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Unfinished wood surfaces attract dirt, dust, and stains just like any other surface in the home. However, you can easily damage the wood if you use harsh chemicals or other cleaners on it. To discover the best methods for keeping your unfinished wood clean, read the recommendations of our readers below.

Sean Chapman

Sean Chapman

Sean Chapman, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief at Tools’n’Goods.

3 Step Cleaning Routine (+ Tips)

Unvarnished wood is highly exposed as it doesn’t have any protective coating. You have to be careful cleaning it.

1. Start with a Soft Brush and a Vacuum to Remove Dust and Debris
A soft brush will help you quickly remove all the particles and most of the dust from the flat surface and crevices. The soft bristles won’t damage the wood, so you can swing the brush in any direction you want. Remove all the dust and debris you can and use a vacuum cleaner to remove the rest.

2. Take a Microfiber Cloth and Wipe the Surface
A dry and clean microfiber cloth will help you remove all the dust and dirt that couldn’t be removed with the brush and vacuum. Besides, it will help you remove the stains that haven’t penetrated too deep.

3. Repeat Regularly
If you repeat these two steps regularly, you will prevent the dirt from [becoming ingrained in] the wood and preserve its original appearance.

If the dirt stays after these steps, do the following:

  1. Clean the surface with a stiff brush. Make careful strokes on the dirty spot to pick up the dirt without scratching the wood.
  2. Vacuum to remove the debris and dust and remove the rest with a microfiber [towel].
  3. Knead adhesive rubber into the surface to elevate the dirt from the grain without damage.
  4. Rub the surface with a pencil eraser. This can help you quickly remove most types of stains.
  5. Spray some [mineral spirits] onto the stain and rub it with a towel. Apply some more if the first small application didn’t provide the needed result.

5 Steps to Clean Unvarnished Wood

Since liquid can easily penetrate wood, you should be very careful when cleaning unvarnished wood. Here are some tips for you,

  1. Dust off the unvarnished wood using a clean paintbrush.
  2. Remove the remaining scuffs and dirt by using a damp cloth.
  3. Use sandpaper to initially polish the wood surface. Always go with the grain of the wood.
  4. Remove the stains or marks by using either lacquer thinner or acetone. Use a cloth with the solution to wipe the stains.
  5. Sand it again for the second polishing.
Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson, Founder of Sawinery.

Mike Cooper

Mike Cooper

Mike Cooper of The Riven Oak.

Use A Natural Dish Soap

One of the most effective ways to remove dirt and stains from unvarnished natural wood is to [dilute] a small amount of natural dish soap into some lukewarm water. Then, carefully use a damp cloth to apply this to the wood. The compounds in the soap will help remove the dirt/stains without damaging the natural wood with harsh chemicals that are found in most cleaning products.

Use a Solid Gum Eraser

When it comes to cleaning unvarnished wood, I like to use a solid gum eraser. These erasers are made of rubber milder than PVC or filled rubber. I use a small amount with a wad of absorbent cotton and gently work it over the surface using a gentle circular motion. Avoid hard rubbing at all costs. To ensure that all eraser particles are off the surface afterward, use a vacuum cleaner nozzle covered with mesh to capture said particles.

Matthew Paxton

Matthew Paxton

Matthew Paxton, Founder of Hypernia.

Justin Carpenter

Justin Carpenter

Justin Carpenter, Owner of Modern Maids.

Use A Dust Mop

Use a dust mop, which is a flat head microfiber [mop] (sometimes has stringy edges), as frequently as possible to dust off the surfaces of the wood. The best care for this type of wood is maintenance, and you do not want dust, dirt, or other debris to linger too long and settle into the wood. You can also use adhesive rubber to help remove gunk. Be very careful when using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser because these erasers can act as abrasive and shave off the top of the wood.

Use Household Cleaners and a Microfiber Cloth

Unvarnished wood is pretty vulnerable to all sorts of wear-and-tear. Since it lacks the varnish that would protect it from moisture or physical impact, you should never use any commercial wood cleaning solutions. Polishing is impossible! All you can do is clean and maintain it.

Resort to household cleaners instead, such as a gentle microfiber cloth, which can be slightly damp, or a soft brush to remove the dust regularly. If there’s more stubborn dirt or debris, a drop or two of your regular dish soap dissolved in a quart of water should be enough. Dampen the cloth ever so slightly into this solution, but don’t overdo it! Unvarnished wood is highly absorbent, and too much moisture would damage it.

Goodell David

Goodell David

Goodell David, Founder of Woodworking Clarity.

Andre Kazimierski

Andre Kazimierski

Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy.

