The Best Polishes for Wood Furniture

Find out what makes for a quality polish and which products will best brighten and beautify your furniture.

The Best Furniture Polish Options

Photo: istockphoto.com

Wood furniture polishes are substances you apply to add luster to everything from tables and chairs to dressers and armoires. While these products emerged in the late 1920s, their use remains commonly misunderstood because, most importantly, furniture polishes should not be mistaken for wood finishes. The majority of polishes do not seal wood in the way that polyurethane and other finishes do. Rather, wood polishes clean and shine furniture, renewing its appearance and helping to protect the underlying finish. In these respects, wood polishes perform handily—so long as you buy the right product and apply it with care.

Ahead, our guide to choosing the best furniture polish for wood furniture, along with our top picks.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Pledge Multi-Surface Furniture Polish Spray
  2. BEST FOR HEAVY USE: Guardsman Clean & Polish For Wood Furniture
  3. BEST FOR LIGHT USE: Old English Lemon Oil Furniture Polish
  4. HONORABLE MENTION: Howard Products FW0016 Wood Polish & Conditioner
The Best Furniture Polish Options

Photo: istockphoto.com

Key Shopping Considerations

For shining, spotless results, factor in the following considerations when choosing a furniture polish for the cleaning task at hand.

Wood Finish

Above all, know that the existing finish on your wood dictates the type of furniture polish to use. Do the following test on an inconspicuous part of the furniture to identify its finish. Rub a few drops of boiled linseed oil onto the wood and observe:

  • If the wood absorbs the oil, it has an oil finish.
  • If, however, the oil beads up on the surface, it has a hard finish. To further identify that hard finish, rub a cotton swab saturated in acetone into the surface.
  • If the acetone dissolves within 30 seconds, it has a lacquer finish.
  • If it turns into a gel-like substance within a minute or two, it’s varnish or shellac (shellac will dissolve quickly when you dab a cotton swab with denatured alcohol on it, while varnish will dissolve more slowly).
  • If the acetone beads up on the surface, you have a polyurethane/polyester finish.
  • If you have unfinished wood furniture (which will absorb a drop of water applied to the surface), you should first finish it (with one of the finishes listed in this section) and then apply furniture polish to preserve that finish. Except for paste wax (more on that below), most furniture polishes aren’t intended for use on unfinished wood.

Formulas

Furniture polishes come in four major formulas. Base your choice of formula on the current wood finish and your desired level of sheen:

  • Silicone polishes contain silicone, wax, and other cleaning agents. As they polish, they remove water-soluble dirt from the wood surface and produce a hard, slick film, making them compatible with furniture with varnish, shellac, and polyurethane finishes that you want to lend a high-gloss sheen. Their slickness makes them dust-repellent and easy to wipe clean of dirt.
  • Emulsion polishes, sometimes labeled as cream polishes, consist of water, oil, and cleaning agents, which allow them to lift water-soluble and oil-based build-up from the wood surface as they polish it. They’re suitable for use on wood with varnish, shellac, and polyurethane finishes, but the matte (low-gloss) or satin (medium-gloss) sheen they produce is more dust-prone and less easily wipeable than silicone polishes and less abrasion-resistant than waxes.
  • Oil-based polishes usually contain a mineral oil base and may also include solvents like petroleum distillate. They’re best suited for wood with an oil finish; the thin film of oil they leave behind on furniture achieves a rich, high-gloss result that accentuates the wood grain but can easily attract dust. That being said, they remove oil-based build-up as they polish, and water-soluble dirt can be wiped clean with a cloth.
  • Waxes, made of carnauba or beeswax, fall into this category of polishes. These products range in consistency from creamy wax that produces a more dust-prone matte or satin sheen to paste wax that achieves a dust-repellent high-gloss sheen. The thin, hard layer they achieve fends off stains and abrasions and pairs well with furniture that has a lacquered finish. Since paste wax acts as a sealant itself, it’s also suitable for use on unfinished wood.

