Cleaning and Care of Waterlox Finished Surfaces

After your surface has dried and cured for at least 7 days, regular cleaning may be performed. To properly care for your surfaces, use only recommended cleaning products and avoid using cleaners/chemicals that can damage your finish. For information on refreshing or recoating a Waterlox finished surface see our other guide.

Recommended Regular Cleaning Products

  1. Waterlox Cleaner Concentrate – Follow the directions on the label for proper dilution steps for your cleaning job. Excellent for heavy duty cleaning and large areas. Follow with a clear water rinse on food contact surfaces or after heavy duty cleaning.
  2. Waterlox Wood Surface Cleaner – A ready-to-use product that can be used on any project, but is specially formulated for food contact surfaces. Does not need to be rinsed off.
  3. Warm water with a mild detergent – Avoid dish detergents (like Dawn) as these are designed to break down oils. Recommended to rinse with clean water to remove any soap residues.
  4. Vinegar and Water – Mix 1 ounce of white vinegar into a gallon of warm water. Ideal for light, every day cleaning.
  5. Murphy’s Oil Soap¹ – Follow the directions on the label. This will leave a residue on the surface, so it may reduce your gloss. See the footnotes for more information.
  6. Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner – Non-polar solvents like VM&P Naphtha or Turpentine² can be used to clean up stubborn marks or scuffs. Not recommended for regular cleaning, but are safe to use on stubborn messes.

For small projects such as furniture, jewelry boxes, trim, turnings, etc., we recommend dusting with a dry microfiber dust rag/duster or a lightly dampened cloth or towel. The methods mentioned above can also be used for more heavy duty cleaning of your wood surfaces.

Heavy Duty Cleaning

For heavy duty cleaning, the Waterlox Cleaner Concentrate is a good first step. Follow the heavy duty cleaning dilution steps and use to clean up after parties or other events that require a little extra cleaning.

For very heavy cleaning, such as stripping off cleaner residues or preparing for a recoat, it is recommended to use TSP (trisodium phosphate) or a TSP substitute. Follow the dilution/mixing instructions for your particular brand and follow with a clear water rinse.

General Tips

To extend the life of your surfaces, there are some common tips to avoid more labor intensive repairs.

  1. Don’t allow puddles of water to stay on the surface - The occasional drop or sweating glass will not cause problems for Waterlox, but try to avoid standing puddles. If these find the edges of boards or cracks they may seep into the wood and cause staining or warping. Wipe up standing water when possible.
  2. Don’t trap water - Similar to the first point, do not allow water to become trapped in direct contact with your wood surface. The Waterlox finishes will hold up for a while, but water tends to find a way given enough time. Common problems are under house plants, soap dishes, pet bowls or other items that may be near the sink. If the water can freely evaporate it will not cause a problem, but if its trapped under a bowl, tray or mat, it may cause damage.
  3. Use a soap dish – Soaps are designed to break down grease and oil to wash it away. Waterlox products are oil-based finishes (all of them), so prolonged exposure to even mild soaps and detergents can slowly break down the finish. This can lead to staining or damage to the film.

Absolute DO NOT USE Products

Some cleaners/products can actually damage or completely remove most Waterlox finishes. These should be avoided.

  1. Bleach/Ammonia - Avoid any and all cleaners that contain bleach or ammonia. These products will break down the finish (either quickly or over time, depending on the concentration) and can remove the finish or cause it to become sticky with frequent use.
  2. Other manufactures floor care products – Some of these products contain special additives that may replenish or restore their particular finishes. This may leave residues or cause damage to the Waterlox finish.
  3. Dish Detergents – Dish detergents are designed to break down stubborn grease and other organic (food) stains. Waterlox products are essentially a VERY stubborn organic coating. Chronic use will start to break down the coating and may cause it to become sticky.
  4. Acetone³, MEK and Denatured Alcohol – Many readily available cleaning solvents you can find at the hardware store can be used to remove common stains. Non-polar solvents like Mineral Spirits, Paint thinner, Citrus Solvent or even Turpentine will NOT harm Waterlox. Polar solvents like MEK, MAK, Denatured/Isopropyl Alcohol, Lacquer Thinner and Acetone can damage Waterlox finished surfaces.
  5. Oven Cleaners, Baking Soda Pastes and other Caustic Cleaners – Waterlox products are popular for use on countertops and floors which are sometimes in the vicinity of ovens and cook tops. These cleaners are excellent at breaking down organic matter (i.e. food) to then wash or scrub it away. Caustic and oven cleaners can eat through a Waterlox finish very quickly and baking soda (if left unattended) can do the same.

Products to Avoid

  1. Wax containing products – These typically will not damage the finish and wax can be popular for some furniture or fine woodworking. Wax is not necessary for protection and it tends to cause more issues going forward in terms of maintenance and recoatability. See our Wax and Waterlox guide for more detailed information.
  2. Steam Cleaners/Steam Mops – These can force water into areas it wouldn’t normally be able to enter on its own by injecting hot vapor onto the surface. This tends not to harm Waterlox finishes, but it can force water into gaps or cracks unnecessarily. Some customers use them regularly with good results, but we still recommend against it.

¹Murphy’s oil soap and other similar products will usually leave behind a very slight oily residue. Frequent use may cause the finish to look dull and the residue needs to be removed. See the Heavy Duty Cleaning section for more information about removing residues.

²Turpentine is the most aggressive, so avoid if possible. Do not over saturate or polish or allow to sit on surface for an extended length of time.

³Acetone (nail polish remover) is excellent at removing dried Waterlox products from unintended surfaces.

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