Tips and Guides for Cleaning and Polishing Unvarnished Wood

Cleaning Unvarnished Wood
Start by dusting the surface and using a vacuum with a brush. For the deepest clean, use an adhesive rubber to extract all the dirt. Next, wash it with soapy water, rinse with lukewarm water, and dry with a clean cloth. Finally, create a wood cleaning agent with white vinegar and water in a spray bottle, making sure the ratio of vinegar:water doesn’t surpass 50:50.

Polishing Unvarnished Wood
Clean and sand the wood thoroughly. If there are any cracks, fill them with a plaster mixture. Apply a sealer, aiming for 10 to 15 layers on average (the more layers, the more professional the appearance). After it’s been sealed, sand again and apply a lacquer finish.

Natural Ways to Clean Your Unvarnished Wood

Dealing with unvarnished wood can be a bit tricky because the surface itself is porous and absorbent. Any spills can be a problematic situation. If you care a lot about your wood’s surface, avoid using harsh chemicals that could potentially damage the wood.

Stick with a Soapy Solution
It’s one thing to clean spilled milk, but what if you’re dealing with a material like paint, let’s say? You’ll probably be tempted to use some paint thinner, but as mentioned earlier, you’re only causing more damage. In this [situation], stick to the old-fashioned mixture of dishwashing soap and warm water. Start with a sponge, but if that doesn’t work, move up to a soft-bristled brush.

Use White Vinegar to Get Rid of Dirt and Grime
If you’re looking for a stronger cleaning solution, you can go with some white vinegar and water. Using a spray bottle, apply that mixture to the affected area. Finish the job off with a quick rub down of a damp cloth.

Give it a Regular Dusting
Don’t wait until those dust particles become cakey and more difficult to remove. Be sure to dust it regularly with either a feather duster or a soft cloth. If you want a more thorough cleaning, a soft-bristled brush can get the job done.

Jack Miller

Jack Miller

Jack Miller is the founder of How I Get Rid Of.

Jane Wilson

Jane Wilson

Jane Wilson, A cleaning professional working for Fantastic Cleaners Australia.

Step by Step Instructions for Cleaning Unvarnished Wood

You will need the following items and products:
A pair of rubber gloves
A medium-sized tub
A large bowl
Hot water
A clean household sponge
A clean microfiber cloth
Liquid mild dishwasher detergent
Bicarb soda
White vinegar
Olive oil

Prepare the solution
1. Fill the big tub with hot water and set it aside.
2. Mix 2 liters of lukewarm water with 1 tsp of bicarb soda, 2 Tbsp of white vinegar, 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and 3 Tbsp of the household washing liquid.
3. Stir the mixture very well with the sponge, and squeeze it to make sure it’s not soaking.
4. Unvarnished wood soaks up a lot of water, so you can’t use too much if you don’t want to damage it.
5. Test the cleaning solution on the bottom side of the table to make sure it will not stain the wood or cause discoloration.
6. Start wiping the table with the abrasive side of the sponge in the direction of the grain.
7. Make sure you move quickly and all the area is equally moist.
8. Pay special attention to stains and drips, wiping them more excessively with the abrasive side of the sponge.
9. Once you’ve cleaned the table, wipe it with a clean cloth. The dirt should transfer to it right away.

Condition the table
To restore that natural warm tone of your wooden table:
1. Clean up the bowl and fill it with hot water.
2. Add olive oil. The proportions are around 10ml per 2 liters of water.
3. Mix the solution well by using another clean cloth.
4. Rinse the cloth well.
5. Wipe the table thoroughly, again following the grain.

Polish Your Unvarnished Woods with These Oils

While unvarnished, it’s not protected from stains and spills. Wood, like any other organic material, needs proper care because, although resistant, it’s not made to be used as a table or surface to walk on.

I always prefer taking the DIY route when it comes to cleaning. Linseed oil is a well-known wood polish. Add some cedarwood essential oil to the mix, and you’ll have a great polish for your wood surface. Mineral oil will work just as fine.

If you want to keep the natural look of wood, such as the imperfections on the surface, just scrub the surface using a ball of steel wool. This is the gentlest “sanding” you can do to leave a little bit of character. If you do end up using sandpaper or a sander, you can sand unevenly to keep that “unfinished look.” This means to sand hard on a few spots and sand lightly everywhere else. Try to make it as random as possible to keep that natural feel.

When it comes to cleaning unfinished wood, remember to avoid water as much as possible. Wood needs to keep a precise internal humidity level so as not to rot or spoil. I would either vacuum (with no water or steam) or use a light brush or a microfiber cloth. It tends to perform better than cotton cloths. If you spill liquid, try drying it out as fast as possible.

Alex Varela

Alex Varela, General Manager of Dallas Maids.

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