Author Archives: Bob Vila

Bob Vila

About Bob Vila

You probably know me from TV, where for nearly 30 years I hosted a variety of shows – This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, Bob Vila, and Restore America with Bob Vila. You can now watch my full TV episodes online. Now it's this website that I am passionate about and the chance to share my projects, discoveries, tips, advice and experiences with all of you.

How To: Paint Concrete

You can brighten up a dull gray concrete surface with a bright coat of paint. All it takes is time—and some very careful preparation.

How to Paint Concrete

Photo: shutterstock.com

To paint concrete successfully—so that it looks good and lasts a long time—proper preparation is of paramount importance. If you follow the steps below, you can achieve satisfying results no matter what concrete you choose to paint, be it the garage floor, basement wall, outdoor patio, or any other part of your property.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Concrete filler
- Power sander with fine-grit disks
- Pole sander
- Trisodium phosphate or other alkaline cleaner
- Metal-bristled brush
- Paving paint or porch-and-floor enamel
- Paintbrush or roller
- Putty knife
- Protective gear (rubber gloves, dust mask, glasses)

STEP 1
When you set out to paint concrete, the process begins rather unglamorously with concrete filler. Use the patch compound to fill in all holes, scratches, and gouges in the concrete. After allowing sufficient dry time, sand the repaired areas until they are smooth.

STEP 2
Using a solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP) and warm water, clean the surface thoroughly, removing all the oil and grease that would otherwise discolor the paint job. Work the solution into the concrete with a metal-bristled brush. To determine the proper ratio of TSP to water, read the package instructions, but figure on about one-quarter cup TSP to one gallon warm water. TSP can harm skin and eyes if it makes contact, so be sure to wear full protective gear.

STEP 3
As the TSP reacts with the concrete, you are likely to notice a slight bubbling across the surface. Let that bubbling continue for about 20 minutes, then hose off the concrete, completely washing away the TSP. Let the surface dry for two days. Afterward, run your hand over the concrete; it should feel like 120-grit sandpaper.

How to Paint Concrete - Roller

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 4
Sweep the area or wipe it down with a dry cloth, depending on the orientation of the surface. Now you’re ready to start painting. Use a paintbrush to apply an initial coat of paving paint (or porch-and-floor enamel) over the perimeter of the area. A regular medium-size paintbrush enables you to achieve good coverage in the corners and along the edges.

STEP 5
Next, use a paint roller to fill in the sections that you didn’t coat with the brush. If you’re painting a floor, remember to start on the far side of the room, so you end up finishing near a doorway or another convenient stepping-off point. In other words, don’t paint yourself into a corner! Let that first coat dry for at least 16 hours or so.

STEP 6
Putty knife in hand, scrape away any protruding lumps or bumps that appeared after the first coat dried. Sand any areas where the paint failed to adhere; if you do end up sanding again, don’t forget to sweep again too.

STEP 7
Apply the second coat in the same way that you applied the first. This time around, however, press down firmly with the roller, mashing the paint into the holes the first coat didn’t penetrate. Before considering the project complete, let the second coat dry for about five days, particularly if the painted surface is a heavily trafficked floor.


How To: Clean Cast Iron

It's such a strong and reliable material that you probably don't think too often about your cast iron pans, furniture, and other implements. You're right not to worry, because cast iron can last forever—if you care for it properly, that is. Here's how.

A durable material if there ever was one, cast iron occasionally requires cleaning, particularly where food preparation or moisture—and the rust it brings along—are concerned. To clean cast iron, you’ve usually got to put some elbow grease into it, but the good news is that properly cared for the metal can last a lifetime.

 

COOKWARE

How to Clean Cast Iron - Cookware

Photo: shutterstock.com

Don’t use soap to clean cast iron cookware: It can hurt more than it helps. Instead, fill the cast iron vessel with water, then place it on a hot stove. As the water starts boiling, use a spatula to scrape away lingering bits of foods. Next, rinse the skillet one more time, wipe it down with a dry cloth, and put it back on the burner until the water has evaporated. Note that seasoning cast iron (with palm or grape seed oil) helps cookware become more resistant to sticking and rust.

