Part 1: How to Clean and Refinish Solid Wood Furniture

There's just something about wood. The textures, the colors, the natural beauty that makes it a perfect choice for home furnishings. In fact, there's a renewed appreciation for wood as a natural resource and as a result, more and more people want to restore rather than discard their used but still serviceable furniture. In part 1 of this 4 part series I explain how to go about cleaning your solid wood furniture in preparation for refinishing.

Before You Start

Before starting the process, let me point out a couple of housekeeping items that you'll want to keep in mind. First, it's best to put a square of plastic or tarp underneath the piece of furniture that you'll be working on. Additionally, the room should be well ventilated and for obvious reasons, you should not be wearing your best clothes.

You'll also want to be working in an area with good light. In front of a window is ideal during the daytime because then you'll have an oblique source of light off the surface that you are refinishing. Photographic light does the job as well … something that allows you to see the surface and examine it for defects.

The Cleaning Process

The two main tools we'll use during the cleaning process are a citrus based solvent and the slightly abrasive Scotch-Brite domestic cleaning pad. The key ingredient in citrus based solvent is delemonine; a compound made from the skins of oranges and lemons. I recommend that you use a block of some type to hold the Scotch-Brite pad. Wrapping the pad around a small wood block for example will make it easier to work with. You can also find purpose designed rubber blocks at most good hardware stores.

The first step in the process is to spray a light film of solvent over the area to be cleaned. Then use the Scotch-Brite block to rub back and forth with the grain in long strokes. This can be done at quite a leisurely pace since you want to give the solvent time to work. Any larger articles of dirt or grime attached to the surface that are not removed during this process can be effectively dislodged with the edge of a credit card and then refinished with the pad.

Next, clean off the residue of the solvent with a paper towel. Take note of how dirty the paper towel gets. A very dirty towel indicates that the surface is not yet clean, in which case you should dry the surface and repeat the exercise. Continue doing this until the residue on the paper towel is actually just the color of the solvent.

The final step in the cleaning process is rub the surface with a dry Scotch-Brite pad. Again, use long even strokes to rub with the grain to produce an sheen over the whole surface. This prepares the surface for the next step, re-oiling. Before moving on to that stage however, allow time for any remanents of the citrus solvent to evaporate.