Homemade Nontoxic Furniture Cleaners

By: Julie Day
Cleaning supplies on wood table.

Simple, yet effective, arsenal for cleaning most wood furniture.

Freshly polished wood furniture really makes a home sparkle, but most commercial furniture polishes are full of artificial fragrances, residues, chemicals, and propellants that I’d rather not have floating around in the air of my home or building up on the surfaces we regularly touch.

The good news is, you really don’t need much to clean and polish your wood furniture – less is more. Here are a few easy DIY recipes and tips to get you started.

Cleaning Furniture with a Built-Up Surface Finish

Furniture with a hard, clear finish—such as lacquer or varnish—is very easy to maintain using these tips:

  • Light Dusting: Moisten a lint-free microfiber cloth with plain old water, and wring it out as much as you can. Use this barely-damp cloth for basic wipe-ups and dusting. You can even use a dry cloth for quick dust removal.
  • Microfiber cloths on wood table top.

    Microfiber cloths catch dust.

  • Tough Spots and Stains: Add a few squirts of biodegradable castile soap to a spray bottle of water. Spray the stubborn spots and gently rub the surface clean with a rag or cleaning cloth. Don’t soak the furniture, and don’t use so much soap that it suds up and has to be rinsed.
  • Water Rings: Forgot to use a coaster? No problem! Next time you make a sandwich, slather a spoonful of full-fat mayonnaise on the stain. Let it sit overnight, and in the morning rub it away with a clean cloth, and voilà, no more ring!
  • Regular Polishing: This is my go-to wood polish, based on this easy recipe from One Good Thing by Jillee. It’s the most like the dusting sprays you remember from your childhood, and it removes fingerprints and leaves the furniture gleaming without feeling oily.

DIY Non-Toxic Natural Dusting Spray

Bottle with recipe on it.

This recipe couldn’t be easier! Pour in a clean spray bottle:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil or jojoba oil (available at health food stores)
  • 15 drops essential oil for fragrance (lemon, orange, or lavender). My current favorite essential oil is Aura Cacia Creative Juice, which is a blend of lemon, bergamot, and cardamom.

To use, just give the bottle a good shake, spritz it on, and use your trusty microfiber cloth to clean and polish to your heart’s content, following the grain for the final shine. Be sure to shake before each use, because the oil will separate.

White painted furniture cabinet.

Painted furniture just needs a wipe down, although some pieces may also be waxed.

Cleaning Painted Furniture

Painted furniture usually needs nothing more than an occasional wiping with a damp microfiber cloth.

If there are stubborn stains on the painted surface, scrub it gently with a soft cloth and diluted, biodegradable soap solution.

No furniture polish is needed, but you can wax a painted surface to increase the sheen and add another layer of protection.

Wood furniture with wax finish.

Wax finishes are both lustrous and protective.

Applying Wax to Furniture

Wax finishes were once very common, and they’re making a comeback with modern chalk-painted furniture and upcycled antiques.

To test to see if your furniture is waxed, very gently scrape with your fingernail in an inconspicuous spot. If it leaves a mark, then try to buff out the scratch with a clean, dry cloth. If the mark buffs out, you’ve got a wax finish.

Wax finishes are a one-way street – once something is waxed, it needs to continue to be waxed. Avoid furniture polishes and soaps, as they can dull and even dissolve the finish. Instead, gently wipe the piece clean with a damp microfiber cloth; then buff with a soft, dry cloth to restore the shine.

When the shine dulls, you may need to reapply a coat of wax, using this simple, all-natural beeswax polish.

DIY Beeswax Furniture Polish

You will need:

    Using cloth to wax table top.

  • 1 part beeswax (you can buy pellets, or shave a chunk using a cheese grater). A little goes a long way, so aim for 1/4 to 1/2 cup beeswax after melting.
  • 3 parts olive or jojoba oil
  • Essential oils for fragrance (optional)

Gently melt the beeswax in a double boiler, being careful not to overheat and burn it. When the wax is melted, remove from heat, add the oil, and stir well.

If the mixture begins to solidify before it’s blended, return it to the stove briefly just to melt everything together. Then, pour the mixture into a clean glass jar, and allow to cool completely. It will keep a year or more in a cool, dark cabinet.

To apply beeswax, dip a clean cloth into the wax, and apply a VERY thin coat to the furniture surface. Don’t overdo it! The furniture will only accept a thin layer, so if you use too much, you’ll just have to spend a lot of time wiping it off.

Apply the wax with the grain, going over and over the area to even out the layer and catch any missed spots. Continue rubbing until you see the wax start to dry and haze over.

Next, switch to a clean cloth, and buff – again, with the grain – until all excess wax is removed and the furniture gleams. This isn’t something you need to often, so take the time to do it well.

Handmade wood table.

Handmade pieces, antiques, and outdoor furniture may have a simple oil finish.

Cleaning and Renewing an Oil Finish on Furniture

You’re not likely to find an oil finish on most manufactured furniture, but some handmade pieces, antiques, and outdoor deck furniture may be protected with a deep penetrating layer of oil, rather than a hard finish.

To test for an oil finish, rub a small amount of oil onto the surface. If the wood absorbs the oil, that’s a sign of an oiled finish. If the oil beads up, you probably have a standard built-up finish.

Go very easy on when cleaning furniture with an oil finish. Dust and wipe clean with a slightly damp cloth, and remove stains with a diluted castile soap solution.

If the finish has dulled, reapply a light coat of the same type of oil as was originally used. If you don’t know what oil was used, choose a penetrating oil finish, such as tung oil. Follow any instructions that came with your piece of furniture, to ensure a long-lasting finish.

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