To clean cast iron that’s covered in rust, place the cookware in the oven, then run the appliance on its self-cleaning cycle. (Remember to remove all oven shelves and to support the cast iron away from the oven base—for example, on top of a ceramic mug.) Once the oven has completed its self-cleaning cycle, the rust and accumulated oil on the cast iron will have charred. It’s by no means glamorous work, but you should be able to scrub off that flaky black material with a dry towel.

 

FURNITURE

How to Clean Cast Iron - Furniture

Photo: shutterstock.com

To clean cast iron furniture blemished by a dusting of light rust, rub the affected areas with sandpaper, wiping it down afterward with a dry cloth to eliminate residual particles. Next, scrub the furniture with a solution of water and gentle detergent. Thoroughly dry the piece once it’s clean. If you are going to repaint, do so in two coats, allowing four or six hours to elapse between each coat. Seal cast iron furniture with a liberal application of car wax, buffing all over until it’s see-through.

 

GRILL GRATES

How to Clean Cast Iron - Grill Grates

Photo: shutterstock.com

Grill grates take a real beating. To clean yours, mix a solution of four parts water to one part apple cider vinegar. Continuously dip a steel-bristled brush into that mixture, as you vigorously scrub the grates, eliminating all buildup. Finish by wiping off the grates with a dry cloth. Repeat this procedure on a regular basis during the times of year when you frequently grill. If there’s rust, turn the heat up on the grill and leave it going until char forms on the iron before finally wiping the grates clean. Want to seal the grates against future accumulations? Cover them in a layer of cooking oil, then run the grill at medium heat for about 90 minutes.

 

FIREPLACE TOOLS

How to Clean Cast Iron - Fireplace Tools

Photo: shutterstock.com

The fireplace tools used to reposition burning logs in the fireplace inevitably get covered in soot. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to clean them. Spray on WD-40 3-in-One and give them a good scrub with steel wool, wiping dry to finish. After that, apply iron stove polish to protect the cast iron from moisture.


How To: Clean Laminate Floors

With regular maintenance and careful cleaning, you can keep your laminate floor looking shiny and new.

How to Clean Laminate Floors

Photo: pergo.com

Laminate floors are so beautiful when first installed, but over time they can start to look a little worse for wear. Of course, unsightly streaks and blemishes need not be permanent. By following these simple guidelines, you can clean laminate floors effectively and restore their original sparkle and luster.

How to Clean Laminate Floors - Flat Mop

Photo: shutterstock.com

Basic Cleaning
If you’re going to coexist happily with this particular flooring material, then you’ve got to know one thing: Laminate hates water. If you allow the flooring to get overly wet, then the installation may warp as moisture seeps between and under the boards. That said, mopping is often the best way to clean laminate floors. So how the heck do you mop the laminate surface without putting it in jeopardy?

There are two methods:

• Use a flat mop and wring it out often; it should remain damp but never make contact with the floor when dripping wet.

• Working in sections, use a spray bottle to mist the floor, then promptly go over with a dry mop. If the floor still looks wet a minute after you’ve mopped it, that means you’re probably using too much water.

Chemical Cleaners
When plain warm water doesn’t cut it, consider using a store-bought commercial cleanser. Take care in making your product selection, however. Some chemicals in common floor cleaners can damage laminate, so it’s prudent to double-check the packaging to be certain you are purchasing something that’s laminate-safe. Also, remember that using twice the recommended amount won’t render the floor twice as clean. Rather, the excess leaves a streaky, cloudy residue that actually makes the floor look dirty.

Stain Removal
For a tough stain that neither water nor floor cleaner can budge, try an acetone-based solution, such as nail polish remover. Apply it directly to the stain, in as small a quantity as possible. Once the solution has done its work, wipe it away with a soft, clean cloth (not with a scouring pad or anything else that could leave scratches). Another good thing to know: If you’re trying to remove a hard, stuck-on substance like wax or gum, harden it first with an ice pack, then scrape it away with a plastic putty knife.

