How to Remove Sticky Residue From Furniture

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Dear Home-Ec 101,
My furniture has become very sticky after years of polishing it. Sticky to the point of having to give it a little pull to lift it off the furniture. Googling for a solution, I have used a mixture of water and vinegar. It helped a little but not much. What next?
Sticky in Stockton

I reached out to Sticky to find out what they had been using to polish their furniture. The reason I asked is it’s an open secret that some commercial dust-removers contain silicone and can cause a silicone build-up. Wax build-up is another fun thing to remove from wood furniture.

Isn’t adulting fun? (No, no it isn’t. Stay young, kids. Stay young.)

It turns out that they had been loyal users of Endust for many years, but after reading a random article on the internet, had given olive oil a try.

In the past, we have talked about the chemical process of like dissolves like. Water is one kind of thing (polar) and oils are another (non-polar). Think about how oil floats on water. It’s likely that you didn’t get all of the olive oil wiped up when it was applied to the furniture. Given time some of the molecules in the olive oil evaporated leaving behind the sticky film. Vinegar and water are different from olive oil and wouldn’t have brought the olive oil film into the solution to allow it to be absorbed by your cleaning cloth. You might have had some limited success with the damp cloth alone, the vinegar likely didn’t add much to the process.

So that’s what didn’t work, what will work?

Let’s learn how to remove sticky residue from furniture

First, there’s no magic fix, but you do have several options, all of which are going to take effort and time, some more than others.

I suggest grabbing your earbuds and listening to either an audiobook or a podcast to help pass the time while you are doing this chore.

Here are some of my favorites. Don’t worry, if they don’t float your boat, I’m just trying to help jumpstart your search process if you don’t have any you like.

If it’s not obvious, I use earbuds, my very young children do not get to hear these. There’s only so much Baby Shark I can take.

True CrimeMy Favorite Murder (NSFW)
Tenfold More Wicked
That’s Messed Up (This one is actually based on Law and Order SVU
but it includes the actual crime is based on. I think this one probably needs a language warning, too)
Self-ImprovementHappier by Gretchen Rubin
Science, Tech, MiscHidden Brain
This Podcast Will Kill You Ecologists and epidemiologists, oh my!
Reply All
This Week in Google
I Saw What You Did (Two women review two films based on a theme they announce the day of the review. Definitely a language warning here.)

Now, that you are mentally prepared, how will you accomplish your task?

If your furniture is dark and shiny with a very smooth finish, you’ll need to take an extra careful approach to avoid damaging your finish. Remember, your finish is what protects the wood underneath. Additionally, a finish with lots of tiny scratches will always appear dull, so make sure you use very soft cloths and do NOT use the last method of the three suggested.

Option One – Mineral Spirits

This one requires excellent ventilation, gloves, patience, and mineral spirits. A couple of caveats here, first mineral spirits are safe for clear finishes, but you should ALWAYS test in an inconspicuous area. Secondly, you need to ensure that you are buying mineral spirits and not something labeled as containing mineral spirits that could strip your finish.

After testing in an inconspicuous area, while in a well-ventilated area, and wearing gloves, apply the mineral spirits to a clean rag and apply to your sticky furniture in a circular motion. Your sticky grime should come right off, without damaging the underlying finish. Work slowly and carefully and then buff away any residue.

Option Two – Soap Suds and Elbow Grease

This one is going to take significant effort. I wouldn’t try to tackle all of your furniture in one day. Maybe do a piece a week.

You’ll need some kind of soap or detergent to accomplish this task. If the finish of your wood is at all cracked, you are going to need to be especially careful to not soak the wood which will cause it to swell and cause damage. Follow the instructions in this post for removing milk stains on wood, but I’ve also included and edited them for your specific situation here.

Grab a bucket, or two if you’re lazy like me and hate getting up and down from the floor. Additionally, grab three rags.

Fill the first bucket with a healthy dollop of dish soap like old-fashioned Dawn the plain, dark blue, nothing fancy added dish detergent. Add just an inch or two of water.  Now, swish and swish the water until you have a lot of frothy suds. You could also try this with Murphy’s Oil Soap.

In your other bucket just use clear water.

Wet the first rag with just the soapy bubbles, don’t dip it down into the water.  The world won’t end if you do, but try to get it as soapy, with the foam as possible. Now scrub your furniture in small circles and use little elbow grease while you are at it. Next, take your second rag, dip it in the plain water, wring it out, and wipe off the soap. Be sure to rinse this rag frequently.

Use the third rag to dry the furniture and give it a polish. Yes, you can use your Endust.

Option Three – Use a Baking Soda Mixture

This one is one only for furniture that is a lighter wood with a raised grain, you can take the advice in this post on reviving a dull grimy table. I’ll let you click through to this one. You can be a little more aggressive with the raised grain than with very shiny, dark, smooth surfaces.

If you have questions, please send them to

Image is a chair with text You messed up and used a DIY Furniture Polish Now Fix the sticky mess
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