how to clean & hydrate old wood | diy furniture cleaner

by | Jul 12, 2021 | All Things Home, Antiques, art supplies, Cleaning & care, Tutorials | 25 comments

Several years ago, I wrote a post about how to clean and hydrate old wood and it was one of my most popular posts for years!  I decided it was time to do a refresher post on this DIY, homemade natural furniture cleaner and write an updated post that answered a lot of the questions asked on that original post.  I’ve also been using this recipe and technique for years, so I can speak to its efficacy and longevity.

First of all, this DIY Furniture Cleaner will work on any old wood that has lost its luster and shine as long as the mixture can penetrate the finish.  If the piece has a thick polyurethane topcoat, the mixture will just sit on top and won’t be very effective.  If the wood is raw or the finish has worn away/evaporated, this DIY Furniture Cleaner will polish it up beautifully.  It is also great for pieces with white watermarks from glasses or from moderate water damage and will remove a mild musty/dusty smell.  If the piece is filthy and/or really stinky, read THIS ARTICLE to get that resolved before using the DIY Furniture Cleaner.

The piece I wanted to clean and hydrate was this antique wooden artist’s paintbox I purchased off of eBay last week.  I really lucked out on this find because I was the only bidder!  I’ll give you a little tour of the box in a minute, for those who are interested.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

diy homemade furniture cleaner recipe

Mix 3 parts Hemp Oil to 1 part Distilled White Vinegar.  The oil must be an oil that is made for furniture refinishing, so it will not go rancid.  If you pull vegetable oil from your kitchen cabinet, you will likely have that problem.  The oil hydrates the wood while the vinegar cleans it.  I mix this recipe in small batches (measuring with a tablespoon) and store any extra in a little jar.

Note – If this mixture is made with Miss Mustard Seed’s Hemp oil (or another food-safe oil), it will be a food-safe, natural furniture cleaner & polish.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

Here is how the box looked before.  You can see it has some water rings and marks and the wood has lost its shine.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

The oil will darken most woods, bringing out the richness of the color and grain pattern, but it does depend on the particular wood variety.  The DIY Furniture Cleaner darkened this wood (walnut, I believe) quite a bit.  If you’re unsure of how your wood will react or you do not want it to be darker, test it on a small spot before applying it to the entire piece.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

In the case of this box, it didn’t completely remove the watermarks, but it camouflaged them considerably.  I have used it on pieces, though, where the watermarks completely disappear.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

When I have a batch mixed up, I use it on anything I can find!  I rubbed the DIY Furniture Cleaner all over the palette, brush handles, other wood boxes in my studio, and even on a chest of drawers in my living room.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

I polished the inside of the box, too, to get it clean and bring out the beauty of the old wood.

Let me give you a little tour of this box while we’re here.  I actually bought this box more for the things inside it, mostly the brushes.  It came with dozens of quality boar’s bristle and sable brushes that would’ve cost me more to buy them new.  Not that I needed any brushes, but let’s not get into that right now.  This was one of those can’t-pass-it-up kind of finds.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

It also came with the original tin liners and trays (which isn’t usually the case), the original solvent and oil cans with brass lids, and a clip-on palette cup for solvent and oil.  The box has initials lightly carved in the top HMR and a maker’s mark in the inside of the lid.  I can only make out “erville” and “Paris” inside of a kidney-shaped palette.  I’ll have to do a bit more research to see if I can find the maker, but it’s likely from the early 1900s-1920s.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

The edge of the box that is lighter than the rest is actually a repair.  It was done very well, though, and it makes me love the box even more.  People don’t put so much time and attention into repairing something they don’t love, value, or use.  This box was loved, valued, and used enough to do meticulous repair to make sure the box looked good and functioned properly.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

Whoever fixed the box even cut carefully around the lock to replace it.  You’ll often find these boxes with missing locks, so I really appreciated whoever took the time to repair it (and who kept track of the key!)

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

The repair actually looks less like a repair and more like an inlay, a design choice made by the original maker.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

After it had a nice cleaning, it went in the stack with my other antique oil boxes.  That stack makes me happy.  What a pretty little lineup.

how to clean & hydrate old wood | antique artist paint box tour | miss mustard seed

Speaking of art boxes, the winner of the French watercolor art box giveaway is @mad.marcelle on Instagram!  Congrats to the winner and I have some more awesome giveaways coming up soon!

Here is a video showing the process as well as a little tour of the antique art box…

25 Comments

  1. Heather

    Dear Marian, I enjoyed seeing this art box find, both here and on your IG stories! “That stack makes me happy” made me smile. I’m so glad for you! Thanks for the cleaning ingredients and the formula.

    Reply
  2. Roberta Cordell

    I am in love! A couple of weeks ago I asked if your pear platter was still available and you sent me the site. It came Saturday afternoon and it is even prettier that it’s picture. I have a wall in our home that is pictures of fruit and crosses and as soon as I get another hanger it will be joining it. My wall is centered around an oil painting that my maternal grandmother painted when she was 12 years old. She copied a new advertisement that had just come out…it is the fruit of the loom. It is painted on a torn off piece of sail. I was jokingly calling my wall the fruit of the loom until one of my young granddaughters said, no Granny, it is the fruits of the spirit wall. Out of the mouth’s of babes. Any way, just wanted you to know how much I love my platter!

