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Step-By-Step Guide to Removing a Sticky Buildup on Wood

What is the best way to remove sticky wax buildup from wood furniture?

Why is my wood furniture sticky?

If you’ve got a thick, sticky film on, say, your wood kitchen table and chairs, your kitchen cabinets, a coffee table, a door, a hand rail, etc., it’s time to remove that gummy mess and get down to the clean original finish. Sticky buildup and grime on wood comes from cooking grease and vapors, layers of furniture polish, cigarette smoke, moist hands, and even the breakdown of the original finish. Fortunately, the waxy buildup doesn't typically ruin the original finish.  You just need to take care in cleaning the wood without having to strip and refinish the surface.

Pro Tip:  Always test any method of cleaning on a hidden area to make sure it doesn't have an adverse affect on the furniture's finish.  

Bring back your furniture’s natural beauty

Dark Wood Furniture

Follow these steps to cut through the film and reveal the wood’s natural beauty.
  1. Dust thoroughly with a microfiber cloth to grab as much dust as possible. Rinse the cloth out well if you want to use this same cloth for the next step.
  2. Mix equal parts vinegar and water; dip a soft cloth in the mixture and wring out really well or use the solution in a spray bottle. Wipe the wood in the direction of the grain, re-wetting and wringing your cloth often.
  3. After several passes to remove the buildup, dry the wood thoroughly with a cloth so the excess moisture doesn't eventually damage the wood.
  4. Repeat as necessarily.
  5. If the vinegar doesn't totally do the trick, next dampen a clean cloth with mineral spirits and wipe onto the wood making sure to wipe in the direction of the grain.  Quickly wipe the excess moisture with a damp cloth and then dry completely.
Pro tip:  Use a cleaning toothbrush or cotton swab to thoroughly clean any crevices in the wood that a microfiber cloth can't quite get.  

Light Wood Furniture

  1. Make some hot tea.  Yep, steep 3 black tea bags in 1 cup of hot water and allow to cool.
  2. Apply the tea to the surface using a clean microfiber cloth being sure to wipe with the grain of the wood.
  3. Use a new clean cloth and wipe with the grain again to remove the excess moisture.
  4. Wipe one more time with a damp cloth to fully clean the surface.
  5. Buff dry with yet another fresh cloth.
  6. Polish the surface like new.

Still feel a buildup?

If this method doesn’t remove the sticky buildup completely, move on to a product made specifically for cleaning wood. These can be found in most home improvement and hardware stores. Certain restorative solvents, such as Howard Feed-N-Wax, dissolve wax buildup on wood furniture. Be sure to apply the solvent to a disposable polishing cloth or directly to the furniture. Loosen and remove the old wax with the polishing cloth, assisted by a toothbrush for the nooks and crannies.  During the removal phase, you can position the toothbrush over the cloth so the bristles poke the cloth into the hard to reach areas. As with any product, Speed Cleaning advises testing on an inconspicuous area first. Older finishes on a cherished heirloom may best be addressed by a professional wood care specialist. Pro tip: In the future don't use wax on the intricate parts of the wood furniture for more than one coat and only rewax the flat tops and occasionally the flat sides.  It will be easier to clean next time.   For more unique, time-tested professional cleaning tips, check out Talking Dirt by Jeff Campbell featuring answers to the 157 most frequently asked cleaning questions collected by the experts at the The Clean Team.

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