You can clean old furniture with a mixture of warm water and detergent. Mild deter gents used for dish washing are the least likely to harm a wood finish, and they do cut grease and wax effectively. However, this procedure is best used on furniture that has been painted, enameled or varnished. It will cause lacquer and shellac finishes to turn white, because they absorb water.
Keep in mind that water is an enemy of wood. It can cause swelling, discoloration and warping when applied to bare wood. It can soften some glues, and it can cause veneers to separate from the base wood. (Older veneers were laid down with non-waterproof adhesives.) For these reasons, you don't swab the detergent-and-water solution generously over the wood. Instead, wipe with a cloth moistened in the mixture, and do some rubbing. The detergent needs time to soften the grease and wax, so leave the surface wet for a while and then rewipe. Finally, go over the piece with a cloth moistened in clear water to remove the detergent. Allow the piece to dry completely before attempting to apply any kind of finish or before sanding.
The detergeot-and-water method is not the best, and we really don't recommend it. But if you use it with care, it works.
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