How to Remove Wax from Wood Surfaces

Talking of how to remove wax from wood, is it something you can do? Our topic today centers around removing wax from the wood. Here’s everything you need to know!

For years, floor installers, wood artisans, and furniture makers have used wax for beauty and protection of wooden surfaces.

Wax is not as scratch and water-resistant as various polymer finishes, but it offers a warm glow to most wood types.

The problem starts when the wax isn’t needed, especially when it starts yellowing as it ages.

You will need to know Simple Steps to Remove Wax from Wood in a bid to refinish with a different formula.

You can remove wax from wood using different techniques, but the most basic option is to soak a shop cloth in mineral spirits.

Then use the damp cloth to clean off the wax from your wood.

If the wax proves challenging to remove, add more mineral spirit to the waxed wood and use steel wool to scrub the loose wax.

Lastly, rinse the surface with a clean cloth soaked in water.

Keep reading this guide for more.

How to Remove Wax From Wood Surfaces

There are many aspects of wax removal from wooden structures.

Some are risky chemical approaches that can compromise the structure while others are natural and do not pose any risk.

Here’s what you need to know:

Does White Vinegar Remove Wood Wax?

White vinegar makes an excellent wood wax cleaner because it is acidic and doesn’t damage wood finish as other wood cleaning products do.

It is an excellent alternative to the toxic cleaners on sale. Cleaning wood wax with white vinegar has many advantages: it is cost-effective and non-toxic to humans.

Using white vinegar to remove wood wax takes a few steps. Start by mixing one tablespoon of cream of tartar 

and a cup of white vinegar. Mix the two thoroughly to create a natural abrasive cleaner.

Then saturate a clean rag into the solution and wipe away the waxed surface going with the wood grain direction.

After removing all the wood wax, clean the surface with a wet cloth to collect any wax residue.

Lastly, use a clean, lint-free cloth to buff the wood dry.

Mistakes to Avoid When Cleaning With Vinegar

Image of floor coated with the best wood wax, Can You Wax Over Polyurethane?Household vinegar is eco-friendly, non-toxic, and has many applications in home cleaning.

However, vinegar is not a one-size-fits-all cleaning solution considering its acidic nature.

It can damage materials that are not intended for their use.

Read on to find out the standard errors to avoid when cleaning with vinegar.

  • Cleaning Knives

Cleaning your knives with vinegar is a bad idea because this acidic liquid can corrode the blade and dull its edges.

Instead, use warm water and soap to clean your knife, and always let the knife dry completely before storing. 

  • Don’t Use Vinegar On Granite Countertops and Marble

Stick to cleaning your marble and granite countertops with a damp cloth and mild soap.

Cleaning these areas with vinegar will cause defects on the surfaces, turning your high-end countertops into a mess.

The vinegar will leave marks that make these surfaces lose their shine with time, requiring sanding and polishing to resume.

  • Don’t Use Vinegar to Remove Egg Stains

This is a precaution most chefs already know. Using vinegar to clean egg stains can cause the spilled egg to thicken and harden. Salt is an excellent alternative to vinegar in this case.

  • Using Vinegar On Dishwashers 

Vinegar is an ineffective alternative dishwasher cleaner. Its high acidity can make some parts of the dishwasher degrade with time.

So even if vinegar is considered a rinse aid, stick to products specifically designed for this purpose.

  • Cleaning Rubber

Rubber gaskets or hoses are not only found in your dishwasher; they also inhabit your refrigerator and other gadgets throughout the house.

Wherever you find rubber gaskets or hoses, don’t clean them using vinegar.

The acidic nature of vinegar can eat away rubber, causing it to degrade with time. Instead, use a solution of baking soda and soap to clean the rubber.

Note: Vinegar is a multipurpose cleaner but not all-purpose.

Can I Paint Over Waxed Wood?

Painting over waxed wood is a bad idea, and anyone who has attempted can testify to the poor results. If you paint over waxed wood, the paint doesn’t soak into the wood.

