Oil & Vinegar | homemade cleaner for wood furniture

by | Jun 16, 2010 | Before and Afters, Decorating, Furniture Makeovers, Miscellaneus, Painting & Refinishing, Popular, Secret Weapons, Tutorials | 91 comments

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 oil and vinegar solution to clean wood furniture 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.
oil and vinegar homemade solution to clean old wood furniture  | miss mustard seed
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.
oil and vinegar homemade solution to clean old wood furniture  | miss mustard seed
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.
oil and vinegar homemade solution to clean old wood furniture  | miss mustard seed
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.
oil and vinegar homemade solution to clean old wood furniture  | miss mustard seed
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, has a worn finish, and has minimal water damage.  I’ve even heard from people who have used 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…

homemade oil & vinegar furniture cleaner recipe

1.) Mix three parts of oil (that won’t go rancid), like Hemp Oil, Walnut Oil, etc., to one part white vinegar.  (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 with a microfiber cloth.
I am known for my painted furniture, but sometimes old wood is just too pretty paint!
oil and vinegar homemade solution to clean old wood furniture  | miss mustard seed

91 Comments

  1. Karen

    Great information here. Thank you. I'm printing this out to put in my "tool box".
    Karen
    Ladybug Creek

    Reply
  2. Anita @ GoingALittleCoastal

    That is amazing. Are we talking white vinegar or will balsamic do? Of course I want a salad now! I use this stuff my sister told me about called Kramer's Best Antique Improver. It's a little miracle in a bottle!

    Reply
  3. Vera @ Cozy Little Cabin

    Oh my! Please give details: white vinegar? And will any oil do? What kind did you use. I have several pieces I want to try this on.

    I wonder if it would work on dried out painted items?

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  4. Amy @MaisonDecor

    You never cease to amaze me with all the info you share..this one is very interesting and I am going to use this tip! Thx

    Reply
  5. Ann Marie @ Twice Lovely

    I'm almost embarrassed to say it, but I use Cider Vinegar and Olive Oil on my face as well!! (My hubby always makes fun of me smelling like a salad when I go to bed.) Cider Vinegar is a great cleansing toner, and Olive Oil a fantastic moisturizer, rich in Omega 3s. And they're both much cheaper than stuff in the beauty isle at the store, and have nothing added to screw with sensitive skin (like mine.) Just a fun little tip. So you can beautify your wood furniture and your face at the same time!! 😀

    Reply
    • Rae Elizabeth Batig

      I use ACV at the end of my shower especially in the summer. I rinse it off. I love the smell! It also takes residue out of my hair. Great stuff! I will try the face combo – thanks!

      Reply
  6. Katie

    Wow! Who knew! Since my husband won't let me paint the corner cabinet in our dining room I will give this a try to revive it! Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Korrie@RedHenHome

    My favorite concoction is equal parts white vinegar, linseed oil, and turpentine, applied with ultra-fine steel wool. It's a miracle worker, and it smells soooo good too!

    Reply
  8. fairfieldhousenj.com

    This was one of the valuable lessons my Grammy taught me growing up!

    Reply
  9. Cathy

    Wow great tip! I've never heard this before.

    Reply
  10. Ellie

    Great tip! My free old piano thanks you.

    Reply
  11. Suzan

    Great tip! I am going to try this on the wooden pieces of the antique trunk I picked up a few weeks ago.

    Reply
  12. sissie

    Well, I've heard of using vinegar and water on wood floors, but never heard of oil and vinegar.
    Looks like a good remedy.

    I'll try it on some ugly stuff I have sittin around.

    hugs
    Sissie

    Reply
  13. Nancy

    Thanks for the great tip!

    Nancy

    Reply
  14. Carollynn @ www.designGumbo.net

    Great tip…but how should one apply this salad concoction? rag? brush? paper towel? Then, do I leave it on? Wipe it off immediately, or wait awhile?

    Reply
  15. Centsational Girl

    Fantastic tips ! I have the same questions as Glamoursmith – how long ? Need to know your technique. Also, have you tried mayonaise on water stains ? It works !!!

    xoxo
    Kate

    Reply
  16. Blondie's Journal

    The pictures are impressive! Thanks for the tip!

    xoxo
    Jane

    Reply
  17. SueAnn

    Thanks for the great tip!!
    Hugs
    SueAnn

    Reply
  18. Ellen

    Great earth friendly tip….thank you….smiles.

    Reply
  19. Sandy

    You know, my mom's old Italian family did this.. but they just used the vinegar to wash and olive oil to polish the wood… works wonderful!
    Thanks for sharing this info!
    Sandy

    Reply
  20. Shannon

    I have an old piano that will be getting this treatment SOON! Thanks for the tip!

    Reply
  21. Rebecca@This Present Life

    What!?! That's awesome! Now I'll have to go find some old wood to try it on. That croquet mallet is amazing! Thanks for the great tip!

