How to clean grunge from varnished wood?

linnea56April 13, 2011

I have a set of oak antique chairs I want to post on Craig's List. I thought I knew how to do this: mineral spirits.

But it's not coming off. It's grunge, not wear, you can see where it's overlaid on the finish. Finish is NOT fragile. These had been refinished before I bought them at a local antique shop about 10-15 years ago.

The mineral spirits is making the grunge grey or whitish, in spots, but it's not coming off. I'm applying it with a t-shirt rag. I think it's evaporating too quickly.

Would Lemon Oil do a better job of dissolving the grunge?

Because I'm selling them, I don't want to invest hours of labor that I won't get back. Husband insists I won't get more than $15 a piece, but these are over 100 years old, very well made, and cost ME $100 EACH. They are not beat up, just dirty in spots on the seats.


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I might consider something like 409 in a hidden spot and see what that does. But mineral spirits SHOULD do it....
Wondering why you would pay $100 each for chairs to sell...?

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 8:24PM
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Sorry if I was not clear. :)

When I BOUGHT the chairs, 10 or so years ago, I paid $100 each. They are still in great shape, except for the grunge. I hate to let them go for a song.

I had another thought after I posted. Maybe I should use very fine steel wool with the mineral spirits? Like 000 grade, fine enough that it won't make scratches.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 9:53PM
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I wouldn't....better to use a microfiber cloth with the mineral spirits...OOO grade steel wool will scratch.
I thought they were antique....hard to think of that kind of grunge getting on them in only 10 years.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 11:15PM
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The grunge is only on limited areas. You can tell the kids had dirty hands more often that I knew! :) I used them at my kitchen table, so that's 3,650 times minimum, of being pulled up and pushed back. I probably would not have noticed it, if I hadn't brought them to a bright place to examine before taking photos. In the kitchen, I couldn't tell. But I know potential customers will be very picky.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 11:44PM
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Try soap and water....mineral spirits won't remove sugar or milk based grunge.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 12:55AM
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woodsy_1 Zone 5b Illinois

I've bought pieces in the past that were an absolute mess. Try using Ivory dish soap and water in a mild solution. Sometimes a terrycloth rag has just enough oomph to scrub the grunge without damaging the finish. Dry the chairs immediately after rinsing.

If that doesn't work, move to *gasp* Murphy's Oil Soap. In some cases, it's the only thing that will remove the yuck. Howard's makes a good soap as well that is formulated for wood and fabric. I found it in one of my local antique shops.

All of that said, the finish could be compromised. Do you know what sort of finish is on the chairs? Some yuck, especially organic based, will eat away at certain finishes. The grayish/whitish spots that show up when wet indicate that may have happened. It could be the finish itself that's sticky. There's not much you can do about that short of removing the finish and starting over. I hope for your sake that's not the case.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 8:28AM
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Goop hand cleaner. Find it in the auto dept. at WalMart. Non-toxic and leaves a nice sheen. I use this on all my furniture. If it's really grungy you can use fine steel wool with it.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 9:02AM
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