    Reply
  3. Gayle Stewart

    I am not an artist, only wish I was one. But I do have a love of wooden boxes. One of which is an old artist’s box that stored the artist’s pallet and has a built in easel. My mother-in-law was a dabbler in painting. I was gifted her easel and a small wooden box that held bits and pieces of her oil pastels. I gifted these to my youngest daughter on her 30th birthday. It is one of her most cherished family mementoes.

    Reply
  4. Terry

    I have used Miss Mustard Seed hemp oil on pretty much everything wood in my house, shop and barn from furniture to wheel barrow handles and everything in between. This is the first I have known about adding vinegar. Good to know. What does the vinegar add to your wonderful oil besides deodorizing?

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, it deodorizes and cleans. You can use straight Hemp Oil if you just need to hydrate and/or polish.

      Reply
  5. beverlee

    I love Hemp oil. Use it on my old Art Deco armoire, and a dresser, makes all the difference. Thank you for showing the recipe.

    Reply
  6. Louise

    I loved the art box and all your art boxes. What a great find. Thanks for sharing..

    Reply
  7. Amy

    Such a timely post. I inherited a mahogany dining set that is cruddy (kitchen grease) and other areas the finish is gone completely from wear. I want to bring it back to life and have been considering Howard Products Restor-A-Finish to clean and even out the stain on the chairs. Have you ever used this product? Which method should I use on my dining set? I’m looking for a once-and-done approach. Any suggestions from the MMS community would be welcome.

    That art box is a treasure. I love pieces that have a history and are useful as well. I think I’m going to poke around trying to find something similar. Only smaller and, fingers crossed, cheaper. Thanks in advance for your help.

    Reply
  8. PJ

    Can this same formula be used to revive old baskets? Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Marian Parsons

    Yes, definitely!

    Reply
  10. Diane

    Marian, even though I don’t have anything to polish or a room to redo – I read every post (sometimes a few times). I feel like I am right there with you! Thank you again for your daily interesting content!
    Diane

    Reply
  11. Cheryl Dietzman

    I’ll be polishing some furniture this afternoon! Thanks for the “recipe”😀

    Reply
  12. Kay Rodabaugh

    Can I use the oil I use on my cutting boards?

    Reply
  13. Julie

    This is great! I have a small oval plant table made by my grandfather for my grandmother 100 years ago. It has drop sides on both sides and I love it 😁 I also have an older piece made by my great-grandfather. I’m not sure what it was for… maybe you do? It’s about 3½ ft wide. The top drawer is the width of the cabinet/table; under that, on the left side is 2 drawers, and on the right side is a small cupboard. Maybe a wash stand?

    I’m looking forward to using your recipe to clean them up.

    Reply
  14. Holly

    Can I do this to my old hardwood floors ?? They barely have any finish left on them

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      It really depends on the hardwood floor. I’ve seen Hemp Oil used successfully, but I’ve also see where it doesn’t absorb well and leaves the floor prone to attracting dirt. If your floors need to be refinished, I would suggest using oil meant for floors.

      Reply
  15. Alyssa

    I love this idea! I have a desk that definitely needs this!
    I was wondering, can I use any oil for this project? The link to your hemp oil goes to an Amazon page which says it’s not available…

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, you can use any oil that is meant for furniture/wood. Hemp oil is nice because it’s not stinky. You can find it on Etsy or on the mmsmilkpaint.com website.

      Reply
  16. Angela M. TRENCHIK

    Great article. Looking forward to trying your concoction. I clicked on the link for the hemp oil and Amazon says it’s out of stock and they don’t know if/when it will be back in stock. do you have another source for purchasing it? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I added a new link. You can get it on Etsy or on the mmsmilkpaint.com website…

      Reply
  17. Leah

    Is the reason that you mix the vinegar and oil together to save time? I clean with vinegar and then oil, is it the difference between using shampoo and then conditioner or just using a two-in-one shampoo/conditioner product!?

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      You could certainly do that! I just mix the two to apply it all in one process for a piece that’s not very dirty.

      Reply
  18. Pat Champagne

    I am looking forward to using your clean/polish formula on an old dresser I have; thank you for sharing.
    I am hoping you can help with a different problem on furniture. I have an old, red, Chinese-Style armoire that has a few white paint spatters. Any chance you have encountered this problem and can recommend a way to remove these spatters without causing damage to the beautiful original finish?
    You have so much experience with older wood pieces, I am convinced you may be able to help. In advance, thank you. Pat.

    Reply
  19. Dians

    Am I correct that I can use mineral oil that I bought for cutting boards for this recipe? I just purchased an old table top croquet set that I hope will clean up easily. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, you can use mineral oil for hydrating wood as well. I haven’t tried it in this mixture, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.

      Reply

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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