Instead, it sits on the waxy surface, creates a streaky finish, and peels off after drying. 

This happens because the wax is not porous, so it doesn’t allow the paint to soak into the wood.

For that reason, you will need to remove the wax from wood which is a labor-intensive task.

But with a few supplies such as white spirit, metal scourers, dry rags, Cleaning detergent, and a bucket of warm water, you’ll get the job done quickly.

Note: Chalk paint is the only exception. You can apply it to waxed wood, assuming the wax has hardened for more than three weeks.

Does Sugar Soap Remove Furniture Wax?

Sugar soap is a popular cleaning product and can work wonders on cleaning and preparing surfaces for painting, staining, or polishing.

Despite its name, this cleaning product doesn’t contain any sugar. The name comes from its similarity with sugar crystals in powdered form.

Sugar soap also serves as a degreaser to remove grime, grease, black soot, oil adhesive, and cigarette smoke from walls without leaving residues. But does sugar soap remove furniture wax?

Sugar soap can remove furniture wax provided you mix it according to the instructions printed on the package.

Mix ¼ cup of this cleaning product wi5h 5L of warm water in a bucket and stir thoroughly.

After that, transfer the solution to the waxed furniture and scrub gently with a sponge.

Wipe the surface with a clean cloth and let it air dry as you prepare to paint or stain your furniture.

Can You Varnish Waxed Wood?

Varnish can serve many purposes, including protecting wood from scratches and rot. However, one thing this finishing product can’t do is to stay on top of waxed wood.

Varnish won’t stick to waxed wood because the wax is too slippery to accept any finishing product.

Even if you apply varnish on top of wax, it will absorb moisture and begin to peel off or bubble.

So if you want to add a coat of varnish on waxed wood, ensure you remove as much of the wax as possible using white spirit or a specialized wax removal product.

After that, scuff the surface with an abrasive pad, let the surface dry then apply the varnish directly onto the wood or base coat underneath.

How Do You Remove Candle Wax From Furniture?

Lit candles create an atmosphere of relaxation no matter their placement: on the mantel, dining table, or anywhere else.

However, the mood can suddenly change to frustration when your candle drips its wax onto the surrounding surfaces.

Hardened wax can prove challenging to remove from any surface, and furniture is not an exception.

Fortunately, many ways exist to peel away candle wax from furniture without damaging the wood’s finish or surface.

This guide discusses various methods to remove wax from the furniture. You can choose any method depending on the supplies you have.

  • Method 1: Scraping Off the Wax

Step 1: Use Ice Cubes

Image of a paint stripper, one way of How to Remove Paint From Wood Without ChemicalsFill a small plastic bag with ice cubes, place it directly on the candle wax, and let it stay for some minutes long enough to freeze the wax.

This makes removing the wax easier and ensures that the candle wax won’t leave too much residue on the wood surface. 

If you only need to remove a small portion of wax, hold one ice cube against it to stiffen it. 

Step 2: Scrape Off the Wax

Use a thin plastic object such as a credit card or a plastic putty knife with a fine edge to scrape off the hardened candle wax.

Hold your plastic object at a 45-degrees angle to the wax and scuff up all the wax to separate from the wood. 

Note: Avoid using a metal object to scuff wax off wood, as this can easily scratch and damage the wood. 

Step 3: Remove the Chunks of Wax

The candle wax will separate from the wood in big pieces, easy to pick up.

Grab the wax pieces after scraping them off wood and discard them. Remove any wax residue on the wood with furniture polish. 

  • Method 2: Melting Candle Wax With a Hairdryer

Step 1: Hold the Hair Dryer 3 to 4 Inches Away from the Candle Wax

Plug in your hairdryer and set it to medium heat. Hold the hairdryer at least 3 to 4 inches directly above the hardened candle wax.

Holding the hairdryer at an angle can force the wax to spread when it melts. Move the hairdryer back and forth to remove the spilled wax. 

