Lemon Oil For Wood — Clean & Restore Furniture, Floors

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Lemons are natural cleaning agents, but did you know they also have polishing properties that protect wood furniture from cracking and drying? While these features can be attractive, not knowing how to apply these ingredients properly can lead to a restoration disaster. 

So before you consider lemon oil for wood surfaces, let me explain its perks and the correct method of using it effectively. 

Is Lemon Oil Recommended For Wood?

Yes, you can apply lemon oil solution on wooden furniture and other structures. Despite common misconceptions, its acidic nature does not ruin a wood surface, so it’s only natural to recommend it as a polishing or cleaning agent.

For me, a typical cleaning session involves soaking a soft cloth in lemon oil and wiping down various wooden surfaces—kitchen cabinets, intricate furniture carvings, you name it.

Besides stopping dust build-up, this excellent cleaning agent includes natural oils that can eliminate harmful bacteria and germs before they can damage the workpiece any further. 

lemon oil

One of the things I particularly like about lemon oil is its antibacterial properties. It does wonders for antique furniture or older wood pieces that might have moisture damage. But remember, moderation is key. Using too much can cause some abrasion, so a little goes a long way.

Polishing the wooden surface with more lemon oil solution can refurbish the lumber’s original luster and prevent dried wood from cracking in the long run. Because of this, most people also utilize it to restore the material’s natural beauty.

And since pure lemon oil mixture doesn’t carry harmful chemicals, you can use it on wooden pieces often exposed to food contact. It has non-toxic natural oils safe for projects like table wood surfaces, children’s toys, or utensils. 

During my time perusing the aisles, I’ve noticed that some of the best lemon oil furniture polishes out there contain special UV blockers. If you’re like me, and your furniture sees a fair amount of sunlight, this is the kind of product you’ll want. It can save your wooden pieces from discoloration and fading due to excessive sun exposure.

Effects of Lemon Oil on Wood

Most lumber species produce natural oils to ensure that the wooden surfaces stay fresh and give them a sparkling shine. However, these materials tend to lose this ability as they age. Fortunately, you can apply lemon oil products to stop it from drying out and cracking. 

furniture made out of Baltic Birch plywood

One of the reasons why lemon oil works well as a wooden furniture polish is its capability to replenish and revitalize dried wood. Its natural attributes serve as a material conditioner, allowing its remaining grease to continue the production cycle. 

As a conditioner, you can also count on lemon oil to penetrate deep into the wood grain to prevent dirt from staying between cracks. 

The popularity of lemon oil for wood furniture projects stems from its durability enhancement. Because as long as it can maintain natural grease production, the surface can stay as good as new for years. 

On top of that, the citric acid [1] components in lemons can turn into natural cleaning agents that can polish stains away from wood furniture pieces with the most minimal risk of cracking.

Why Can’t Lemon Oil Be Used Directly on Wood?

While it’s true that lemon oil can remove dust and dirt from a wood surface, it doesn’t mean it can form a protective layer that’s durable enough to withstand potential damage. 

pouring lemon oil

Despite its high acidity, most manufacturers mix lemon oil with a cleaning agent, polish, or conditioner to form a more formidable protective finish. Even the polishing products in today’s market do not contain pure lemon oil, as most have additives. 

Since lemon oil does not form a thick film after drying, its ability to resist mild moisture, remove dirt and dust, and eliminate stains won’t last long when exposed to harsh weather conditions. To maintain its protective layer, you must apply it frequently. 

Instead of pure lemon oil, I suggest adding a wax compound to the wood furniture surface for more reliable protection against moisture and other elements. You can wipe and mix the lemon grease with beeswax or carnauba wax for more durability.

In the absence of these waxes, even the finest lemon oil furniture polish can solely enhance the surface’s shine and cleanliness.

Can You Use Lemon Oil on Wooden Floors?

For someone who enjoys the benefits of lemon oil on wooden furniture, I was tempted to try it out on wooden floors. However, it’s safe to say that it didn’t go as planned. Here’s what I’ve found out:

Lemon oil can remove dust build-up and help a wooden surface resist mild moisture, but it’s not exactly an ideal option for refurbishing floors. Using lemons to restore the material’s smoothness and natural oils can dehydrate the surface. 

polishing floor

You must also remember that lemon oil is highly abrasive. If sprayed directly on the floor, the previous finish may fall apart without warning. 