Regular Maintenance
The least demanding, most reliable way to clean laminate floors is through light but consistent maintenance. Once a week—or as often as traffic in the room demands—sweep or vacuum the floor to control dust and debris. Given the sensitivity of laminate floors to moisture, wipe up spills swiftly after they occur.

Laminate floors shown in magazines and catalogs always shine brilliantly, don’t they? Well, yours can too! Once you’ve managed to get the floor clean, follow up with a soft cloth (or an old T-shirt) and buff the surface using circular motions to achieve a gleaming polish.


How To: Clean Marble

Marble surfaces are elegant and classic, but they require special care to retain their luster. Follow our tips to keep your marble countertops and floors clean, shiny, and stain-free.

How to Clean Marble

Photo: shutterstock.com

Unquestionably, marble ranks among the most luxurious and beautiful countertop and flooring materials. Equally beyond question is the fact that marble requires special care and maintenance. Whenever you set out to clean marble, you’ve got to be very careful: Many products and techniques that are traditionally used with other surfaces can cause permanent damage to marble. Avoid common pitfalls by following these guidelines to clean marble effectively and safely.

How to Clean Marble - Countertops

Photo: imptile.com

Everyday Cleaning
Marble can be easily stained by many of the liquids that frequently appear in the kitchen—for example, wine, coffee, and orange juice. Watch out for spills and clean them up as quickly as possible. Even water, if left to pool for a period of time, can discolor marble, so it’s best to keep stone surfaces dry.

Avoid general-purpose cleaners unless the product specifically states that it’s marble-safe. Most of the time, a solution of dish soap and warm water is all that’s needed to keep marble looking new. Dip a soft cloth into the diluted soap, wring out the cloth so that it’s damp but not dripping wet, then wipe the marble clean.

You can also clean marble floors with a solution of dish soap and warm water—and you don’t need to get down on your hands and knees. It’s totally fine to use a mop; just be careful not to slosh too much water all over the place. When you’re finished, the floor should be a little damp, but if any pools have collected, you haven’t wrung out the mop well enough. Wipe up any standing water quickly with a dry cloth or towel.

Be aware that while many homeowners rightly revere the cleaning virtues of vinegar, this handy pantry staple should never be applied to marble; its high level of acidity can actually corrode the stone.

Stain Removal
Given the material’s sensitivity, removing stains from marble can be a little tricky, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge. The key is to absorb the stain. Try this: Mix baking soda with a small amount of water to form a thick paste. Apply it directly to the stain, then cover it with plastic wrap. Leave the paste in place for at least 24 hours, then check to see whether the solution has worked. If the stain is less noticeable but is still hanging on, repeat the process with a fresh application of paste.

No luck yet? So long as the marble is light-colored, you can experiment with hydrogen peroxide. But don’t go near this method if your marble is darker—the bleach could discolor it.

The very best way to care for marble is to prevent stains in the first place. Clean up any spills quickly, never put hot pans on the surface, and always be careful using sharp objects near marble because it can be easily scratched. Treat marble well and it will stay looking great for a lifetime.


How To: Grow Moss

Moss has many uses in the garden. A scattering on a stone wall lends a romantic patina, while cultivated tufts can create a velvety green ground cover. Here's how to establish and maintain this eco-friendly, versatile plant in your own garden.

How to Grow Moss

Photo: shutterstock.com

There are two main types of mosses—acrocarpous and pleurocarpous. The former grows vertically and resembles strands of hair, while the latter is characterized by a close-cropped horizontal growth habit. Gardeners have been cultivating both types for centuries, particularly in Japan, for a host of reasons: Not only does moss excel as a ground cover, but it also lends a sense of maturity to the landscape, helping a planted environment look less manicured and more natural.

How to Grow Moss on Soil
Planning to grow moss on a bed of soil? I recommend transplanting from elsewhere in your garden or a neighbor’s property. The goal is to relocate a patch of moss that’s been growing in circumstances similar to those in the spot where it will be planted. Transplanting requires no special removal techniques. Once you’ve identified the moss you want to transplant, simply use an old knife or garden spade to free up the amount of moss you’d like to—or have permission to—take.

