Wood & leather part 2: Clean and shine your leather and wood

The recipe I’m going to talk about today is very, super simple and can be used quite regularly. It is mainly to clean both wood and leather, and it also nourishes both materials and give them a lovely feeling and sheen. It is completely safe and edible and can even be used as a salad dressing or skin conditioner in a pinch! Another time soon I’ll tell you about the (only slightly more complex, and also safe and edible) luxurious leather and wood beeswax balm, which is mainly to protect and polish.

Nourishing wood and leather cleaner

This fabulous, simple mixture works a bomb.

You will need

  • 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil, jojoba oil OR olive oil – no more oil than this
  • ¼ cup of citrus infused vinegar (see below) OR lemon juice (carefully strained)
  • optional: 5 drops of sweet orange essential oil and/or lemon essential oil
ingredients for wood and leather cleaner

ingredients for wood and leather cleaner


You can substitute a number of oils, but I recommend grapeseed oil, for two reasons:

  • It is a thin, light oil that absorbs easily and
  • It is more stable than most other oils (not prone to oxidisation).

Jojoba oil is an even better choice. It is in fact a liquid wax and never goes rancid. Which is excellent; however it is very expensive. But if you can, by all means use it.

Heavier oils can’t be absorbed as easily and tend to leave a residue. The build-up of oil can then trap particles and even turn rancid after a period of time. Grapeseed (or jojoba) oil will sink quickly into the wood or leather and is much less likely to go rancid. This means that if you substitute another oil, you may get a good initial result, but over time it may become tacky and dark on the surface of your wood or leather. Whatever oil you use, make sure you buff the surface well so as to not leave an oily residue. Olive oil, recommended in many home recipes, is also not a bad choice as it is pretty stable – just make sure not to use too much and buff well (I speak from unpleasant experience).

Citrus infused vinegar, well strained (I use a filter paper), is really best for this job. You can easily make it if you don’t already (it has a gazillion other uses for home and body). You can read about how to make it very simply, in this post (basically, just soak citrus peels in vinegar for a few days and then strain). You can use ordinary white vinegar instead, or apple cider vinegar. Adding the lemon or sweet orange essential oil will add a citrus boost.

Citrus vinegar infusing

Citrus vinegar infusing


I like to use citrus vinegar and add the 5 drops of citrus essential oil if I happen to have some, for maximum benefit. You can replace the vinegar with lemon juice, also well strained. It will have a shorter shelf life with lemon juice.

Many recipes call for more oil than this one, often at a ratio of equal parts of oil to vinegar (or lemon juice). That makes it more of a polish and less of a cleaner. My concern is that this may allow an oily build-up to form. I find this less oily mixture cleans exceptionally well, nourishes the wood or leather, and polishes up to a good shine and silky smoothness, without leaving any oily feeling at all. For an occasional luxurious polish, I use the beeswax balm I’ll be sharing soon.

Over the years I have experimented with different mixtures and oils. Despite good results at first, I found that eventually a dark, tacky residue formed on a wooden table, which built up over time. With this recipe I managed to not only avoid this problem completely but also thoroughly remove the previous build-up and dirt.

wood and leather cleaner

wood and leather cleaner

What to do

  • Mix the two ingredients (or three if you have included the essential oil) together by shaking them up in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. The mixture will always separate so always give it a good shake just before you use it.
  • Pour a small amount of your nourishing cleaner onto a soft cloth. Apply this directly to your leather or wood and rub it in really well. Use more as required.
  • For leather, you want to rub in a circular motion, whereas with wood it is best to rub with the grain. (If the wood is grimy or extremely old, dry and thirsty, first rub across the grain to allow the fibres to plump up a bit and remove grime. Leave for a day and then repeat, this time rubbing with the grain.)
  • Use a second cloth to polish and remove any excess. You don’t want any mixture that has not been absorbed left sitting on the surface. You can do this second buffing in circular motions on both wood and leather.
  • Store your nourishing wood and leather cleaner in the fridge for up to 6 weeks.

The dirt that comes off on your cloth when you use this mixture is clear testament to its cleaning power. And the instantly revived, lustrous look of your leather or wood testifies to its nourishing care.

Here is the top of a wooden chest before and after I cleaned it using the nourishing cleaner:

wooden chest before

wooden chest before


wooden chest after

wooden chest after

Let’s compare

  • Commercial wood and leather cleaners normally advise that you use them in a well ventilated area, lest you suffer adverse effects on your respiratory and central nervous systems. On the contrary, using this simple recipe you can safely breath deeply and even benefit from the uplifting citrus aroma.
  • Unlike with commercial cleaners, there is no need to protect your skin from irritation or contact dermatitis by wearing gloves – this cleaner will only do good to your skin as much as to the surfaces you are using it on.
  • If commercial polish is swallowed, you will need immediate medical assistance. But if someone mistakes your wood and leather cleaner in the fridge for salad dressing…no problem.
  • Even using high quality ingredients, this recipe will save you money, as well as being kind rather than harmful to your environment.
  • The only warning I need to give, is that the urge to clean may get to you a bit more often once you witness the effectiveness of this recipe.
This nourishing cleaner is all you need to use on a regular basis, or whenever that cleaning bug gets you.

From time to time you may want to give leather and wood a little more attention, and this is where the luxury beeswax balm recipe comes in. But I am saving that one for another time…

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