Wood Care Questions and Answers

The following Q&A’s can help answer some wood care questions you may have, such as how to remove glue from wood and which adhesive remover to use on a specific type of finish.

Q. I placed a poinsettia on a piece of wood furniture. The plant developed white flies, so I threw it out. However, either the flies or the plant left a sticky residue on the wood furniture. I have tried various wood cleaning products with no success. I do not want to damage the finish, which I believe is polyurethane. How can I clean the plant residue off?

A. Mix a solution of vinegar and water. Generally, one tablespoon of vinegar to a quart of water is sufficient. Dip a soft, white cloth in the solution, and rub a small area at a time until the surface is dry. Always rub with the grain.

Q. I am trying to live with my mother's furniture after she smoked heavily for 50 years. I need a solution to removing the smoke odor from the inside of oak dressers. It is so strong I cannot put my clothing into the drawers and then wear them.

A. The easiest solution is to apply a coat of shellac to all the interior woodwork - the inside and outside of drawers, except for the face, as well as the entire interior framework, since the smoke odor will be there, too. Remove drawers from the cabinet box. Wipe all wood surfaces with denatured alcohol, including the interior of the cabinet box. If the odor persists, seal as suggested.

Q. How do I remove glue from wood surfaces?

A. If the box has a lacquer finish, please do not use alcohol as an adhesive remover because it will damage finish. Test any DIY cleaning method in an inconspicuous spot for ill effects on finish before proceeding. If the finish is lacquer, mineral spirits should not harm finish (test first). Plain mineral oil, vegetable oil and WD-40 are also effective for removing tape residue from finished surfaces. Buff with a soft cloth to remove all residue of adhesive and cleaner. Rags containing smelly solvents like mineral spirits or WD-40 should be rinsed out with soap and water and let air dry before joining the rest of the laundry.

Q. I'm in a big panic mode because I have guests coming over, and I just found a big red food coloring stain on my wooden floors. How do I get it out?

A. Food coloring is a dye. Wood floors with adequate finish to seal the wood should not have allowed the food coloring to pass through to wood. If the finish is thus worn, then perhaps blotting the food coloring with chlorine bleach will lift the dye stain. If not, then it will be permanent until the floors are sanded and refinished if you have a surface coating like polyurethane. If you have a waxed finish floor, then sand with fine sand paper, re-wax, and buff.

If you have a polyurethane finish, acetone will not affect the finish. If you have an old shellac or varnish finish, it will scratch off with a coin. If you have a wax finish, letting a tablespoon of water set for 30 minutes will make wax turn white. You can test in an inconspicuous place, such as in the corner behind a door. Test for type of floor finish before proceeding.

Q. I have just finished the building work on a house that I recently purchased, took back to the brickwork and rebuilt. Before I can get decorating, I need to clean the wooden floorboards. I have managed to sweep away most of the dust and remove the blobs of plaster from the floorboards using a scraper. However, there seems to be some stains stuck on the wooden floorboards that appear to be a mixture of dust and mess created when mixing up plaster. Is there some detergent or any other method that is suitable to remove such types of stains?

A. Mix 2 cups white vinegar in one gallon of water. Fill an old Windex bottle. Mist the affected areas and let set. Wipe with cleaning rag. Once affected areas have been cleaned, clean the entire floor. Do a section at a time. Throw an old towel on floor and rub back and forth with your foot to dry to prevent streaks and restore shine.

Q. I placed a hot dish on an oak dining room table, which has a shellac finish which turned cloudy. Any ideas how to remove this?

A. Place a small amount of mayonnaise directly over the ring. Cover the area with a piece of plastic wrap and allow it to sit for about 30 minutes. Remove the plastic wrap and lightly rub the mayonnaise into the finish, working in the direction of the grain. Sometimes a hot rag with a few drops of ammonia will remove white rings. Or, try mixing equal parts baking soda and regular white, non-gel toothpaste. Lightly dampen the corner of a clean, soft white cloth with water and dip it into the paste. With a circular motion, gently buff the marks for a few minutes. Wipe the area clean, and buff to a shine. Rings that remain after buffing for five minutes or so may have penetrated the wood and will probably require refinishing.

Q. I have a teak dresser and set a bottle of fabric stain remover on it. There was some of the remover on the outside of the bottle and I didn't notice it. I didn't remove the bottle for several hours and when I did, it left a stain on the top of the dresser. The only finish on the teak is teak oil, no varnish. Is there any way to pull the stain out or will the top of the dresser have to be sanded?

A. If attempts with superfine 0000 steel wool and oil do not remove the stain, then re-sand and re-oil to restore finish and remove stain. Oil and water do not mix. Protect surfaces from oil, water, and oil-water-based cleaners.

Q. Could you please tell me how to get rid of the white stains caused by placing hot receptacles on stained woodwork?

A. Rub gently along the grain, using a dry steel wool soap pad or a cloth dampened with camphorated oil or mineral spirits or rub gently along the grain with extra-fine (0000) steel wool. Wipe clean and wax or polish. Make sure to first test in an inconspicuous area.