Back on your home turf, prepare the ground with a rake. Next, dampen the soil and lay the moss on top. Once the moss is in place, press down on it firmly, pinning it down with enough rocks to ensure that the moss maintains a high level of contact with the surface of the soil. Over the next few weeks, be sure to keep the moss consistently moist. This is critical. You’ll know the moss has successfully established itself only when you can give it a light tug without shifting the material.

How to Grow Moss - Rocks

Photo: shutterstock.com

How to Grow Moss on Rocks, Bricks, or Pots
To grow moss on objects in your garden, such as dry stones on a retaining wall or a collection of clay pots, you need to take a different, slightly trickier approach. First, combine plain yogurt or buttermilk (two cups) and chopped moss (one and a half cups) in a bucket. Mix until the concoction becomes easily spreadable; add water if it’s too thick, additional moss if it’s too thin. Now spread the mixture wherever you would like the moss to grow. Over the next few weeks, make sure to keep the burgeoning moss moist. Within six weeks, so long as it’s been properly cared for, the moss should begin to grow rather vigorously.

How to Care for Moss
Moss likes moisture and acidic (pH 5.0 to 6.0) soil. It also likes shade. There’s no getting around it: Because moss draws nutrients via filaments, not through a root system, it dries out very quickly in the sunshine. Bear in mind that weeds can steal the moisture that moss needs, so in order to grow moss successfully, you must be a vigilant and ruthless weed killer. Finally, come fall, remember that moss cannot survive under a blanket of dead leaves. Rake—and rake often!

 

 


What Would Bob Do? Polishing a Concrete Floor

Sleek, shiny, and easy to maintain, polished concrete is a great flooring choice, particularly for modern interiors. If you'd like to create this look in your own home, here are the basics on the polishing process.

How to Polish Concrete - Living

Photo: kaplanthompson.com

I am living in Spain and redoing an old house in the country. I’d like some of the floors to be polished concrete. Can anyone tell me how to do this?

It’s no wonder that homeowners have adopted polished concrete floors. They’re quick to install and don’t cost a lot. They also wear well and require minimal maintenance. Years ago, you’d see polished concrete only in public spaces—at the mall, say, or in office building lobbies—but nowadays it’s a common sight in private residences.

How to Polish Concrete - Foyer

Photo: cromadesign.com

To polish concrete the do-it-yourself way, you’re going to need a concrete grinder. If you can’t borrow one from a friend in the trade, you can rent one from your local home improvement center. In addition, you’ll have to get your hands on an assortment of grinding discs (in a wide variety of grits, from 30 to 3,000) as well as polishing pads.

Polishing concrete bears some similarities to sanding a hardwood floor. One of the big differences, however, is that with concrete you are going to make many more passes with the grinder than you would with a sander on a wood floor of a similar size. Also, you should expect to spray on a densifier or hardener between passes with the grinder.

Near the end of the polishing process, swap out the grinding disc in favor of a burnishing pad. At this point, you’ll notice the floor starting to get really smooth. Before burnishing one last time, put a thin coat of concrete sealer over the floor. The result will be a stone-like surface that gleams without the aid of floor waxes or oils.

The best concrete grinders typically include a skirt and a vacuum, both of which are designed to contain dust. Look for a unit that is also equipped with a built-in liquid dispenser. To polish concrete near existing walls without causing damage, it’s best to use a specialized edging machine (another tool you can rent from the home center).

Renting a concrete grinder can be a little pricey—as much as $1,000 per week for the grinder itself, plus $250 per week for the edging polisher. That being the case, if you have a small job on your hands the most cost-effective option might be to hire a professional, as counterintuitive as that may seem. I recommend gathering estimates from a few local crews, then comparing those quotes to the amount charged by the tool rental depot.


How To: Make Chalkboard Paint

Chalkboard paint has so many uses, both practical and playful, but it comes at a price and selection can be limited. Get all the fun for less by making your own.

