Find out what you should and should not be using to clean your wooden surfaces.

By Lauren Wellbank
August 26, 2020
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If you're curious about how natural cleaning products work or why baking soda is such a powerful ingredient, you've come to the right place. We'll explain the science behind some of the most popular cleaning methods and tools, so you can you clean smarter—not harder. Follow along with Clean Science to see which technique we break down next.

person cleaning wood table top with rag and cleaning solution
Credit: Getty / Panpreeda Mahaly / EyeEm

Wood furniture is known for its durability and beauty, but unfortunately, it can be tricky to clean. There are products that are unsafe to use on wood finishes, and some of them can cause irreparable damage to your surfaces. We talked to two cleaning experts to find out which cleaning products you should never use on wood furniture (plus, the ones you can).

Say no to H2O.

When it comes to cleaning, skipping chemicals and going straight to plain water may seem like a safe bet, but environmental toxin expert Tonya Harris says you should never use water on wood. "Wood is porous, and water or too much liquid can cause the wood to swell—or it can leave permanent marks (like glass rings)," she says.

Stay away from harsh chemicals.

Similarly, you want to avoid chemicals that are too harsh, like vinegar. "It can eat through some finishes," Harris says. "It is okay, however, to dilute the vinegar with olive oil." Skip multipurpose cleaners that may strip the finish from the wood, or alcohol or ammonia-based products that can erode through the coating. You'll be able to tell if you have used something that is too strong if the wood begins to scar or bubble—which is why Harris always recommends testing a new cleaner on an inconspicuous area first.

Remember these quick fixes.

If you do use something too harsh, you can try a few of Harris' tried-and-true tricks—like applying real mayonnaise (the full-fat version!)—to remove stains. "Leave it on for up to 15 minutes," she says, before wiping it down with a dry or slightly damp microfiber cloth. "For any residue or spots, try a dab of dish or Castile soap with a little water and gently it rub over that section." Be sure to remove any soap residue left behind and wipe dry.

Take a DIY approach.

Because dusting sprays and polishes can build up over time and cause a hazy appearance, Harris recommends taking a DIY approach to creating a solution to use when polishing your wood pieces and surfaces. As for her favorite recipe? Combine two-parts white vinegar, one-part olive oil, and 10 to 15 drops of lemon essential oil (this is optional, but provides a nice scent and aids in the removal of grime). For floors, she suggests using a dry, microfiber mop that will trap dust, dirt, and allergens. "Avoid dry dusting or mopping with anything other than a microfiber cloth as that can spread dust around," she says.

Think beyond your surfaces.

Not even your wooden kitchen utensils are safe when it comes to harsh cleaning products, says Leanne Stapf, the chief operating officer at The Cleaning Authority. Kitchen items made of wood or bamboo—including cutting boards, spatulas, utensils, or bowls—should never be placed in the dishwasher. "Be sure to hand wash and air dry to avoid warping the wood," she says. "Not only do the high temperatures of the dishwasher misshape this material, but the abrasive detergent will cause damage, as well."

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