cleaning a grubby piece of furniture

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I have recently acquired quite a few awesome, but very dirty pieces of furniture and I’ve been asked how I clean them, so I thought I would share.

I’m all for diving in with a brush and getting straight to the fun part, but grubby pieces really need to be cleaned first.

(Just a note before we get started. This post is about cleaning pieces, not about dealing with chipping lead paint.  The pieces we worked on had old, worn paint, but they were not actively chipping.  For details on working on a piece that you think may contain lead paint, visit the EPA’s website.)

So, the first step is to call your mom, who is amazing at cleaning and is a very hard worker and ask if she can clean a couple of pieces of furniture for you.

Just kidding.  My mom actually did clean these pieces for me, but she asked if there was something she could do to help and she knew what she was in for!

So, cleaning a piece is really best done outside on a sunny day, but it was cloudy and in the 40’s, so we worked inside today.  We put down a thick plastic sheet to catch spills.

When cleaning a piece, I start out with vacuuming up loose dirt from inside the drawers, cabinets, and in nooks and crannies of the exterior.

Second, I scrub them with warm, soapy water.  Yes, you really can use water on wood and/or painted pieces.  My mom was telling me that she and her dad, my Opa, actually hosed down a wood piece of furniture she inherited from her grandmother!  Just don’t let the water sit on the surface for too long and only do this if the piece really needs it.

If soapy water isn’t getting the job done, use a stronger, grease-cutting spray cleaner.

Change out the soapy water regularly.  It’s amazing how dirty some pieces get.  The water from the chicken incubator I cleaned a couple of years ago was black.

You can use either a rag or sponge.  Brushes are nice for getting into nooks and crannies, so I’ll keep a scrub brush on hand and even an old toothbrush.

I would also suggest taking the drawers out to get all the sides clean and to vacuum the recesses.


If I’m not going to repaint a piece, I almost always seal it with Tough Coat, which is a non-yellow, matte finish, water-based poly.  This seals the old paint, inhibits chipping, and makes it feel nice and fresh to the touch while retaining the worn look.

And, for old wood, I’ll hydrate it with Hemp Oil, to bring back the luster.  It really is amazing what Hemp Oil can do to dried out wood.

If I am planning to paint the, piece, I’ll just go ahead and paint it!  I would suggest allowing the piece to dry overnight prior to painting or applying a finish, though.  You don’t want to seal moisture into a piece.

Good luck with that next grubby piece of furniture you find!

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