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Oil & Vinegar – Not Just For Salads

A few weeks ago, I found a wonderful tip about using oil and vinegar to revive and clean old wood.  This is one of those tips that sound really cool, but I was pretty skeptical.  It may be the kind of thing that makes a piece look good long enough to snap a picture and then, when it dries, it looks like crap again.  Well, this solution is the real deal…and I used it on just about every piece of wood within walking distance to test it out.
Check out the before and after on these croquet mallets.  I purchased them at an auction and used ONLY oil and vinegar on them to clean them up and bring out the patina of the wood.  Obviously, the one on the left is the before, right is the after.
I purchased this gorgeous dresser at a yard sale for $60.  It seriously felt like consensual theft.  This piece is almost 100 years old, solid wood, custom made with the original tag and mirror, and was in almost mint condition.  The wood was dried out in some places and looked like there may have been some minor water damage.  The people who sold it to me thought it needed to be refinished.
Do you see the lighter spots?  I figured I’d try to oil and vinegar mixture before I sanded and refinished this piece.  Look at the picture below…you will be amazed.
This is the same spot on the same dresser, treated with nothing, but oil and vinegar.  It’s been over a month since I used this solution on the dresser and it still looks rich and beautiful.
Now, I recently tried it on a pair of end tables I purchased at a yard sale for $5.00/piece and it looks a lot better, but in the end, these pieces needed to be refinished.  The before is on the left, after on the right.  You can still see the scratches and water damage.
I also found that this also does not work well on furniture that has a glossy finish.  It works best on old wood that is dried out, dirty, and has minimal water damage.  I’ve even heard from people who have reused this method to bring life back into old wood floors!  They said it worked great.
So, for a super cheap, super effective way to bring out the best in wood…
1.) Mix three parts of an oil that won’t go rancid, like Hemp Oil, Walnut Oil, etc., to one part vinegar (White, Apple Cider, etc.).  (Example: if you use 3/4 cup of oil, add 1/4 cup vinegar.)
2.) Mix it in a jar, dip a clean cloth into the mixture, then rub it into the wood.  You don’t need to wipe it off; the wood just soaks it in.  If excess does leach out, wipe it away.
I am known for my painted furniture, but sometimes old wood is just too pretty paint!

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  1. mrsbeeswax says:

    Thanks for this great tip. You need to try rubbing alcohol on your water stains ! I found that on Pinterest and it worked completely.The water spots were ther forever, I had tried mayo and it did nothing !

  2. Helene Jolley says:

    I am so sorry I did not take pictures. I have an antique cabinet that I love. It has been in continuous use for over a hundred years and looks it. I have a grand-daughter in a wheelchair and it had done some considerable damage scratchwise to the front of it, not to mention all the wear and tear of 100 years. Unfortunately, it has become an eyesore with the deep scrapes visible from a room away. I followed your 3 to 1 oil to vinegar ratio and wiped it down once; that was 3 hours ago. I am now sitting 3 feet from it and not one scratch or scrape is discernible from here, and it looks so clean (I guess that’s the vinegar part). Thank you so much……can’t wait to get started on the deacon’s bench tomorrow!

  3. Lauri Drosendahl says:

    Holy smokes, I cannot believe haw well this solution worked! I had a very worn out buffet cupboard that we’d taken the doors off to use as a 1st, toy cupboard, then a shoe “cubby” and for the last 10 years, a place for our everyday dishes, glasses and cups. (I put them down low so that the kids could get them and put them away.)

    The inside was worn down so terribly. I gave this solution a try and, honestly, the wood looks BETTER than it did when we first got it 23 years ago!


  4. Sue Pagels says:

    This is so very interesting! I just sent the post to a friend so I will let you know if she tries it. My only question is, it isn’t sticky from the oil? Does the vinegar cut that? You always have the best posts!!

  5. Hi! I can’t wait to try this! Can I use peanut oil? I have a whole gallon of it!

    Blessings, Aimee

  6. Barb Wingfield says:

    I have an old oak piece that I bought from someone and it smells like the house it sat in has a wood burner. I tried leaving it outside for months, still no luck. what would you suggest? Also the same question for wood pieces that smell like cigarette smoke.
    thanks for any help.

    • lorilei says:

      Hi, i have read in a few places now that apple cider vinegar will clear a whole room of that smoke smell.. so i would try the apple cider vinegar and oil. Can’t hurt right?

    • Adrienne says:

      I heard that ground coffee (fresh, not used grounds) will absorb odors. You could put a cup of it in a container and put it inside the piece of furniture for a while and see if it works.

  7. Lorena says:

    thank You so much for this post I just try it but my table still with some dry parts after the oil and vinegar any help ?

    thank You

  8. Debbie H. says:

    The thing that would concern me about this is that oil goes rancid after a few months. Have you ever opened an old container of veg oil? It stinks. This is why you can’t use veg or olive oils to maintain wood surfaces in the kitchen like cutting boards and butcher blocks. Mineral oil is recommended instead because it does not spoil. I think it would be a better choice for restoring furniture too. Hope you don’t have smelly wood in a few months.

  9. Wilson Pearson says:

    Try Tung oil from the refinishing counter at the home store. Thirty years ago, Homer Forby built a small empire on it. It dries quite. Hard and shouldn’t go rancid.

