Oil & Vinegar – Not Just For Salads

Marian ParsonsBefore and Afters, Decorating, Furniture Makeovers, Miscellaneus, Painting & Refinishing, Popular, Secret Weapons, Tutorials105 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 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, 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…
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 with a microfiber cloth.
I am known for my painted furniture, but sometimes old wood is just too pretty paint!
Oil & Vinegar – Not Just For Salads

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105 Comments on “Oil & Vinegar – Not Just For Salads”

  1. 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!

  2. 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!! 😀

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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!

  13. 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

  14. 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!

  15. 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).

  16. 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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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?

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  21. 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 !

  22. 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!

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      1. 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.

  24. 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!

  25. 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!!

  26. 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.

    1. 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?

    2. 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.

  27. 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

  28. 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.

  29. 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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  33. 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?

  34. 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

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  36. 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

  37. 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

  38. 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.

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  40. 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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  48. 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!

    1. 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?

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  53. 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

  54. 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

  55. 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.

  56. 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!

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

  58. 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.

  59. 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….

    1. 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.

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