Refresh Old Furniture Without Stripping or Sanding

3 Materials
15 Minutes

You guys know I love the thrill of taking an old and poorly cared for piece of furniture, stripping it down and giving it a new take on life. But sometimes I feel like there is a call to respect the story of a piece. To leave the dings and scratches because they are part of the story, the history of that piece and they add character that speaks to its age.

In these cases, a full refinish isn’t necessary and I often turn to a simple technique to refresh the piece and protect it so it lasts for many years to come. I think I will coin the term “stain cleaning’ for this, because that is essentially how it works.

Most recently I used this on an antique flip top desk I found on Facebook marketplace. This desk was a stunner. Clearly very old. I couldn’t find manufacturer info on it. It was in decent shape, but the wood felt pretty dry, and it was marked with various stains and scratches. This kind of desk is very unique and from what my Googling research shows, worth A LOT more than the $80 I paid for it.

To start this process I make sure the piece is clean. There was a large red stain on this piece on the left side of the top. I used a melamine foam pad (generic Magic Eraser, you can buy them in bulk for CHEAP here!) to scrub away the stain, and to wipe down he rest of the desk to remove any dirt and build up.

My goal after it was dirt and dust free was to continue cleaning it up, making sure the wood was sealed properly so it would be protected for years to come, and to do what I could for some of the dings and scratches. I often find my favorite stain color, English Chestnut, does a great job blending with the finish of antique and vintage pieces. I dipped a clean cloth into my stain and worked the stain across the surface of the desk and into the scratches.

Remember the goal isn't perfection. We aren't trying to restore the piece to its original condition. We just want to clean it up and make sure the wood is protected, giving it a little refresh. This beauty came to life with a little TLC and is currently dressing up our living room corner!

See the original post on my blog here!

Don't miss the play-by-play action of projects like these on my instagram account here!

It's not just furniture that you can restore without sanding, read this helpful guide on how to restore hardwood floors without sanding, for more restoration tips!

Suggested materials:
  • Stain   (
  • Melamine Foam   (
  • Clean lint free cloth
Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
3 of 4 questions
  • Michele Cook Clifton Michele Cook Clifton on Jan 17, 2021

    Didn’t the surface end up “sticky” because the original stain wasn’t removed?

  • Elliek19 Elliek19 on Jan 28, 2021

    Was any sanding needed before adding the stain?

  • She62302009 She62302009 on Oct 02, 2022

    Could this be done with stairs but using a much darker stain?

    I have carpeted stairs that I have procrastinated on refinishing because I want them to be an ebony color but don't want to sand or strip the ballasters

Join the conversation
3 of 18 comments
  • Kristi Quintana Kristi Quintana on Jan 16, 2022

    Stunning! Thank you for sharing your go to stain for blending in. Painting this would have been sad.

  • Holly B. Metzger Holly B. Metzger on Jan 16, 2022

    These desks are often called spinet desks. I have my mother's childhood desk from the early 1900s. I would never part with my mom's desk. I love how you brought your desk back to life.