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  12. Jackie says:

    How do you keep the mixture from separating and how do you apply it? Is a washcloth a good “type” of rag or should I use something more like a bedsheet or an old t-shirt?

  13. What about glossy wood that has a few scratches and needs a good cleaning ?

  14. Hi! Thank You for your posts. I’m glad to have found you and look forward to taking a look around. My question, since you wrote this post in 2010, is how does your wood look NOW? I just brought my grandparents old piano home and it needs some TLC. But I’ve heard of people using olive oil to cure wood and it stops working after a while. I’m worried that the effects are only temporary. Any current information would be much appreciated. Thank You!


  15. spencer says:

    would oil and vinegar be ok for exterior decking?

  16. Barbara says:

    I have used walnut oil and white vinegar after seeing this post on my weathered outside furniture and it has brought it up like new, any ideas how to seal. thank you

  17. Debra Aubin says:

    Hi, I have learn so much from your site it is unbelievable. Thank you very much for all that you have given to me, it is more then you could possible know. I just started painting furniture about a year ago and have come along way with your information that you share with us all. I just came across the site for Hemp Oil and have a question for you. I see how well it works with wood but I want to know if I can use it with painted furniture as the protective topping instead of wax or poly? If so how would I apply it and how much? Not only for painted furniture but for the wood furniture as well. I am still learning so I really need the full details on what I need to do and how to do it. For example with the wax you apply, wait , then buff. What are the steps I need to take with the painted furniture and the stained furniture. Does it also harden to protect? Thank you again for all of your wonderful furniture that you share with us.
    Best regards

  18. TimAitch says:

    I was just having a look at what the Web offered on a search for ‘faux antiques finishing’. Most the pleasure I derived was from the disgust I felt looking at the monstrosities people were spending hours concocting: your stuff is different and really nice. I suppose you have finished the end tables by now, but I thought if you could gently remove the existing finish on the tops, they would be all set for your oil and vinegar. Maybe you could find some out-of-sight area to practice on.

  19. Kristi says:

    It unfortunately also does not work on very porous wood like an old barn ladder. It does however get rid of pests. I purchased an old ladder from Craigslist and gave this a try. It certainly looked better but left a very oily residue which left a print on anything it came into contact with. It did bring out any bugs that happened to be living in the ladder (which I didn’t know about-if I did it would have never entered my home). I had ants and little spiders crawling very slowly and then dying once they got to the outside part of the ladder (has splits in the wood).
    I will certainly give it a try on a better piece since vinegar is amazing and works on everything.

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  21. I made this mixture using pure soya cooking oil miced with white vinegar. This was forsure the best furniture oil I ever used.

  22. Kamrin says:

    I have an old trunk I’m wanting to restore but i don’t want to ruin its integrety or remove the stamps and lettering that’s on it. I saw this article you did in vinegar and oil.

    I was wondering if you’ve tried coconut oil? I was thinking of using that as my oil. Would i use white or red wine or apple cider vinegar?


    • Donna says:

      I love the smell of coconut oil – could this be used – I am so anxious to use on an old dried out chest? How often would we expect the treatment to last without re-doing?

  23. Great job! I love your project. I hope you are doing more in future. We should take care of our old furniture! Best regards!

  24. Does anyone know if this method will make my pine table sticky in the humid weather?

  25. I found this blog post this morning, and I am so happy that I came across it!! My in laws gave us two pieces of beautiful furniture when we got married, but they definitely had their scratches and scuffs! This method worked wonderfully!! My furniture is so refreshed! I posted about my project on my blog (linking back to this post of course!). Thanks again for the tip!

    Jess @ Southern Class on a Budget

  26. Michael says:

    I discovered a long forgotten old wooden rocking toy in my parent’s house. It has dust/dirt and feels a bit sticky. After sitting on a humid basement floor – there’s a bit of white furry blotches. I’m assuming it’s mold.

    Can I use this oil and vinegar mixture directly on it? – OR – Should I use something else to clean the mold off first?

    I’m not planning to bring it back to museum quality, but just want to kill the mold off (and preserve it somewhat) so that I can display it in a corner of the room.

    Much thanks for any suggestions/comments.


  27. Karen says:

    I am looking for something to clean the gunk off an antique dining table. It looks like build up of oil..dirt and grime. Would this solution work for that also? It doesn’t have scratches just build up of dirt.

  28. Susanne Stroupe says:

    The oil (couldn’t find hemp oil or walnut oil….used mineral) and vinegar worked GREAT on the wood strips on my old old trunk we found….hope it is ok that I went over the old scratched canvas and leather torn straps….will let you know!

  29. Elisa Altran says:

    Just great! I tried this oil/vinegar on a damage furniture, it looks like a new one! Thanks a lot.

  30. Shirley Ludwig says:

    What a wonderful tip I will try this
    What do you use to protect your painted pieces. What type of paint do you use and what type of top coat do you use.

  31. It doesn’t say how much Vinegar and Oil to use. How much would you use if using on a whole floor


  32. She says to use 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.

    So, for a super cheap, super effective way to bring out the best in wood, mix three parts oil (Hemp Oil, Walnut Oil, etc.) to one part vinegar (White, Apple Cider, etc.). (Example: if you use 3/4 cup of oil, add 1/4 cup vinegar.) Simply mix it in a jar, dip a clean cloth into the mixture, then rub it into the wood. You don’t need to wipe it off; the wood just soaks it in.


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