How to Clean Varnished Wood


Jane asked: How do I clean varnished wood? My in-law’s house has beautiful, varnished wood doors. They need cleaning.

When well maintained, the beautiful varnished finish on wood provides a protective layer that allows for easier cleaning. Follow these tips for general cleaning and removal of heavier dirt or grime build-up when necessary.

You Will Need:

  • Soft dry cloth
  • Furniture polish
  • Moist cloth

Steps to Clean the Wood:

  1. For general maintenance, wipe varnished wood with a soft dry cloth to remove dust.
  2. If there are sticky or other harder-to-remove spots, wipe the spot away with a moist cloth then immediately follow with a dry cloth. Do NOT allow extended contact with wet cloths. The varnish is not waterproof, and the will absorb the water if kept in contact with moisture for a long time. This will damage the finish of the varnished wood.
  3. To restore shine, apply a solvent-based furniture polish with a soft dry cloth. Check the product label for one indicated for use on varnished wood.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Do not use water or alcohol-based cleaners on varnished wood, as these may damage the finish.
  • If excess wax build-up is a problem, wipe the wood down with a rag dampened in mineral spirits or turpentine. Wear rubber gloves, dispose of rags used for application carefully, and follow up with a coat of furniture paste wax. Choose one to match the color of your wood and follow all label directions.


  1. Need advice for removing a substance from a dining room table. Cloth-backed vinyl cover was tucked underneath at each end – vinyl (not cloth side) was against the varnish where tucked. Tucked portion – the vinyl side of the cover – stuck to the surface and when removed, a sticky film remained. Warm water and soap gently applied did not work. Have been advised to use mineral spirits, turpentine, and even GOOP hand cleaner. This is a very antique and special table. Any advice would be welcome.


  2. I just used Goop to clean off a sticky residue left by tape from my nice Hooker dining table. It is stained and varnished wood. Now, I have a shiny spot that won’t go away. I am afraid to use other products now without advice. Did I damage the surface with Goop? Or did the combination of old tape sticker residue combined with Goop go beneath the surface? It seemed that the affected surface is also a little soft, and it has a drag when rubbing a cloth over it.

    Please help if you have an idea of what to do to get the surface back to normal.

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