Is your cleaner damaging your hardwood table?
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
Even before the recent virus outbreak, I had begun researching options for cleaning your hardwood tables and countertops. I almost pulled this post because of the current social state. But then I considered that because of health concerns, you may be tempted to use a stronger-than-normal cleaner on your work surfaces, including hardwoods. So that actually made this post even more timely! Let me start by saying that there are dozens of household cleaners out there that claim to be safe for wood surfaces. However, I specifically looked for cleaners that are PH neutral—rate between 7 and 8 on the scale—and had some form of eco-friendly formula. Why the PH level matters It’s important to note that cleaning products are rated by their PH level on a scale of 0 to 14. Cleaners that fall below 7 are considered acidic. Examples of acidic cleaning products would be toilet bowl cleaners, rust stain removers, tub and tile cleaners, and mold removers. Products with a PH level above 7 are considered alkaline. This group includes ammonia, bleach, and degreasers. Many everyday cleaners on the market skip the neutral rating and fit squarely into the categories of being alkaline or acidic—and neither group is kind to finished wood. Oh, the impact of these cleaners may not be seen immediately. But over time, both acidic and alkaline products have the power to break down the wood’s topcoat. So, even though the product says it is “safe for wood”, its PH rating may have deterred me from recommending it to my customers. My reasoning is this: I hope to work with my customers for many years. So, I don’t want to make a recommendation that is going to shorten the life of the hardwood top that you build, or the one that I build for you. What didn’t make the cut I looked at and eliminated from consideration many all-purpose cleaners. Yes, they are great cleaners, but many had PH levels too far from neutral or required diluting to be “safe for sealed wood surfaces.” Disinfectants and antibacterial cleaners are another group that I also dismissed for their PH levels. “Green” cleaners were an interesting mix. You might think that because it’s “green,” it would be gentle on wood surfaces. But, that’s not necessarily true. Many green cleaners were dismissed for the same reasons stated above. The Winners The most well-known version of a PH-neutral cleaner might be blue Dawn dish soap. It’s a great degreaser, yet according to the advertising that made it famous, it’s “gentle enough for hands…” (Wow, I’m showing my age!) But it’s true. Dish detergents that are marketed as mild are probably PH neutral and won’t harm wood finishes. Ok, this is definitely a win on the PH scale, but Dawn’s eco-friendly aspect is questionable. One online source reports that Dawn effectively removes grease but does not cause harm to skin (being that it’s used on animals following environmental oil-spills). It says that Dawn is also biodegradable and contains no phosphates. However, other sources are less kind to the cleaner’s chemical makeup. I’ll let you decide on that one. If you’re concerned about germs, go with Dawn. Just be sure to promptly dry everything off. Honest White Grapefruit Multi-Surface Cleaner. Honest’s entire business model is about being eco-friendly. The multi-surface cleaner is PH balanced; claims to be effective on dirt, grease, oil, grime and tiny fingerprints; uses no harsh chemicals, is nontoxic and biodegradable. And get this, it repels dust “naturally!” I’m not even sure how that works, but I’m willing to give it a shot. I couldn’t find Honest at my local grocery store. You may have to order this one online. Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner. Bona is a leader in finishing products for wood floors, so I trust what they have to say. And they are saying all the right things. According to their website, their hardwood floor cleaner is PH neutral; safe for all unwaxed, unoiled, polyurethane finished wood finishes; a water-based cleaning formula, so it dries fast; is residue-free; safe for people, pets and the planet; and is GREENGUARD GOLD certified with very low VOC emissions. Bonus, I found this product available at my local Publix. Finally, Vermont Natural Coatings makes a wood cleaner that is PH neutral. I stock it here at the shop along with several lines of Vermont Natural Coatings finishes. VNC is also a company grounded in sustainable manufacturing. Its finishes are made from whey protein, a by-product of cheese making. They are water based and contain no carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals). I’ve used the cleaner and it seems to do the job just fine. Next time you visit us, check it out! Of course, these are not the only PH-neutral cleaners on the market, but at least now you have some solid information to think about. I hope it helps you make a confident decision about how best to care for your hardwood table or counter tops.