How to Make Chalkboard Paint - Kitchen Wall

Photo: theVSIgroup.com

Chalkboard paint lets you transform any wall into an endlessly reusable writing surface. Although it’s readily available online and in stores, chalkboard paint, which retails for about $25 per quart, doesn’t come cheap. Plus, it’s available in limited colors. Good thing it’s so easy to eschew the store-bought variety and make it yourself. When you make chalkboard paint yourself, it’s first and foremost cheaper—but even better, you can create virtually any color you want!

MATERIALS
- Flat-finish latex paint
- Unsealed tile grout
- Mixing tray or bucket
- Paintbrush or roller
- Drill/driver with paint mixer drill attachment
- Chalk
- Dry towel

Notes on purchasing materials:
• Most local hardware stores, paint supply depots, and home improvement centers offer deep discounts on paint cans that other customers have returned. If you like one of these returned colors, capitalize on others’ misfortunes by purchasing as much discounted flat-finish latex paint as you think you’ll need for your project.

• In stores, you can usually find packages of grout only in quantities larger than what’s necessary for making chalkboard paint. So unless you have a big tiling job on your to-do list, try to acquire a cup or two of grout from a friend or neighbor who has recently completed some remodeling work.

STEP 1
Unable to purchase discounted paint in the perfect color for your space? Don’t fret! You can close the gap between what you have and what you want by mixing in white paint to create lighter tones. In this way, a rich brown can be coaxed into a soft tan, or a deep purple can be softened into a lavender shade.

How to Make Chalk Paint - Mix

Photo: improvisedlife.com

STEP 2
Once you are happy with the paint color, add the magic ingredient: grout. For a successful batch of chalkboard paint, one to eight is the recommended ratio of grout to paint. So if you’re working on a small project involving only a half cup of paint, then expect to use one tablespoon of grout. Meanwhile, if you’re covering a large wall in a half gallon of paint, you’ll mix in a full cup of grout.

STEP 3
As thoroughly as you can, mix the grout into the paint. That means stirring for a minimum of five minutes, breaking up any clumps that start to form or stubbornly linger. Bear in mind that once you finish stirring, chalkboard paint tends to harden rather quickly, and you cannot seal the stuff for later use. In other words: Be ready to apply the paint as soon as you are done making it.

STEP 4
Apply the first coat, let it dry for several hours, then follow up with a second coat. After that, let the chalkboard paint dry for about three days, at which point the chalkboard should be cured and ready to use. Many people, however, suggest one last prep: conditioning the chalkboard by running a piece of writing chalk lengthwise over the surface until it’s completely covered. Finish by using a dry towel to wipe the chalked-over surface clean, and you’re all done!

It’s wonderful being able to make chalkboard paint yourself—quickly, cheaply, and easily—because there are so many exciting ways to use it, and you never know when inspiration will strike. Just go where the chalkboard muse takes you! Today, turn a kitchen cabinet into your family’s shopping list and reminder hub. This weekend, devote part of the garage to visualizing complicated auto repair and construction projects. Next month, put your work calendar up on the wall to accommodate your expanding business.


How To: Clean a Dishwasher

It's tempting to think that your dishwasher gets a good cleaning every time you run it through a cycle, but that's unfortunately not the case. Here's how to keep it sparkling clean, sweet smelling, and effective.

How to Clean a Dishwasher - Open

Photo: shutterstock.com

The idea of cleaning a dishwasher may seem a bit strange at first, but think of it this way: You regularly maintain your vacuum, right? Well, the dishwasher isn’t dissimilar. Whereas accumulated dust and debris are what threaten the performance of your vacuum, food scraps, soap scum, and stubborn grease are what compromise your dishwasher. Even if you installed the unit pretty recently, you should know how to clean your dishwasher in order to maximize its efficiency.

MATERIALS
- 1 cup plain white vinegar (or unsweetened lemonade mix)
- 1 cup baking soda

How to Clean a Dishwasher - Interior

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 1
Detach the bottom rack so that you can access the dishwasher drain. Thoroughly examine this crucial area, removing any gunk or chunks you find, because they not only impede drainage but can also damage the appliance.