Note: This technique works for any wood surface, whether raw, stained, sealed or painted wood.

Step 2: Wait for the Wax to Soften Before Removing the Hairdryer

Continue holding the hairdryer steady above the candle wax and watch closely until the wax turns transparent and begins spreading.

If the wax proves difficult to soften, move the hairdryer closer and maintain the same distance. Turn off the hairdryer once the wax melts.

Step 3: Use a Soft Cloth to Remove the Wax

Place a soft cloth firmly into the melted wax and pull it away. Keep doing this with different clean parts of the soft cloth until the wood surface appears clean.

Don’t wipe the wax in a sweeping motion or it will spread and make removal difficult.

Tip: Work quickly in a dabbing motion so that the candle wax doesn’t harden again. But if it sets again, repeat heating the dried wax with the hairdryer, then dab at it with a soft cloth until the wood is clean.

  • Method 3: Using an Iron

Step 1: Put a Brown Paper Bag Above the Candle Wax

Grab a brown paper bag like a grocery store bag and lay it flat above the waxed wood.

This method holds for any wood surface, including sealed, painted, and raw wood. It also applies to removing residue left behind using other methods like scraping.

Step 2: Put Iron On Top of the Paper Over the Wax

Plug in an iron box and set it to its lowest heat setting. Lay the iron box flat above the brown paper bag centered over the candle wax and let it sit for 10 to 15 seconds.

Note: Avoid using the iron box in the steam setting, so you don’t burn or moisten the paper bag.

Step 3: Lift the Paper Bag and Examine If the Wax Shifted from the Wood to the Paper.

Lift the brown paper bag gently from the wood. Examine the bag and the wood surface to determine if all the candle wax is removed from the surface and stuck onto the paper bag.

If you notice any wax residue on the wood, repeat the process with a new paper bag or a different section of the paper bag.

If this doesn’t work, set the iron box to the next highest heat setting and repeat removing the wax. 

  • Method 4: Polishing Wax Residue Off Wood

Step 1: Remove Some of the Wax Before Polishing the Wood

Scrape away wax pieces using a plastic gadget or pass a hairdryer above the waxed area and remove the loose wax.

Squeeze furniture polish onto the corner of a soft cloth and rub the polish onto the candle wax remains in circular motions. 

Tip: You can use furniture oil to work on raw wood surfaces.

Step 2: Remove the Furniture Polish

Fold the soft cloth to expose a clean part, then buff off the furniture polish in circular motions until it disappears. Continue buffing the polished area until it blends into the surrounding wood surface.

Here’s How to Remove Wax from Furniture:

How Can You Tell If Wood Is Waxed?

Wax eliminates the appearance of dings, scuffs, and superficial scratch marks on wood surfaces.

It also preserves underlying finishes from dust, spills, and dirt, allowing them to last longer.

However, wax presents a slippery surface, unconducive for other coatings to stick to. So you should remove it before refinishing the wood surface.

But how can you tell if the wood is waxed? You can usually tell that wood is waxed by performing some basic tests.

The first method is to apply a drop of mineral oil to the finish and let it sit for three minutes to act.

Use a white cloth to wipe off the mineral oil and check the cloth. If you notice a yellowish-brown stain, your wood surface is waxed. 

The other method is to lightly scrape a small area on the finished wood using a coin.

You should see wax buildup on the coin if the wood is waxed. You can also pour a few drops of mineral spirits into the waxed area and cover it with a glass.

If the surface is waxed, it will turn cloudy and feel soft enough to clean up.

A more aggressive test is to use several drops of ammonia under a shot glass. This should turn the wax yellow causing it to lift.

However, ammonia might damage the wood surface. So consider testing it on a small section of your finished wood.

How Do You Change the Color Of Waxed Wood?

Waxed wood furniture adds classic elegance to your house, but not when it is dull or dinted.

Waxed wood can get faulty with time, and you will need to change its color to restore your wood’s visual appeal.

Many ways exist for performing this DIY project, so read on to learn more.