    Reply
  22. Sherry @ No Minimalist Here

    Thanks for this info. My dining table top is stained wood. I have been planning on refinishing it but I'll give this technique a try first.
    xo, Sherry

    Reply
  23. The Green Pea

    Thanks for the tip, I will have to try it on one of my pieces. sandi

    Reply
  24. Day Dreaming And Decorating

    Grate tip i have been using Vinegar and baking soda forever but vinegar and oil is new news Thanks

    Reply
  25. Suzanne

    I'm amazed. I've never heard of this and the results are stunning. So glad you showed pictures of things you revived a month ago — or I might not have believed its staying power! Thank you so much!

    Reply
  26. The White Farmhouse

    I have heard of lemon juice and oil. I will have to try this out. My bed could really use some TLC. I don't want to refinish it or paint it.

    Reply
  27. Joy Frameworks

    Ooh, I'm so trying this out! I've had a dresser in my garage that I've been meaning to refinish. Maybe this will save me the extra work. Thanks!

    Reply
  28. Kacey

    Great tip! I have an antique radio cabinet I'm going to try this on. Thanks!

    Kacey

    Reply
  29. Janna

    I'm going to try this on some peices I have. I love the croquet mallet! I recently bought several old wood croquet balls at a yard sale and I love them.

    Reply
  30. Proper Prim

    That is a great tip, thanks for sharing. I am going to have to try that out this weekend.

    I usually use Howard's Restore which works fantastic but I am not fond of the smell.

    Reply
  31. Heidi

    Will you have smelly wood when the oil goes rancid? I was reading something on finishing cutting boards and it said to use mineral oil on those because it won't get rancid.

    Reply
  32. Rebekah Greiman

    I am glad that you tried out my oil & vinegar tip! And I am also glad that it worked so well for you. Thanks for sending some peeps my way. Have a great day!

    Reply
  33. Lila

    Awesome! I love tips that I can ACTUALLY use! This was great, thank you!
    Lila Ferraro
    Queen Bedroom Sets

    Reply
  34. Bee

    What a great tip – I am going to try this out on an old printers tray I have just acquired – thanks MMS! Have a great weekend. Bee's Lovely Buns

    Reply
  35. Mary

    You may also want to try an oil and salt mixture for removing water stains. Make sure you use lots of salt so that it's fairly gritty, then rub A LOT. An inexpensive remedy if you are really wanting to maintain the finish of a more expensive antique piece.

    Great blog ~ I'm totally lovin' it!

    Reply
  36. Anonymous

    I just did this on a nightstand that I bought a year ago with intentions of refinishing but a very busy life kept me from doing it. And now that I'm pregnant I can't do the whole sanding/staining thing and needed it for my daughters room. It worked wonderfully!! I'm so pleased with the results.

    Thank!! Maria

    Reply
  37. Christine

    I just found this tip on pinterest. I have always used oil and lemon juice and have been using fine steel wool with it. A few days ago I was wondering if vinegar would work as well ‘cuz its cheaper. You answered my question 🙂
    I have an enormous new to me all wood bed with head and foot boards and drawers and cabinets beneath it that will be getting this treatment very soon. Can’t wait to try the vinegar!

    Reply
  38. Jeannie

    Wow! I am so excited to FINALLY find information about cleaning and restoring antique furniture. I have a set dining room chairs that are almost a hundred years old. Every time I try to clean them, the finish comes off on the rag I use. The wood is very, very dry. I have tried many different things. And because there is so much detail on the wood, I was not willing to strip, sand and revarnish.

    A very dear friend has gave the chairs to us because she has no children and told us we are the only friends she considers as family. Thus the reason for wanting to take care of these chairs and restore them to their previous beauty. They were originally her mother’s chairs. Carolyn, our friend, is approaching 80. So, in my estimate, if they are not already 100 years old, they are pretty close.

    She has also given us a dresser that her parents gave to her when she was a teeanage. It’s not as dry as the chairs but could use some TLC as well. Now, I can’t wait to get started on bringing back these chairs to look better and maybe close to once they once were.

    Thank you, very, very much for sharing this helpful and enlightening information!!! It will be put to good use in our home immediately (beginning tomorrow).

    Reply
  39. Jane

    Hi!
    Hope you can help set me on the right track! First of all I have never fefinished anything in my life. I have an old dresser that was from my mom. Probably from 1940’s. It is in very good condition. I know got the great idea to try and refinish it and use it for our new flatscreen! It is more of a blond finish, and I like a darker finish. Where do I start, and any products would be really helpful!
    Thanks so much! Your site is great!! Jane

    Reply
  40. Candi

    Great tip. I’m going to try this on some old pieces I have. I also seal my wood with Briwax. It works great and provides and extra layer of protection plus lasting shine. Use clear if you don’t want your wood to darken or a wax with color to alter the color a bit.

    Reply
  41. loved0620

    Has anyone does this to their hardwood floors?

    Reply
    • Lydia

      I would think hardwood floors would be very slippery for a while until the wood absorbs the oil.