Unlike wood furniture pieces, wooden floors have high foot traffic. So if you add more lemon oil to its surface, it’ll turn slippery and lead to undesirable accidents. 

So, if you’re thinking about using lemon oil on your wooden floors, I’d suggest opting for specialized cleaning and polishing products instead. Unlike lemon grease, those cleaners are easier to wipe and rub on flat wood surfaces. They can remove stains better and include stronger moisture resistance. 

Pros And Cons of Using Lemon Oil on Wood

As you can see, lemon oil can be helpful in many ways. Here’s an itemized list of its perks for your convenience: 

oil and lemons

Pros

Amidst all the advantages lemon oil can give wooden furniture or surface, this ingredient has several limitations. Here’s a list of what it can’t deliver. 

Cons

How To Apply Lemon Oil on Wood

Whether you intend to use lemon oil to revitalize the material’s grain or remove stains from its surface, its application is more straightforward than you think. All you need to do is prep the wood, mix the ingredients properly, and let it dry for a new and fresh look.

finishing black walnut with lemon oil

Here are the things you’ll need for this procedure:

Step#1: Prep the surface

Before the lemon oil application, the wood must be free of dirt and other residues. Run a cloth rag across the furniture and wipe down every inch of the surface. 

Since dust particles tend to gather close to lemon oil, starting with a clean surface is best to prevent inconvenience during the application. If not, the debris will mix with the mixture and hinder proper polishing. 

preparing work area

For wood pieces covered in too much dust and dirt, using a cloth won’t suffice. I advise opting for a vacuum cleaner or any dust collection system to clean the furniture thoroughly. 

Step#2: Prep lemon oil mixture

If your heart is set on using lemon oil for wood cleaning, you must know it won’t be effective without other additives and conditioners. 

First, add two parts of vinegar and olive oil with one section of lemon grease. After that, pour these oils into the jar and grab your mixing fork to combine them well. I recommend doing this process for a few minutes before closing the lid tightly and letting the oil mixture sit. 

You must keep these oils at a consistent room temperature for several minutes before using the solution on the wood furniture. 

If you need exact measurements for this wood conditioner mixture, add half a cup of distilled vinegar, a quarter cup of olive oil, and a single tablespoon of lemon oil. 

prepare lemon oil mixture

Oils for olive and lemon aren’t that compatible, so expect the cleaning mixture to have a thick consistency. It’s a desirable result since it’ll make the application easier to manage. 

Step #3: Initially try it in a small area

Before you rub or spray the lemon oil into the wood furniture, I recommend testing the mixture on a small inconspicuous area. It’ll determine how the surface will react with the solution and prevent extensive repairs if it doesn’t go well.

First, shake the jar where the oils are sitting before opening the lid. After that, dip the cotton cloth into the lemon oil mixture and brush it lightly into the intended area. Don’t rub the furniture harshly because it may result in the finish peeling off. 

Once the lemon oil dries on the testing spot, examine the surface for any peeling or cracks. You can continue to the next step if no unusual effects are in sight.

Step #4: Clean the furniture

You should dip the fabric again into the mixed oils for this part. Remember that you only need to moisturize the wood surface, so I wouldn’t recommend adding excessive lemon oil mixture. 

person holding cloth

If you apply too much lemon oil to the wood, it can extend the drying time and affect the application’s final output. 

While wiping the lemon oil, it’s best to do it in circular motions. You must follow the material’s grain so that the mixture can thoroughly remove dirt and stains from the furniture. 

This step should give the wood a shiny and fresh aesthetic. And given the high acidity levels of lemon oil, I can guarantee that you can remove stains quickly from any furniture piece. All you need to do is add more solutions until you cover the entire surface. 

Step #5: Let it dry

Once the stain and dust particles are gone, it’s time to let the wood soak into the lemon oil you applied. You can keep the furniture drying for at least 15 to 20 minutes, but it still depends on the climate of your residence.  

As the furniture dries, the lemon oil will form a thin protective layer that will replenish wood oils and keep moisture away. 

drying paint on wood

My advice is to apply a finish or sealer to make the wood more durable against external elements like UV rays, heat, moisture, infestations, etc. It’s not mandatory, but it’ll help your workpiece last longer. 

Most Recommended Lemon Oil Products For Wood

If you scan today’s industry, it’s no short of lemon oil products. The best wood cleaners under this category belong to the shelves of reliable brands like Old English, Howard, Weiman, and Maintex. 