  • Preparation

It’s always good to prepare your workspace before starting this DIY project. Move the furniture you want to change color outside or open windows to provide enough ventilation.

Cover the soft furnishings and carpet to avoid chemical spills that could harm the fabric. 

Also, ensure that kids and pets stay away from your workspace. Consider your protection too by wearing protective gloves, clear goggles, and a respirator if you’re sensitive to the VOCs.

Step 1: Use Mineral Spirits

Soak an abrasive sponge in a container of mineral spirits and squeeze out the excess liquid.

Transfer the sponge to your waxed wood and scrub thoroughly to loosen the wax. You can also mix 1-part of water with 1-part of white vinegar.

Soak a soft cloth in the vinegar mixture and clean the waxed wood thoroughly to break up the remaining wax residue.

Step 2: Clean the Waxed Wood

After removing the wax on the wood surface, saturate a rag in a solution of 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar and 1 cup of white vinegar.

Squeeze out the excess liquid and wipe the wood in the wood grain direction. Rinse the wood with a damp cloth before allowing it to air dry.

Step 3: Sand the Wood

Use 220-grit sandpaper to scuff up the surface working with the wood grain direction to avoid raising the tiny fibers. Wipe off the sanding dust using a wet rag, then repeat sanding with 200 grit sandpaper.

Step 4: Apply a Thin Layer of Conditioner to the Surface

Dip a bristle brush or rag Into a container of wood conditioner, then brush a thin layer to the wood. Cover all areas with even strokes In the wood grain direction for the best results.

Wait for some minutes for the wood conditioner to absorb, then use a clean cloth to wipe away the excess.

Use light strokes to wipe off the wood conditioner again in the wood grain direction.

Step 5: Sand Again With 220-Grit Sandpaper

Use 220-grit sandpaper to scuff up the dried wood conditioner lightly. Sand in the wood grain direction, then wipe away the sanding dust using a clean rag.

Note: Any sandpaper lesser than 220 grit can scratch the wood. 

Step 6: Apply Wood Stain

Take your preferred stain color and stir it thoroughly with a plastic utensil. Dip your paintbrush into the stain and let it drip the excess or lightly dab it against the stain container.

Apply the stain on the dewaxed wood, working in sections and with the grain’s direction.

Step 7: Use a Thin and Even Layer

Use long strokes to apply the stain on the wood. Don’t worry about making the coats perfect because you will be wiping off the excess.

Instead, focus on minimizing major streaks and stain splatters on the wood.

Continue using long strokes to brush the stain on the wood before proceeding to step 8.

Step 8: Wipe Off the Excess Stain After 10 to 15 Minutes

Use a soft rag to wipe away any excess stain in the grain’s direction to dab up the excess pigment.

Be thorough while wiping off the extra stain on the wood to create a thin and even stain layer. If the rag gets dirty quickly, fold it to reveal a clean part or use another rag.

Note: Don’t allow the stain to sit for more than 15 minutes. Otherwise, it will get darker and harder to wipe away the excess.

Also, focus on darker areas, wiping them up evenly to blend the wood with the surrounding areas.

Step 9: Allow the Stain to Dry 

Allow the stained wood to air dry for 4 hours in a well-ventilated space. Then if you still want a darker shade, add another stain coat by rubbing or brushing it in the wood grain direction.

Wait for 10 to 15 minutes for the stain to dry, then wipe off the excess. Repeat this as many times as possible until you settle on your desired shade.

Note: As a general rule, let the stain dry to the touch before adding extra coats.


Wax preserves the natural texture and wood color. It also limits the penetration of spills and other wood degrading elements to give your wood a glossier feel and extended lifespan.

However, wax loses its integrity with time, making the wood appear unappealing to the eyes.

You will need to learn how to remove wax from wood so that you apply another finish that will restore your wood.

Thankfully, this guide has highlighted all the procedures for initiating this DIY project. I hope it will help you in your upcoming project.

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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