STEP 2
Fill a dishwasher-safe container with one cup of white vinegar, placing it on the upper rack of the otherwise empty machine. Close the door and run the dishwasher through a hot-water cycle. Once the vinegar has worked its magic, you should find that it has washed away grease and grime, and even removed any musty odors that may have been present. Note that you can use a package of unsweetened lemonade mix rather than vinegar to achieve the same result. Remember to stick with regular lemonade, though; flavored options can leave stains.

STEP 3
Now sprinkle a cupful of baking soda across the bottom of the appliance, then run it on a short hot-water cycle. When the cycle’s done, you should notice that your fresh-smelling dishwasher now boasts a brightened, stain-free interior.

OPTIONAL
Has your dishwasher suffered a vicious attack from nasty mold? If so, add a cup of bleach to the bottom of the basin, then run the machine on a full cycle—that is, unless the interior of your dishwasher contains stainless steel, in which case you should completely avoid the use of bleach (bleach and stainless steel are not friends).

 

Keeping Your Dishwasher Clean
Perhaps the best way to keep a dishwasher clean is to treat it with basic respect and consideration day in and day out—after all, the machine isn’t invincible. Observing a set of simple usage guidelines can help you wring the best possible performance from this workhorse appliance, even as you prolong its life span.

• The dishwasher shares a drain with the kitchen sink, so if you have a garbage disposal, run it before washing the dishes to ensure that the drain is clear.

• It’s smart to conserve electricity and water by running the dishwasher only when it’s full, but resist the temptation to pile dishes too high or too tightly.

• Don’t prewash dishes too thoroughly before adding them to the dishwasher. For detergent to do its job effectively, there needs to be a certain amount of grease and food residue present. Otherwise, the detergent simply creates foam during the wash cycle, and that excess can be detrimental to the appliance.


How To: Remove Paint from Wood

Sure, it's messy and time-consuming, but removing paint from wood can be an extremely satisfying project. Follow our tutorial, and you'll be stripping paint like a pro.

How to Remove Paint

Photo: shutterstock.com

It can be mighty labor-intensive and time-consuming to remove paint, which is why many do-it-yourselfers dread the task, even avoiding projects that involve stripping away layers of old paint. That’s a shame, given that the results are so often worth the effort. Fortunately, by following the simple steps outlined below, you can successfully remove paint with minimal aggravation and without causing damage to the wood in the course of the paint-stripping process.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Protective gloves
- Safety glasses
- Respirator
- Solvent-based paint stripper
- Bucket
- Paintbrush
- Scraper
- Wire brush
- Rags
- Sandpaper

STEP 1
Remove all hardware (nails and screws, brackets and doorknobs) from the wood you are going to work on. If there are any nonremovable parts made of anything other than wood, cover them with protective tape. Before you begin work, put on the safety gear that’s essential to wear in the presence of chemical paint strippers—that means gloves, glasses, and a respirator. Having closely consulted the manufacturer’s instructions, pour your chosen solvent-based paint stripper into an empty bucket.

Note: Always observe the proper safety precautions when dealing with paint strippers and take care to select the right product. Because caustic strippers are capable of changing the color of wood, many experts recommend instead the use of solvent-based strippers. These are readily available online and in local hardware stores.

How to Remove Paint - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Concentrating on one small section at a time, liberally apply the paint stripper with a paintbrush. Leave the product on the wood for about 20 minutes, or until the paint starts to bubble and peel. Bear in mind that if you are removing several layers of paint, it may be necessary to let the solvent sit for up to a few hours. As time elapses, test the paint intermittently to see whether it has softened to any noticeable degree.

STEP 3
Use a paint scraper to take off as much paint as possible from the area where you applied the stripper. Be gentle as you scrape; don’t gouge the wood. Once you’ve removed all you can with the scraper, you may choose to repeat the process, reapplying stripper and going through the steps once more. Once you’re satisfied with the condition of the area you’ve been stripping, move on to the next section.

