Asked on Mar 11, 2013

Can I use coconut oil as a furniture polish on antique wood?

Jeanine Wester
by Jeanine Wester
We own a house that was built in 1880 and has beautiful crown molding and wood decorative pillars and ceiling beams. Unfortunately, no one seems to have taken care of them in the last 10+ years. Their varnish has beaded up and crackled in spots and they need to be cleaned from grime building up. Would coconut oil be a good polish that won't damage the wood? What is a good way to clean off the tough grime on them? So scared to ruin this beautiful wood! Can post pictures if need be.
  16 answers
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Mar 12, 2013
    You have two kinds of problem here...the first is exposed wood the other is the old finish. These basically result is two completely different surfaces to clean. As is the case with "finished" hardwood you are not cleaning the wood but the varnish layer or poly type top coating. Sealed wood like this is best cleaned with a very mild and dilute soap / water mix. ( a few drops of dish soap into a pint of water or so) because wood is present and the finish may not be complete. It should be used sparingly. with unfinished wood some oil and wax blends are the best. I like to use Howards Feed and Wax In an ideal world you could painstakingly strip and re-finish the wood so it is consistent. But this is pretty labor intensive. One of the biggest problems with refinishing some woods are contaminates from wax and silicones, that are found in many commercial "wood care products" like pledge etc. some pics would be nice
  • Jeanine Wester Jeanine Wester on Mar 12, 2013
    Thank you so much, I was actually hoping you would comment because I figured you would have good advice @KMS Woodworks . I'll post some pictures either today or tomorrow. It's hard, for me, to tell if any of the original wood is exposed. I'll take some close ups and maybe it will be easier to tell what exactly has happened to the wood. It's about 120 years old so I am worried about harsh chemicals in cheap furniture polish.
  • Jeanine Wester Jeanine Wester on Mar 12, 2013
    posting more pictures for more details answers.
  • Jeanine Wester Jeanine Wester on Mar 13, 2013
    @KMS Woodworks , here are some pictures of a door in the house. It's a good example of what a lot of the wood work looks like.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Mar 14, 2013
    That is some nice looking quarter sawn oak hiding in there. It looks a bit like some some degradation of a varnish, hard and lumpy, as opposed to "sticky'? One common tool used in refinishing work is steel wool, some 2 or 3 "o" is fine enough to not damage the wood grain but still aggressive enough to cut through some of the old finish. You could test an area with some steel wool dampened in some mineral spirits and apply a bit of elbow grease. The finish or the raw wood would not be damaged by the spirits. If this removes the residue, you could then allow it to fully dry and apply a new finish. I like to use minwax's wiping poly. If the spirits do not work all that well, you may need to use some stripper. The citrus based stuff is way better to use than the MEK ( Methyl ethyl Ketone). The citrus base needs a bit more contact time. one trick to help with it drying out too quickly is to cover the stripper with some plastic wrap (kitchen type stuff).
  • Jeanine Wester Jeanine Wester on Mar 14, 2013
    That is so helpful thank you! This beaded up varnish covers all the doors and a lot of the ceiling beams. I might try to do the steel wool on the doors since they're more within my reach lol. I'll try that on a panel and see if I can't get it looking better. I will certainly post more pics of it when I try it. Probably will be a while. In the mean time, I will post better pictures of all the wood work, it's really something!
  • GLHF GLHF on Jun 29, 2014
    Jeanine, did you ever get this resolved?
  • Jeanine Wester Jeanine Wester on Jun 29, 2014
    I actually never ended up trying the coconut oil as a polish. I'm pretty sure our wood needs a more aggressive treatment than that although I haven't tried anything other than light cleaning yet. In a 120+ year old house you quickly realize there are LOTS of other projects that end up takbg precedence lol!
    • Terra Gazelle Terra Gazelle on Nov 09, 2014
      @Jeanine Wester I have an old second hand dining room table that I had fallen in love with..but the wood was dry and had lost its luster..I used hemp oil. It now looks much healthier and has a nice glow. I never thought of coconut oil, I may try that.
  • GLHF GLHF on Jun 30, 2014
    Jeanine, I'm 99% sure you have an old shellac finish. To verify if it's shellac, test an inconspicuous area with a little denatured alcohol (try on a cotton ball) and then rub with a medium rough steel wool pad. The alcohol evaporates pretty fast and is what's mixed with shellac flakes to make a finish. It should remove all with a little modest elbow grease. Wear rubber gloves and use with windows open / good ventilation. It if works, it's much easier than stripping. Let me know what happens. You have gorgeous tiger oak wood and if cleaned of the old shellac and new brushed on, this would look very, very special. My house is 140 years and I have shellac finishes.
  • Jeanine Wester Jeanine Wester on Jun 30, 2014
    Thank you! I had no experience with old wood and, yes, I would not be thrilled with stripping all the doors! What a mess. I'll try your method on a back panel of a door and see what happens. All the wood in the house is crackled like this. If I don't have to use stripper I might be able to do a little at a time. Thanks again! Btw would love to see some pics of your house!
  • Sandra Whittier Sandra Whittier on Jul 14, 2014
    How about Mrs. Murrfy's Wood Oil Soap for furniture and floors? Sure does clean. I'm old enough to have seen and remember that look of shellac on a number of doors and entry's.
  • Darla Darla on Jul 15, 2014
    Those brown beads might actually be from airborne grime from years of cooking. I would try cleaning it well with water and liquid dish soap and rinsing well first.
  • Karen Kay Babineaux Karen Kay Babineaux on Oct 13, 2014
    Go buy some linseed oil and rub those spots out then use nothing but Amish Secret there afterwards to polish.
  • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Nov 02, 2014
    Have the same beading/alligatoring problem in my house on some of the wood. (100+ years old) Seems worse where the wood has been in direct sunshine, but not the rule of thumb. Think perhaps the varnish was not allowed to dry thoroughly between coats??? If cleaning is your major concern, I just use Murphy's Oil Soap. The only wood I've stripped is on some of the interior windows as it bugged me so much when I'd look out. That solves the problem but labour intensive.
  • John Clemens John Clemens on Dec 28, 2014
    Was foam insulation put in the house where the varnish is 'beading?'
    • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Jan 07, 2015
      @John Clemens Not in my case, John. In fact, there was no insulation anywhere when I bought the house!
  • Gloria tulip Gloria tulip on Jan 06, 2015
    Your finish has deteriorated. Could have been shellac. You probably can just sweep off a lot of the old finish. Needs restoring. An expert told me: "No kind of oil is ever the preferred finish. It is only used if a better surface finish like lacquer, shellac or varnish is not available. I know all the “old hands” will turn up their noses at that idea but history is history and there are reasons for that."