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.
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.
Here is how the box looked before. You can see it has some water rings and marks and the wood has lost its shine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
The repair actually looks less like a repair and more like an inlay, a design choice made by the original maker.
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.
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…