Dear Home-Ec 101,
My mother has wax build up on an antique secretary. It is a dark wood with a shiny surface. Over many years of waxing the wax has built up and in places the shine has dulled. Can you help?
Smudged in Smyrna
Are you sure that it’s wax build up? Many modern dusting sprays and furniture polishes contain silicone oil to make furniture shiny. This silicone build up is incredibly difficult to remove. Just ask any furniture guy who has had to refinish a piece. Silicone build up is pure, unadulterated evil. Just say no. Keep in mind that switching between wax polish and silicone oil furniture polish or spray can also create cloudy, streaky surfaces. The silicone softens the wax which causes the clouded appearance.
It’s important to keep in mind that wood was once a living thing. Wood is a plant, a sturdy one, but once a living organism. The cells within your wood contain water and are capable of absorbing or losing water to the surrounding air. The finish on your furniture helps maintain the proper balance of moisture, the relative shininess of that finish is more about aesthetics.
The build up of wax or silicone is a protective coating for your wood, stripping this coating always has the potential to cause damage. Proceed with caution and always, always, always (do you get it yet?) test in an inconspicuous location before destroying your finish.
But how do you remove wax build up?
Wax build up is a pain to remove from furniture, but not impossible.
Since liquids damage wood it is important to work quickly, use as little liquid as possible, and dry thoroughly after rinsing.
Combine 1 quart white vinegar with 1/4 cup cream of tartar. Apply this liquid to the wax finish in the direction of the grain and rub gently to remove the wax build up. Rinse immediately by wiping with a rag dampened with plain water and then dry.
If wax has built up in crevices, you may be able to use a hair dryer and an absorbent cloth to remove the residue. Place a single layer of the cloth over the surface and heat gently with the hair dryer. Wipe, adjust to a new section of cloth and repeat. Use caution and low heat as heat is also damaging to wood.
Once all of the furniture wax has been removed, allow the piece to dry, and finally follow up with a new coat of either furniture wax or polish.
If you are concerned about mixing your own furniture wax removers, there are commercial wax removers available.
Silicone build up is possible to remove with mineral spirits, but be extremely cautious with the application. Mineral spirits are flammable. Use a soft, lint free cloth to carefully apply the mineral spirits. Dry thoroughly and polish with a furniture polish that does not contain silicone.
Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.