How To Clean Ingrained Dirt From Wood

When my son first learned to hold a pencil he began drawing on anything he could lay his hands on, the walls, doors, furniture and even our sofa! At the time it was a nuisance of course but, he has turned out to be a very artistic boy, so in hindsight I forgive him!

As you can imagine I was forever cleaning pen off all kinds of surfaces. I learned how to clean pen off walls without leaving marks and how to remove pen off a fabric sofa without having to remove the cover. I also learned how to clean wood properly whether it was to remove pen marks or ingrained dirt.

To clean ingrained dirt from wood, first determine the type of seal it has. If the wood is varnished use a damp cloth and dish soap. For untreated wood begin with a damp cloth and if the dirt is more stubborn wipe over gently with a mixture of equal parts oil, turpentine and white vinegar. Allow to dry and then buff.

How to clean ingrained dirt from a wooden floor

When I was a child my parents had a hardwood parquet floor throughout the apartment. I have vivid memories of my mother using a floor polishing machine quite regularly. There were two stages to the process, apply wax and then finish up with a polish. It must have been a considerably onerous task at the time.

I have wooden floors in my house but they are very different to the type of flooring we had back in my childhood home. The wood has a shiny surface which means I don’t have to do a regular polish as my mum did all those years ago. The cleaning process usually involves a damp floor cloth and the work is done.

As you see, there are two distinct ways to clean a wooden floor and it all depends on how the wood has been sealed. Either it will have a shiny surface or it will be bare, oiled or waxed.

It’s very important to take note of which type of seal you have on your wooden floor because the method of cleaning will differ greatly.

How to tell how your wood floor is sealed

Here is a simple trick to test the type of seal you have on your wooden floor.

  1. Splash a few drops of water on a small area of your floor
  2. If the water beads up then it is sealed with either oil, polyurethane or varnish
  3. If the water is absorbed it is unsealed
  4. If the water turns white, the surface has been waxed

Do this test on an inconspicuous area of your floor.

Pro tip: Whichever type of seal you have on your floor the one thing you should never do is use a mop and bucket to clean it! If you are going to use water to clean your floor always use a damp (not soaking) floor mop.

How to clean an unsealed wooden floor

old wooden floor

If your floor is unsealed then you will need to spend a bit more time keeping it looking good and free of ingrained dirt.

1. Remove dust and debris

As for a sealed floor, you will want to start with a dust-free surface otherwise you risk scratching your floor when you start polishing it.

2. Polish

At this stage, you have a few options for polishing your floor.

  • Mineral spirit: For ingrained dirt, buff up the surface with some fine steel wool then apply some mineral spirit to a clean cloth and rub it in circular motions.
  • Oil: Apply linseed or jojoba to a rag and rub into the wood to bring it back to life
  • Wax: Apply wax to a clean rag and rub it into the wood. Let it sit for a few hours and then buff with a clean dry cloth.

Important: Always test your chosen cleaning agents on an inconspicuous area before you clean the whole floor.

For large areas, you will want to use a buffing machine.

Related post:

How to clean a sealed wooden floor

If your floor is sealed with polyurethane or varnish then you are in luck because your floor will be much easier to clean.

Here are the steps to follow:

1. Remove surface debris

Vacuum or sweep your floor to remove surface dust and dirt. If you don’t do this before you mop you risk scratching it.

2. Mop

  1. Take a microfiber floor mop and spray it with water or wet it and wring it out thoroughly. Most of the water has been removed from the mop head. If your floor is very dirty use a small amount of dish soap.
  2. Mop the floor with the microfibre cloth. Pay attention to the areas where the friction is greatest, this is where dirt has collected that probably you can’t see. Continue mopping until the mop glides around freely.

Always test an inconspicuous area before you use anything other than water to clean your floor.

Some folks suggest using vinegar on this type of floor, but I would advise caution because it is an acidic substance and could damage the surface. Even if it appears to be fine initially, over time you might notice damage such as surface dulling.

How to clean ingrained dirt from a wooden table

cleaning ingrained dirt from a table

Pro tip: Never let water sit. I did this once and it left a permanent water stain on a wooden dressing table.

Before grabbing any cleaning chemicals my biggest tip is to always start simply. At best you might get the result you want with something as simple as water, at worst there is less work for the chemicals to do.

I always start like this:

  1. Dust the area.
  2. Take a damp microfibre cloth and gently wipe.

If you have the result you want you can stop there. If the dirt is more ingrained then proceed to use a stronger cleaning solution.

  1. Mix equal parts of linseed oil, turpentine and white vinegar.
  2. Moisten a soft cloth with the solution.
  3. Gently wipe the wood, working in the same direction as the grain. Don’t over soak the wood.
  4. Use a different part of the cloth for each section and replace the cloth with a clean one when necessary.
  5. For nooks and crannies use a soft toothbrush.
  6. Allow the wood to dry and then buff up with a clean dry cloth.

Make sure you work in a well-ventilated area. If you can, clean your furniture outside.

If you have wooden venetian blinds hanging in your home you also need to be careful not to damage them with too much water. Here’s how to easily clean venetian blinds including wooden ones.

This article and its contents are owned by sparklingpenny.com and was first published on 15 September 2021.

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Penny | SparklingPenny

Hi, I'm Penny. A busy mum of two boys, with the aim to enjoy life to the full.