroom. So by cleaning the wood furniture, it’s added so much depth while giving me peace of mind that its safe for our 3 year-old.

wood chest of drawers before
cleaned wood furniture in a girl's room
wood chest of drawers after cleaning with chinoiserie lamp

Why Wood Furniture is Making a Trend Comeback

Traditional furniture styles are big time trending on the interior design scene lately, and with the nod to cottagecore style in Regan’s room, it felt like the perfect opportunity to get back to the bare wood furniture roots to give that old wood a lustrous shine.

Over the past decade, farmhouse style was all about distressed chalk painted pieces or worn, weathered reclaimed wood.

Every action has an equal but opposite reaction, even in interior design. So of course, as time always tells with the ebb and flow of what’s “in style”, the answer to the farmhouse craze is the rich, lustrous furniture in the traditional aesthetic.

wood nightstand before
wood nightstand after cleaning between two beds

How to Clean Wood Furniture

I love scoring furniture on Facebook Marketplace, but since they usually have decades of grime built up on them with scratches a-plenty, I used this method to make ours look new again.

Wood Furniture Cleaner Supplies

The Steps

  1. Clean with Oil Soap

    Mix 1/2 Cup Murphy’s Oil Soap into a gallon of warm water. Using a clean rag, wipe down the furniture with the soapy mixture. Then, wipe away any soapy residue with clean water. Immediately dry off any excess water.

  2. Remove Water Spots

    To rehydrate the wood from any water spots or water damage such as wood rings, rub a moderate layer of Vaseline or mayonnaise on top. Let it sit overnight up to 24 hours. Wipe clean to reveal a more even wood tone on the furniture’s surface. Repeat if necessary.

  3. Clean Vaseline residue

    Use the Murphy’s Oil Soap again to clean off any Vaseline residue so the polish can penetrate in the next step.

  4. Polish

    Using a new clean rag, wipe down the wood furniture with Old English Wood Furniture Polish or Howard Restore-A-Finish. (Howard is preferred, but since my hardware store was out, Old English was a good alternative.)
    Concentrate on any scratches or dings to ensure they’re covered. Wipe away any excess polish.

  5. Scrub Hardware

    If you have any hardware on your furniture that looks a little grimey, you can scrub it with Barkeepers Friend and an old toothbrush with a little warm water. Rinse and let dry. Then reattach to your wood furniture.

The Finished Wood Furniture

It looks like a brand new dresser, doesn’t it?! And it really wasn’t too strenuous to clean and polish. (I’d say the strenuous part was really Robert and me hauling this hefty chest of drawers up our staircase.)

Doesn’t Regan’s room look so charming with these two pieces? I can’t get over how much better it looks after all of that TLC.

clean wood furniture in a little girl bedroom
clean wood furniture in a little girl bedroom
how to clean wood furniture like this nightstand

Long live the wood furniture! Maybe I’ll even get up the nerve to strip painted furniture again… though I think I’m still recovering from a few bad incidents all these years later.

Are you all for traditional and wood furniture again? Or still Team Painted Furniture? Neither is wrong really. Do what your soul loves and decorate with what makes you happy. That’s what really matters.

The me 5 years ago would have slapped distressed chalk paint on these two wood furniture beauties in a heartbeat. But that wood grain deserves the spotlight for sure.

wood furniture cleaning in a girl's bedroom
wood nightstand between two twin beds in a little girl bedroom

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get musty smell out of drawers?

These charcoal bags work wonders for all kinds of icky furniture smells. Place one in a drawer for a few days and let it do the work for you. You can also try sprinkling baking soda in a drawer along with a few dryer sheets.

What is an alternative wood furniture cleaner?

Mix 4 parts water with 1 part vinegar and one part olive oil in a spray bottle and spritz all over your wood furniture. Dry with a clean cloth.

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46 Comments

  1. I’ve been so into stripping furniture and getting that raw wood look that this process is so different to me. Thanks for teaching me something today! 🙂

  2. Beautiful! I actually love a mix of wood furniture with painted furniture. This adds layers and depth to a room, along with mixing in some metallics! Your daughter’s room is precious!

  3. They look fantastic! Lol it really boils down to everything has a cycle. Wood is back now. Painted will make a reappearance in X many years!

    1. It’s so true. I’ve heard before that trends usually cycle every 20-30 years. We’re seeing a big resurgence of trends that were prominent in the 80s and 90s, so that definitely aligns with what the “trend experts” predict.

  4. I have an old dresser of my Nana’s that I need to do this too. I was going to paint it, started by stripping just one drawer (with Homer Formby’s) so now that drawer is lighter than the rest, the top has rings from paint cans or something??? I would like to try the Howard’s products but it looks like online you need to pick a wood color? I have no idea what wood this is??? help? how do I figure that out…

    1. Hi Gloria, I would take your drawer into any home improvement store or even a lumber yard if you have a local one and ask them what type of wood you’re working with. And depending on what type of damage you have with the rings, you may need to sand the top. It’s going to be worth it and I was glad to see Lauren embracing natural wood! Good Luck!

    2. Hi Gloria! I agree with the replying comment; I would take a drawer to have the wood species identified. Then, you’ll have a better idea of how the stain will react to it.

  5. Thank you for this info. I have an old dresser & 2 night stands that I love, but need a good cleaning & polishing. I personally would never paint beautiful wood.