How to clean furniture properly?

I need to clean grime and dirt off a large amount of metal furniture and an even larger amount of wooden furniture. What should I use and how should I approach each kind?



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Thanks Halfpenny!

For the wooden furniture – isopropyl alcohol it is! I would never have guessed that one.

And…. yikes, when I google “lye bath” there seem to be a lot of warnings that might make the novice’s head spin (the novice would be me). Is there any alternative? Also I think I’m missing something – since vinegar’s acidic, how does a vinegar bath neutralise the acid? Is it just that vinegar’s *less* acidic than the lye?

Point well taken about doing this outdoors!

Lye is alkaline, therefore adding the acid (vinegar) will neutralise it.

When you dissolve it water it will generate heat - please be careful, wear protective clothing and do it outdoors…

I’m not too hot on chemistry but I believe if you use it on aluminium it will release hydrogen gas…

John C is correct, aluminum and Lye do not mix and you DO NOT want to use lye with aluminum furniture.

If the “grime” is dust and grease, a good detergent will work well on the metal furniture followed by a good drying and light application of a light oil to keep Mr. Rust away.

As far as cleaning wooden furniture, just use what you would feel comfortable using on a good wood floor to clean dirt and marks from the floor. Any ink on the surface just adds to the character and patina of the furniture, and should not be dealt with unless it is a heavy enough coating to make the furniture out of size or not parallel and square, in which case, it might be wise to pitch it, or use for fuel. I once visited a used printing equipment dealer in Chicago in about 1967 (Al Frank) and he was using old furniture and type cases in a burn barrel inside his warehouse to keep warm. It was the only heat.

Hi Helen,

Sometimes I use Drano to clean really grungy type. It’s essentially lye. It does have little flecks of aluminum in it, which is what makes it fizz. Maybe this is the hydrogen gas than John mentioned. I’m not sure whether they put the aluminum in it because the fizzing helps unclog drains, or as a means of wowing the consumer with its perceived effectiveness. In any case, I agree that you wouldn’t want to clean aluminum furniture with it.

Wear eye protection in addition to gloves. Once I plopped a piece of type into a bowl of Drano solution and a teeny tiny droplet of solution flew directly into my eye. It stung mercilessly! Luckily I was near a faucet and was able to flush the eye immediately.

But even after that experience, I still keep Drano in my arsenal because it works so well.


Excuse me. I just have to pause for a little weep about the old furniture and type cases being burned to heat a warehouse.

How do I tell if my furniture is aluminium or not?

Thanks for the info on cleaning the wooden furniture. You’re right – the grime is oil and dust… I don’t want to get rid of the ink stains. They’re fine.

Maybe Drano and some goggles and a big step back is what I need for the metal furniture… but I won’t dive in just yet.

Hi Pepperinapress,

you can find out the aluminium easily by the weight. Take two pieces of metall furnitsher of the same size - the lighter will be the aluminium;-)) . Btw. in some cases something simple as WD40 (spray oil which you can get from the garage supplier) does a good job on the castiron furniture and prevents rust in the same moment.


Use a magnet. Aluminum is not magnetic.

BTW: plain dishwasher powder solution works well on any oil/ink based clean-up on metal. Let it soak then brush and rinse, and repeat as necessary. I use about a 1/4 cup in a plastic cat litter pan with +-2” of water. It is the TSP in the powder that does the trick.
It can cause extreme drying of the hands as it also strips the skin oils. So use kitchen gloves, and/or rinse and apply lotion.

Thank you *very* much everyone. Great information!

Now I can tackle the stack in my studio….


I put my metal furniture in the dishwasher and ran it on pots and pans 2 cycles and then I emptied the dishwasher and ran an empty load to clean it. Worked Great. BTW I just did it with my steel galley trays too. Although it made them rusty. But still easier to get the rust off than the grime. An old printer I asked told me to clean the wood furniture with Formbys Furniture Cleaner. His was in great shape. I bought some but have not tried it yet. I’m still sorting type……

Good Luck

Electrolytic rust removal will take some grime with it, but is mainly useful for, well, rust.

If you have rusty furniture, try the electrolytic method. There is a brief, one take youtube vid of me using the process here:

For grime, I sometimes use scotch-brite pads and gojo. It takes some elbow grease, but isn’t as dangerous as lye.