Although it’s tempting to buy whichever is more affordable, I’d like to emphasize how crucial it is to check the product’s label. This specification will tell you if the cleaner suits furniture pieces or other wood structures. 

Common Uses of Lemon Oil

Although I mentioned that you could use lemon oil in kitchen utensils and tabletops, it’s not true for products with additives. Typically, the ones with conditioners are often for maintaining wood instruments and furniture pieces. 

Guitar professionals and manufacturers often use lemon oil to clean fretboards and other unfinished sections. 

table

On top of that, furniture makers also consider lemon oil as an effective restoration product because it can refurnish dry wood pieces. As long as it includes conditioners, wax compounds, or UV blockers, attaining restoration isn’t impossible.  

Does Lemon Oil Attract Dust?

Unfortunately, lemon oil does attract dust particles. Because of this, you must keep the leftover mixture inside an airtight container and wipe the residues away from the surface regularly for a better result. 

Can Lemon Oil Mixture Be Applied To Antiques?

I wouldn’t advise you to use lemon oil to polish old and damaged antique furniture pieces. Its abrasion can cause more ruin than wood restoration. 

If you have no choice but to use lemon oil on antique furniture wood, I’d say use it as minimally as possible. It would help if you also wiped it immediately to ensure the material retains its original gloss. 

If you me, orange oil is the better option to clean or polish antique furniture. Unlike its alternative, this product is less abrasive and suitable for eliminating wood termites.

tung oil on furniture

Besides orange oil, tung oil can also help clean your antique furniture. Unlike lemon or orange oil, it’s not an acidic ingredient. Thanks to this, it offers no risk of damage to the wood. 

Choosing between orange, tung, and lemon oil can be confusing. So if you’re still getting familiar with antique furniture restoration, there’s no shame in seeking the help of professionals. Remember that not all wood types are durable enough to withstand harsh cleaning agents. 

How Long Does Lemon Oil Dry?

Letting the lemon oil dry on wood will take at least 15 to 20 minutes, but the duration depends on the climate and overall environment. 

Lemon oil will lose its shine against the sunlight after drying, so it’s easy to determine if it’s ready for use. However, I still recommend leaving the wood surface to dry for about an hour to prevent mishaps. 

Wood Types That Don't Work Well With Lemon Oil

As mentioned, antique wood in bad condition is unsuitable for lemon oil applications. You can consider tung or orange oil because these options carry lower acid levels.

old furniture

Lemon oil will also not work well on maple fretboards. It can mess with the material’s colors, so it’s not the most attractive choice for the workpiece. 

When Should You Not Use Lemon Oil?

If you aim to create a protective finish on the wood structure, there are better ways to go than to apply lemon oil. As you know, this product does not include long-lasting resistive properties. 

On top of that, you also shouldn’t use lemon oil if the workpiece you’re working on is a piece of antique furniture. Its surface can be too delicate to handle the abrasiveness and acidity of the ingredient. I suggest going for orange oil for better results.

FAQ

Will lemon oil make wood darker?

No, lemon oil will not darken the wood surface. Its original components tend to replenish the material’s natural oil, so it’ll enhance its appearance and not alter it. If you observe any darkening, it can be a reaction to other chemicals included in the product.

Can you use lemon oil on wood that's been painted?

You can use lemon oil on painted wood, but I encourage minimal application. This product is highly acidic, so the film can peel during the process if you’re not careful.

Can I use another finish over lemon oil?

Yes, adding another finish over the lemon oil application is okay. If the mixture dries appropriately, you can apply a protective finish to give the wood extra durability. 

Can lemon oil be used on utensils?

Pure lemon oil cleaners are okay to use for wood utensils. However, products with additives aren’t always food safe. If you can, check the manufacturer’s label. Alternatively, you use other food-safe wood finishes in the market. 

Is lemon oil effective in preventing moisture?

Yes, lemon oil has excellent moisture resistance. However, it doesn’t form a protective film, so you can’t expect it to seal the moisture away from the wood surface. 

Does the scent of lemons linger after using lemon oil?

Yes, the lemon oil aroma will linger on the wood after application. Even some products without lemon oil ingredients carry this scent because of its pleasing fragrance. 

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Conclusion

Choosing lemon oil for wood restoration and refurbishing is a timely decision, mainly because these products are readily available. And while it’s tempting to use it in every wood maintenance project, I would like to note that it’s not applicable in all situations.  

Every wood project has different requirements, so stock up on some orange oil and other waxing compounds apart from lemon oil.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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