Asked on Oct 8, 2017

How do I remove Years of smoke and grime off a old wooden desk?

Liz McCownEbbjdlRichandTammy Whiteside


It's a nice old oak desk but was in a smokers house for 50 plus years. I want to refinish it. It was stained then finished with something shiny. The finish is so old sticky and dirty you can run your fingernail across it and get layers of yuck under your nail. What would be good to strip this with?

7 answers
  • Dfm
    on Oct 8, 2017

    citrus stripper....
  • Dfm
    on Oct 8, 2017

    Ok...thought about it again. Dip strip it. The tar from the nicotine is probably still on it. It's not something you want on your skin, or to breath in. Check for refinishing shops...ther can safely remove the can put the new one on. Nicotine is a carcinogen. I.e. Causes cancer.
  • Sharon
    on Oct 8, 2017

    Nicotine is sticky, I would go to the Dollar Tree and get the half gallon of Awesome Orange, get kitchen rubber gloves, mix the Orange in some real warm water.
  • Lynn Goins
    on Oct 8, 2017

    Hot water and ammonia and a medium bristled brush. Wear gloves, safety goggles and a mask.

  • RichandTammy Whiteside
    on Oct 8, 2017

    You might want to do this in two steps: 1. Remove the tar stain and then 2. Refinish the desk.

    The reason that I say this is because I ran into the same problem with my grandparent's bedroom suite. I removed the tar using a mix of warm water, white vinegar and dawn dish-washing liquid. I used an old wash rag dipped in the solution and just kept wiping it on the surface until it wiped clean and dry with a paper towel. Because it's wood you do not want to saturate the desk and you want to get the water off as quickly as possible, I would wring out the rag just until it wasn't dripping and then started on the furniture.

    Here's a good strong mix to try: Two cups of white vinegar mixed into 1/2 gallon of water with a healthy squirt of dawn (not too much because you don't want a frothy mess).

    Be patient and take your time. Be sure to wipe down the insides and outsides of the drawers and the inside of the carcass as well to remove all smoke odors.

    You may find that once you've removed the tar from the piece that it won't even need to be refinished!
  • Ebbjdl
    on Oct 8, 2017

    Find a good stripper, and maybe sand it lightly. I would use an electric one you can rent one from Homedepot or Lowe's for a half-day rental. Call to see how much it cost. If you want to just clean it first, use Murphy's oil soap,. and put a little elbow grease into it. It should leave à nice shine. If you sand it. and put a varnish on, seal it. If you paint use high gloss, so you can clean it with a rag. EJL
  • Liz McCown
    on Oct 10, 2017

    Thanks so much for all the tips. I will return and let y'all know what worked out best for me.
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