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How To Clean and Dust Wood Paneling

Don't you just love the look and warmth that wood paneling provides?

If wood is cared for, paneling can add beauty and elegance to any room. Besides the charm of beautiful grains, one of the attractions of wood paneling and natural woodwork is that they require very little upkeep.

Generally speaking, the only maintenance required is simply dusting from ceiling to floor with a soft cloth or the vacuum cleaner brush.

Know Your Wood Finishes:

When cleaning wood, consider the finish:

  • If it's a painted enamel surface, you can use a regular liquid household cleaning agent.
  • Hand-rubbed finishes, stained-wood or natural finishes require special care using a product that will not dull, discolor or stain the surface. The type of wood is not important, except when color is a consideration.
  • Genuine wood and synthetics can be cleaned the same way, as long as there's a protective coating of varnish or another sealant.
  • With uncoated raw wood, such as some cedar paneling, cleaning can be risky.

Using Oils, Waxes, and Polishes:

Natural wood oils may be leached out by dry air in an overheated home. So . . . are oils, waxes and polishes really helpful in cleaning and protecting wood finishes?

Some manufacturers claim they are needed to preserve the wood itself. That might not be quite true. The finish is generally enough to protect the wood, and it is probably more accurate to say that waxes and polishes protect the protection!

Oil polishes may help preserve a finish by replenishing the natural oils. Some of these products contain ingredients that dissolve built-up surface dirt, leave a nice glow and a pleasant smell.

Wax polishes are useful as gloss-enhancers on low-luster finishes but do very little "shine-wise" for mirror-like coatings. A good wax polish spreads easily, doesn't cause build-up, resists staining, spotting and smudging.

Most high-gloss mirror finishes require a different type of polish altogether than used on matte or hand-rubbed wood finishes. It could be silicone based, it could even be epoxy making the wood shine. In that case, just a quick damp wipe to remove the dust is all you need and adding additional polish or wax will not improve the appearance.

Homemade Wood Cleaner:

You can make a good substitute for commercial wood cleaning products by combining;

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of mineral oil
  • 20 drops of lemon oil

Take care not to use olive oil, vegetable oil or any other nut type oil. Food based oils oxidize and go rancid over time and you'll have an odor problem that will be difficult to remove. The addition of a little lemon oil adds a nice fresh scent. Shake it up well before using. Dip a clean cloth into the solution and lightly polish; then, use a dry soft cloth and buff to polish up a nice warm shine.

Dusting and Removing Soil:

Regular removal of dust with a soft cloth, or vacuum cleaner brush is all the cleaning needed for most wood paneled walls. (An exception would be frequently touched woodwork like banisters that benefit from a natural oil base cleaner, such as Orange Glo)

Occasionally, some soil may stick to the surface - usually where there's a switch plate mounted. You'll notice a darkening around the plate or there may even be smudges from sticky fingers. There are many commercial cleaners made for wood paneling that are available at home improvement stores. They come in the form of rub-on oils, sprays and waxes. Be sure to read the instructions, then test on a small inconspicuous area to be sure it does not damage the finish of the wood before starting to clean.

All Purpose Cleaning:

An all-purpose cleaning solution that works on most paneling is made from a liquid dish detergent mixed with water.

  • Start with a half cup of detergent to a gallon of warm water. Test a small spot on your paneling first. If the wood is old, it may soak up a lot of the water and you might not be happy with the result. Allow the test area to dry overnight.
  • If you are satisfied, then tackle the rest of the job. When the finish is in good condition, it shields the wood so moisture will not be absorbed. You are really cleaning the finish and not the wood itself. Do not use strong alkali's or solvents. Use care if the shellac or vanish is cracked as moisture can penetrate.
  • Mentally divide the panel into sections and begin cleaning, one section at a time, from the bottom up to avoid drip lines.
  • Apply the cleaning solution sparingly with a sponge, rinse the panel and then buff it dry.
  • Do not leave the water on for very long as it will cause the finish to develop a white haze.

Cleaning Uncoated or Unfinished Wood Paneling:

Attempting to clean bare unfinished wood can cause a problem because it is not sealed. The wood will soak up moisture like a sponge. Grease, crayon, markers and skin oil are also readily absorbed into the grain and are impossible to remove. The only real solution might be to apply a stain dark enough to mask the damage or to sand and refinish the entire area.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure - if you are the one with the new unfinished panel, polish it regularly with polish and oil to keep the wood moist and in good condition. It will eventually age to a nice patina and, hopefully, all it will require is an occasional dusting!

  1. Brush paneling with soft brush, like used for washing cars.
  2. If the surface is smooth, you may go over lightly with a damp cloth.
  3. Once dry, oil paneling with a wood treatment recommended by the manufacturer or by a local cabinetmaker.

Cleaning Sealed, Finished Wood Paneling:

  1. Dust panel from the top down.
  2. Beginning at the top, apply oil soap solution sparingly with a sponge.
  3. When the sponge gets dirty, rinse with clean water and squeeze into an empty bucket (not the cleaning water).
  4. Buff the paneling dry with a clean cotton terry cloth, wiping with the grain to hide the occasional skip or streak.

You can clean any sealed wood surface this way. DO NOT leave the solution on for more than a minute or two. The oil in the soap/oil solution will cause the paneling to glow. It eliminates the need to apply other panel polishes which tend to leave a sticky surface that collects and holds dust, dirt, and hand prints.

Enjoy Your Beautiful Wood:

Now that you know how to properly dust and clean all your paneling, it is time to roll up your sleeves and get started! You will be rewarded with rich beautiful looking walls that not only shine, but smell clean and fresh. Happy cleaning!

Image courtesy of quinet CC BY-SA


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Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Mrs Clean (Corina Wilson) is not only the owner of the company, but a very busy mother of 3 children.

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Mrs Clean realized long ago, that a clean home is a necessity, not a luxury when we are struggling to find the time in our day to cover the very basic levels of work and/or family obligations. The battle seems to never end... (but that's why we're here to help!)

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