How (and why) to use a paste wax

Paste wax has been used for centuries to seal, protect and add shine to wood furniture. Paste wax dries to a hard, but very thin, protective finish which makes it the best choice for maintaining fully finished furniture. It is simple to apply and offers several benefits that modern technology can`t match.

Paste wax contains no chemicals that can dry out wood furniture. Most spray-on furniture polishes contain harsh chemical solvents to make them spray effectively, which means that they are dissolving your finish even as they are cleaning it. 

The solvents in paste wax are generally made from mineral spirits and are only intended to help the wax soften enough to be spread over the wood. This type of solvent is far gentler on furniture finishes. 

Manufacturers of spray polish like to scare consumers with the dangers of “waxy build-up,” but this is a myth. Given the nature of paste wax, it simply does not build up in the way that they claim it does.

Every time you rub against a waxed surface, you degrade a tiny bit of the wax. When you reapply paste wax to furniture and buff it, you`re replacing missing wax, not simply layering over what is already there. 

You don`t need any special equipment to apply paste wax, but it`s a good idea to keep lint-free cloths and oil-based furniture soap on hand.

Begin by dusting your furniture. A static-cling or feather duster is excellent for this, because they do not grind the dust particles into the finish, which can cause microscopic scratches. Another benefit of paste wax is that it easily fills tiny scratches, but it still makes sense to avoid causing them if you can.

To apply paste wax, start by dampening a lint-free cloth such as a shop cloth, linen dish towel or old t-shirt with warm water and a tiny dab of oil-based furniture soap. Clean the furniture thoroughly and then wipe it down with a clean, dry cloth.

Place a little blot of paste wax in the center of a clean cloth. It doesn`t need to be large, certainly no larger than a jawbreaker candy or a ping pong ball. Twist the free ends of the cloth close around the little ball of wax. Squeeze and gently knead the cloth until the wax warms and you can feel it softening.

Hold the cloth by the twisted ends and rub the part covering the wax against your furniture. Use whichever motion feels most comfortable, either small circles, back-and-forth or side-to-side sweeps. Because the wax seeps through the cloth in such tiny amounts, it doesn`t matter if you work with or against the grain of the wood. 

Let the wax sit for a few seconds. You will see it start to become cloudy. This is the solvent evaporating and it is a necessary part of the process. Buff the wax lightly with a clean, dry cloth and it will develop a deep, soft shine. 

If you let the wax sit too long, so much solvent will evaporate that the wax becomes hard again. Apply a bit of fresh wax and it will soften right back up. 

Work in small areas if you`re polishing a very large piece of furniture. Buff each section to a high sheen before moving on to the next one and you won`t have to worry about the wax hardening.

Reapply the paste wax when water no longer beads up on its surface or when the furniture looks like it is starting to lose its shine. This will vary according to how much use the furniture gets, so check the look and feel of the wax every time you dust. 

The furniture lovers at OlyFurnitureWorks recommend contacting their friends at Forrest Furnishing the next time you are looking to add to your collection of fine dining or casual wood furniture…unless we’ve got it too. 🙂

46 thoughts on “How (and why) to use a paste wax

  1. Hello, I have stained cedar wood with iron acetate and tea and then applied a citrus wax after the stain dried. The result is absolutely stunning. We are using the cedar wood as baseboard trim in our basement. Will the citrus wax be enough to protect the wood or do you recommend another type of wood finish/protectant? Thanks so much!

    • Apologies for delay in replying. In my opinion, and it is only an opinion, the wax will require reapplication every year or so. It also isn’t as durable against damage as a wood finish like a varathane would be. So, to some degree, the question is how much extra maintenance you’re willing to do & how often you would scuff the baseboards.

    • Those are already pretty much impervious surfaces so although I (think) the answer is yes, I personally wouldn’t do it. Instead, I’d just use a non-detergent soap (like Murphy’s Oil Soap) to clean them.