Application method

Each of the above formulas come in different forms that are applied to furniture in different ways:

  • Aerosol polishes, including silicone, emulsion, and oil-based options, are available in a can and make up the bulk of furniture polishes on the market today, for good reason. They require the least amount of work to apply; just press a button on the can to spray the pressurized product directly to the furniture to polish it; there’s no need to use a cloth or rub in the product.
  • Liquid polishes include emulsion and oil-based products; they come in bottles that let you pour or squirt the polish onto a damp cloth and then wipe it over the furniture. Minimal buffing is required—although more is required for oil-based than emulsion polishes. You’ll also find spray bottles that can be squeezed onto a surface and then wiped, and disposable wipes pre-saturated with liquid polish; all you have to do is grab a wipe and glide it over the furniture.
  • Semi-solid polishes are wax-based products usually sold in a small tub. They require the most work to apply as you’ll need to slather the product onto a cloth and then buff it extensively into the wood; creamy waxes require less buffing than paste waxes, however.

Furniture type

Typically, the type of furniture you’re polishing further narrows the field of suitable of product options:

  • Everyday furniture from chairs at the dining table to coffee tables are primarily utilitarian items that get heavy wear and tear and therefore require more frequent application of furniture polish every month or so to keep clean and shining. Aim to use aerosol or liquid polishes to lift dirt from and lend a matte to high-gloss sheen to these items with less effort than waxes require.
  • Antique furniture often features ornate details best accented by oil-based polishes or wax—ideally the high-gloss sheen produced by paste wax. Since you won’t need to polish these items more than two or three times a year, the higher-effort application of these products will still be manageable. But avoid silicone polishes on these items—they easily show finger smudges.

Our Top Picks

The Best Furniture Polish Option: Pledge Multi-Surface Furniture Polish

Photo: amazon.com

1. BEST OVERALL: Pledge Multi-Surface Furniture Polish Spray

Our top pick among furniture polishes is a six-in-one silicone aerosol product that acts as a wood, granite, leather, quartz, laminate, and steel polisher. Just shake the 9.7-ounce can (one of three included), spray directly onto the furniture surface, and wipe clean with a cloth. The polish works on everyday wood furniture with hard finishes like varnish, shellac, and polyurethane, which it grants a high-gloss sheen that staves off dust but doesn’t leave behind a waxy build-up. For the allergy-prone, Pledge also traps up to 90% of the allergens in dust but leaves behind a mild, lemon-fresh scent.

The Best Furniture Polish Option: Guardsman Clean & Polish For Wood Furniture

Photo: amazon.com

2. BEST FOR HEAVY USE: Guardsman Clean & Polish For Wood Furniture

Sold in a 16-ounce bottle, this emulsion or cream polish lends a natural, low-luster sheen and a pleasant woodland scent to wood sealed with any type of finish, so there’s no need to stock multiple polishes at home for different furnishings. To apply the liquid product, pour a small volume into a cloth, wipe down the furniture, and buff until dry and glowing. Given that the bottled product pours out a higher volume of polish than a spray polish, it’s best used on large everyday furnishings like tables and dressers. As it polishes, the product also conceals scratches on the surface and protects it from stains and UV-related discoloration.

The Best Furniture Polish Option: Old English Lemon Oil Furniture Polish

Photo: amazon.com

3. BEST FOR LIGHT USE: Old English Lemon Oil Furniture Polish

Reveal the natural patina wood furniture throughout the home with this six-pack of liquid furniture polish featuring a mineral-oil-based formula that works on furniture with oil and other finishes. Given the more effort-intensive application of an oil than emulsion polish, it’s the perfect choice for smaller everyday or antique furniture surfaces ranging from chairs to shelves. It goes on with a simple spritz from the 12-ounce spray bottle, and when buffed with a cloth in the direction of the wood grain, leaves behind a high-gloss sheen with an invigorating lemon-and-almond scent. In addition to polishing furniture, it protects it from watermarks, fingerprints, candle wax, and other spills.

The Best Furniture Polish Option: Howard Feed-N-Wax Wood Polish

Photo: amazon.com

4. HONORABLE MENTION: Howard Products FW0016 Wood Polish & Conditioner

Howard Products Wood Polish & Conditioner, also known as Feed-N-Wax, not only polishes but also protects wood furniture with a semi-solid carnauba-and-beeswax formula with mineral and orange oil. While you can use the creamy wax on unfinished wood, it also helps prevent the cracking, fading, and deterioration of existing finishes of all types. In either case, the polish will lend the wood a satin sheen that accentuates the depth of the grain. Just squirt some product from the 16-ounce bottle onto a cloth, then use a hefty amount of elbow grease to buff it into the furniture; if you don’t mind the effort, it’s luxe look is particularly appealing on antique furniture.