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Clean Wooden Wall Paneling Like a Pro

By Allen Rathey

How can you wash wood paneling like a professional? Will the wrong cleaner damage the wood?


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Most paneling can be cleaned with a dish detergent solution or mild cleaner. The paneling's finish shields the wood so light moisture can't reach it. Anytime you clean your paneling, you're really cleaning the finish not the wood itself. Avoid strong alkalis and solvents. Exercise care if the shellac or varnish is cracked, as moisture may penetrate and stain the grain.

Test first, then apply cleaning solution sparingly with sponge or rag, working from the bottom up to avoid drip lines, rinse, then buff dry immediately with a clean cloth. Remember, water left on too long can cause whitish hazing of the finish. Wipe and buff with the grain to prevent streaking.

Beware of cleaning bare wood. Since unsealed wood lacks a shield of finish, the grain will absorb moisture, grease, crayon and fingerprints. An unfinished panel is hard to clean without making it look worse and requires regular "feeding" with oils and polishes to prevent wood drying.

How useful are oils, waxes and polishes for cleaning and protecting finished wood? Polish promoters preach that such are needed to preserve finished wood; not always so, since the finish itself generally coats and protects. Generally, it would be most accurate to say that waxes and polishes protect the protection.

Polishes help preserve a finish by replenishing oils lost through drying, especially in overheated homes. These products do some cleaning, but at a price. Polishes are useful too as gloss-enhancers on low-luster finishes, though doing very little shine-wise for mirror-like coatings. A good polish goes on easily, doesn't build up and resists staining and smudging. High-gloss mirror finishes may require different treatment than matte finishes, or you may have smudging. A good compromise between cleaner and polish is oil soap. Combining a mild detergent with a little vegetable oil for shine, a diluted solution of oil soap will produce a clean, smudge-free sheen.


Clean Wooden Wall Paneling Like a Pro:  Created on September 4th, 2004.  Last Modified on January 21st, 2014