    • If the porch doors are painted, I recommend repainting with a gloss paint. If they are finished with a wood finish, a gloss finish will do a better job of protecting them against the weather and provide the shine you want. I recommend a spar varnish, designed for marine wood. You should be able to find it at your local home improvement store. Like all my advice, caveat emptor.

  2. Can you use wood paste on Wooden Kitchen cabinets were use has worn away the finish need cupboard handles.

    • A paste wax is not a substitute for a wood finish. If the finish has worn down to the bare wood, you’ll need to have the doors refinished.

    • I’m a little confused. The article says use on unfinished or finished wood. Why would kitchen cabinets need to be refinished if some of the finish had worn off. Seems like the article says, apply once a year or as needed. In order to reduce the cost of refinishing, couldn’t you use paste wax on the most touched areas of the cabinets to keep the cabinets protected?

      • Although a paste wax provides some increased measure of protection, it is not as durable as a laquer (or other) finish. I think of paste wax as an additional protection for the finish, not a replacement for it.

  3. After thoroughly cleaning my pine table with Murphy’s Oil Soap, I applied paste wax. I believe I applied too much, as it left a dull, sticky residue, which, no matter how hard I try, I cannot buff to a smooth feeling shine. Is there a way for me to rectify this?

  4. I have a wooden dresser in the basement which I use for holding tools. Currently it is unfinished and the drawers are a bit difficult to open at times. Would you suggest paste wax on the wooden rails and drawer bottom to aid opening and closing or is there a better solution?

  5. Hi,
    I’ve been given an old ( late Victorian/Edwardian ) arts and crafts chair. The wood is looking a bit tired and I suspect some water damage. As far as I can see the finish is original – possibly wax/shellac – but am not certain. Is paste wax a suitable treatment to clean/refresh the finish ?

    • If it is in the directions, I assume it can be used and will not run off. Personally, I don’t find it necessary. I just use a mild soap (like Murphy’s Oil Soap) to clean the leather.

  6. I run a coffee shop and use wood tables and chairs. Obviously these days, to keep everyone safe from covid-19, we need to disinfect/sanitize everything after someone touches it. These tables and chairs are used several times a day by different people and are cleaned often. The harsh chemicals are stripping the wood bare and damaging it. How do I protect the wood not only from general wear from longtime use, food and hot/cold beverages and being disinfected/sanitized multiple times a day?

    • Personally, I find a varathane finish really tough. It includes polyurethane so there are probably competing products. I’ve used it on the wood floors in my house.

    • Yes, but don’t expect much protection from the elements with it. For outdoor furniture, if you need a finish, I’d recommend a spar varnish.

  7. I’ white washed a new wood top on a coffee table. I did the same and tested the wax on the underside. I put it on in a circular motion. I did exactly what the directions said and went back and wiped it with the grain with a clean cloth. You can still see all the circles. I don’t want the top of my table to look like that

    • You may simply need to more vigorously buff the wax. You need very little remaining on the surface to protect it.

  8. I just I just handed down my kitchen table applied three coats of stain, and four coats of polyurethane. would adding paste wax the advisable to make it smoother and shiny?

    • A paste wax will not make it smoother or, probably, shinier. A higher gloss polyurethane will make it shinier. As with all finishes, many lighter coats are better than one heavy one..

      • I’ve stained a wooden walking stick with Minwax stain. I intended to finish it with two coats of Minwax satin polyurethane but have read so many negative reviews of the quality having gone downhill that I’m nervous. I want this to be ready for a Christmas present. Would you recommend a paste wax over poly? It has little carvings all over it and I was wary the wax could settle in the carvings. Also it will be used outdoors in all kinds of weather so it needs to be waterproof.

        • Personally, I would not consider a pastewax a substitute for the more durable polyurethane and I agree it is likely to get settle in the carvings. Why not just try the poly on a scrap piece of wood to see if you’re happy with the finish?

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