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As you go about your spring cleaning routine, take a few minutes to inspect the condition of your wood furniture and trim. Are any of the finishes looking dull, murky, and tired? Though you may choose to refinish worse-for-wear woodwork at some point in the future, in the meantime you can try an easier way of revitalizing it. In many cases, simply applying mineral spirits—otherwise known as paint thinner—goes a long way toward restoring warmth and shine to surfaces.
If you don’t have mineral sprits on hand, check your local hardware store or home center. Widely available, this stuff also boasts the virtue of being inexpensive. When you’re ready, douse a clean and absorbent cloth in the mineral spirits, then wipe down the wood whose finish needs a refresh. As a solvent, mineral spirits work to cut through stubborn grime and buildup from polish, wax, and oils.
Adding more mineral spirits to the cloth as necessary, continue rubbing the wood until the cloth no longer picks up any residue. To access detailed or hard-to-reach areas, such as the carved portion of a fireplace mantel, use an old toothbrush or a pad of fine steel wool. For something even gentler than mineral spirits alone, some restorers cutting the solvent with a mild soap (e.g., Murphy Oil Soap). Apply the solution by means of a sponge or a paintbrush, before wiping it away with a clean cloth.
Though relatively potent, mineral spirits do not cause any damage to clear wood finishes and are therefore at least worth experimenting with. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results. Be careful, however, not to use a stronger solvent, as doing so might remove the finish altogether.
Since there are fumes to wary of, take pains to ensure there’s sufficient ventilation in your work area. Also, bear in mind that mineral spirits are flammable. So once you are finished with the job, be conscious of where you put the cloths used in the process (or in what manner you dispose of them).
Compared to stripping and refinishing woodwork, applying mineral spirits is quicker and much, much easier. But of course, even after renewing the finish, you may still feel that the furniture or trim still needs to be refinished, but at least you can save that work for another day—or maybe next year!