      Reply
  42. Lydia

    Just went over my 30+ year old kitchen cabinets with this solution and I love the result!

    Reply
  43. theUnpaidBill

    I do woodworking as a hobby and I wouldn’t recommend any vegetable oil for something like this.

    Vegetable oil does not cure, which means it never really dries. It can also become rancid which means smells.

    Tung oil, and boiled linseed oil will cure to a film and protect the wood. Boiled linseed oil is actually cheaper than most vegetable oils at about $4/quart and any hardware store will have it. Tung oil is a little better, but it cures slower and is more expensive.

    Reply
  44. Janet

    I want to yard sale with you. That dresser is gorgeous. Do you think the oil vinegar mixture would work on old worn hardwood oak floors?

    Reply
  45. mrsbeeswax

    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 !

    Reply
  46. Helene Jolley

    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!

    Reply
  47. Lauri Drosendahl

    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!

    THANKS!

    Reply
  48. Sue Pagels

    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!!

    Reply
  49. Aimee

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

    Blessings, Aimee

    Reply
  50. Barb Wingfield

    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.

    Reply
    • lorilei

      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?

      Reply
    • Adrienne

      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.

      Reply
  51. Lorena

    hI
    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

    Reply
  52. Debbie H.

    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.

    Reply
    • El Henry

      Vinegar is antimicrobial, so the oil will not get rancid.

      Reply
      • Jamie

        Rancidity comes when the oil is oxidized or exposed to heat and light. It is not a microbial problem.

        Reply
  53. Wilson Pearson

    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.

    Reply
  54. health benefits of bananas

    You can become aware of how and how often you self-imprison.
    A slower but better way of doing it would be to send the car to a second account, then send the paint back, then send the car from your second account to your third, then send the paint back, etc
    etc. A healthy body results to stronger cardiac and reproductive systems plus better regulations of hormones.

    Reply
  55. coconut oil

    Clinical and experimental effects of medium chain triglyceride based fat emulsions-a review.
    Most other cooking oils and fats contain long-chain triglycerides (LCT).

    It is not hard to do, and it is easy to keep off the weight that you lose.

    Reply
  56. Jackie

    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?

    Reply
  57. kim

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

    Reply
  58. Andrea

    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!

    -Andrea

    Reply
  59. spencer

    would oil and vinegar be ok for exterior decking?

    Reply
  60. Barbara

    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

    Reply
  61. Debra Aubin

    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
    Debbie

    Reply
  62. TimAitch

    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.

    Reply
  63. Kristi

    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.

    Reply
  64. Dale

    hi!,I really like your writing very so much! percentage we keep up a correspondence more approximately your article on AOL? I require an expert in this area to unravel my problem. Maybe that’s you! Taking a look forward to look you.

    Reply
  65. Jaco Kruger

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

    Reply
  66. Kamrin

    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?

    thanks!

    Reply
    • Donna

      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?

      Reply
  67. Handyman Waterloo Ltd.

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

    Reply
  68. Judi

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

    Reply
  69. Jess

    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

    Reply
  70. Michael

    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.

    Michael

    Reply
  71. Karen

    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.

    Reply
  72. Susanne Stroupe

    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!

    Reply
  73. Elisa Altran

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

    Reply
  74. Shirley Ludwig

    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.

    Reply
  75. Greg Scholl

    As a furniture restorer for over 35 years it amazes me that people think this is a good idea! Coconut oil, Hemp, oil, Walnut Oil, (except polymerized Walnut oil), avacado oil, Canola oil, Mineral oil, should NEVER be used on a piece of furniture! These oils NEVER dry, and some can support mold growth and yes, turn rancid. The exception is food grade Mineral oil or a Mineral oil/Beeswax solution on cutting boards and wooden utensils in the kitchen as a non drying maintenance finish… You might as well slather on some 5W-30 motor oil, or spray it down with WD40….they also contaminate the wood, should you then want to try a proper furniture finish in the future. They offer very little to no protection of the wooden surface as well….unlike a product designed for actual finishing. Boiled linseed oil, (NOT regular Linseed oil), Tung oil, or a modified Tung oil like Waterlox are acceptable oils for furniture finishing because they are polymerized, have undergone a chemical reaction, and will cure hard to actually protect the surface albeit slowly. PLEASE do not litter then internet with this type of bad information….of course ANY type of oil looks so nice when applied to a piece of wood, BUT that does not mean one should do it. There is a science, and accepted methods and techniques to wood repair/restoration/ refinishing and these types of “home” remedies do not meet this criteria.Thanks for listening, and please accept this post as a friendly reminder to DIY’ers and a caution to the plethora of misinformation on the internet……there’s a lot of good information, but a lot of not so good as well….

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      The Hemp Oil that is sold with my paint line is processed for use on furniture and is different than the oil that is sold in health food stores. I agree that the oils used need to be formulated for use on furniture.

      Reply
  76. Carolyn Helminski

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

    ?

    Reply
  77. nONE

    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.

    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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