Ever wondered what human grime looks like? Last week I had to scrape it off aging cupboards in an old condo, so I can tell you. It's brownish with a hint of jaundice. And tenacious as dehydrated oobleck.
After some experimenting, I found a killer triumvirate of products that will help you restore most polyurethane-finished wood – whether it's furniture, trim or even a hardwood floor that's dingy, distressed and stained, this combo works with speed, efficiency and hardly any mess.
Wood that I could
If you’ve got wood trim and/or cabinets in your kitchen, start there. The wood tones will be deeper in some spots. They may also be really sticky from congealed cooking oils, condensed smoke and fingertip grease, which link at the molecular level to form a solvent-resistant coating tougher than shark cartilage.
You may have to use mechanical means to remove the top layers of build-up. A scraper with a curved claw is the easiest to control. Curls of ickiness will scroll off the end of your blade and land in spirals on the countertop like evil potpourri. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Once you’ve taken the scum down to the top layer of finish (or bare wood if you went too far), clean off any residue with a great Canadian product called Gloves Off (a hockey reference meaning “tough, and ready for a fight,” but with a double entendre since it's made of non-toxic, non-irritant ingredients so you can use it without gloves and it won't harm your skin like chemical strippers do).
After cleaning up the surface with a little Gloves Off Paint and Stain Remover, you’re good to go for Phase 2.
As sheen on TV
The surface is probably blotchy at this point. It may have some areas where the wood is completely bare from wear or from your overzealous scraping. So it's time to cheat a bit and make the colour more uniform.
MinWax Woodsheen is your next weapon. Water-based Woodsheen comes in six colours that can be blended to match most existing finishes. You just rub it into the wood grain with a rag to distribute the colour as evenly as possible. Blend it into the stripped wood to add pigment and even things out. It dries very quickly and gives you an even finish that's rich and matte.
However, “matte” isn't right for high-traffic floors, trim or furniture. You need more of a satiny finish to resist future wear. Enter participant #3 in our trio of solutions. MinWax Hardwood Floor Reviver is designed to be used on floors, but it works brilliantly on furniture and cabinets that have raunchy old polyurethane finish in need of a refresher. Rub it in with a soft cloth and watch it dry to a lovely low sheen.
It’s just a stage
This down ’n’ dirty refinishing process will improve the overall appearance of your home and will give you a great feeling.
If you’re trying to sell the place, cleaning up these kinds of finish eyesores is critical. And do remember that a prospective buyer will be inclined to touch surfaces; if your cupboards have a coat of gorp that's sticky as used gum, that's not helping.
TIP: Woodsheen and Hardwood Floor Reviver are water-based, so never use them on wax-coated or shellac finishes; they will turn the finish milky white, and you'll be mad. If you’re not sure what your wood surface is finished with, put a drop of water on a not-too-visible area – if it turns white, it’s probably shellac or wax; use oil-based products instead (i.e. Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane).
Oh, and one final TIP: when it comes to staging a home for sale, use all the theatricality you can muster – fresh paint, flowers, cookies baking in the oven, steam-cleaned grout and carpets ... and remember to remove anything with eyes to make it less personal for a buyer - i.e. photos, stuffed toys, your collection of doll heads or the giant fish you caught and mounted on the rec room wall. Apparently, eyes are as bad as grime.
Mag Ruffman appears weekdays on Real Life on CTS. Visit her online at ToolGirl.com.