STEP 4
After you have worked section by section removing all the paint from the flat portions of the wood, it’s time to address any raised or recessed areas (for example, moldings). Spread the stripper on the wood again and wait at least 20 minutes, but this time scrape with a wire brush that can access those hard-to-reach crests and depressions. Take care not to scrape too hard, which can leave scratches on the wood.

STEP 5
Wash the wood with a clean, water-soaked rag, then sand down the entire surface. If you have access to a power sander, you can use it to make quicker work of sanding the broad, flat sections, but you should still manually sand any fragile or carved parts of the piece. Finally, wipe the wood free of dust and debris, and that’s it! You’re done.


How To: Clean Wood Furniture

Over time, wood furniture accumulates grime that can't be removed with regular dusting. When this happens, some serious cleaning is in order. Try these methods for spiffing up your wood furniture safely and effectively.

How to Clean Wood Furniture - Table

Photo: shutterstock.com

Homeowners have long relished the beauty, versatility, and toughness of wood furniture—and above all, they’ve appreciated its low maintenance. Like the ideal houseplant for brown thumbs, wood furniture survives on its own, requiring little intervention. Every now and again, though, whether due to an accident or normal wear and tear, it becomes necessary to clean wood furniture to renew its appearance and ensure its longevity. When that inevitable day comes, follow these steps to restore a wood finish to impeccable condition without inadvertently causing damage.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS:
- Cotton balls
- Dishwashing detergent
- Sponge
- Bucket
- Clean cloth
- Mineral spirits
- Cheesecloth
- Wood wax
- Denatured alcohol

If you are certain of your wood furniture finish—paint, stain, or some other treatment—then use a cleaning method appropriate for that specific wood finish. Otherwise, it’s best to clean the furniture in stages, starting with a mild cleanser that poses no risk to the integrity of the finish, then graduating to a stronger solution only if the gentler one fails. Proceeding in this way means that you can safely clean wood furniture without knowing precisely what you’re dealing with.

How to Clean Wood Furniture - Chair

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 1
Start out with perhaps the humblest of household cleaners: dishwashing detergent. Add a drop to a water-moistened cotton ball, then wipe it on an inconspicuous part of the furniture, such as the inside of a chair leg. If the detergent mars the finish in your test area, then continue without the detergent. If the test area shows no evidence of damage, it’s safe to proceed. Mix water and detergent in a bucket and use this solution to sponge down the entire piece. Be careful not to soak the wood: Brush the sponge lightly over the wood surface and don’t let the liquid linger for long. Dry thoroughly.

STEP 2
If you want to see if you can get your furniture a little cleaner, the next thing to try is mineral spirits. They should be harmless to wood finishes, but you should still test an inconspicuous area with a moistened cotton ball. If you see nothing suspicious, wash the piece with a clean cloth soaked in mineral spirits. (Work in a well-ventilated location.) In many cases, mineral spirits can remove years of grime. Finish by wiping away any residual cleaner with water, inspecting the wood for blemishes as you go.

STEP 3
If the finish reacted negatively when you tested the mineral spirits on your furniture, don’t push your luck—move on. Before you try any further interventions, you’ll need to determine the type of finish that’s on your piece. To do this, dab some denatured alcohol onto a cotton swab and test it in a small, inconspicuous area. If the finish dissolves, that means it’s probably shellac. If the finish stands up to the alcohol, it’s probably oil, lacquer, varnish, or polyurethane. Either way, if you’re still dissatisfied with your furniture’s appearance, chances are that you’ll need to refinish the piece to truly restore it.

STEP 4
If you are satisfied with the results of your cleaning efforts, the wise choice at this point is to protect the wood from future damage by applying furniture wax. Apply it liberally with a cheesecloth, rubbing in the direction of the grain. Afterward, buff with a clean cloth.

Note: Always dust wood furniture with soft, lint-free cloths. Avoid feather dusters, because they aren’t as effective and sometimes have sharp quills that may scratch the wood surface.