The How-To Guide: Cleaning Reclaimed Wood

Using reclaimed wood for a small do-it-yourself construction project is a great way to save on money and be more environmentally friendly in the process. Depending on where you get your reclaimed lumber from, however, chances are you’ll need to perform some degree of preparatory cleaning before you can get to work on your project. 

The last thing you want to do is try putting together some reclaimed wood furniture, such as a table or cabinet, using material that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned and that could hurt the look of the final product. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you with cleaning all of your reclaimed lumber.  

Prepare a Work Space and Perform a Thorough Initial Check

The first step you need to take in cleaning reclaimed wood is establishing a work area. In this respect, a standard saw horse in your garage or shed is the perfect combination of surface and setting to work with. 

Once you’ve cleared your saw horse and the surrounding area, you can then begin performing a thorough check of your reclaimed wood by placing each piece upon the saw horse and carefully looking for any embedded nails, screws, or metal shards. It’s important to remove all of these items from your lumber before starting on an assembly project. Failing to remove screws and nails presents a safety hazard, and it could result in the wood scratching or splintering during the build process. Pick up a pry bar or hammer and extract any metal that you find in the wood. 

Use a Dry Brush to Remove Dust, Dirt, Debris, and Paint

Once you’re certain that your reclaimed wood is free of nails and screws, the next step is to begin the actual cleaning process with a basic scrub down of each piece. Again, using your saw horse as your work surface, take a dry brush and perform a thorough scrubbing of each piece of wood, making sure to get the surface of every face, edge, and corner. 

Keep in mind that during this step you need to be wearing some sort of dust mask to protect your lungs from sawdust and other airborne particles that you will create during the process. The purpose of the dry scrubbing is to remove as much of the visible grime and paint as possible before performing a deeper cleaning. 

Use a Power Washer to Remove Whatever Remains

Finally, after you’ve scrubbed away as much of the surface filth as possible, the next thing to do is reach for your power washer and finish the job. Using an appropriate spray strength that will be strong enough to remove the remaining grime but not so strong that it will damage the wood itself, wash each piece of reclaimed wood piece by piece. Be extra careful not to bring the spray head too close to the board, or you could risk damaging the wood. The goal here is to rid the lumber of any visible paint or dirt that survived the preliminary scrub. Once you’re satisfied with each piece, set the boards aside so that they have a chance to completely dry out before you use them. 

Note: You certainly wouldn’t want to use a power washer on any EcoChic pieces! We lovingly preserve the original colorful paint that was applied by hand as a desirable feature of our furniture.

There’s plenty of quality reclaimed wood you can find for a construction project that will save you money, but most of what you do find will require some level of cleaning before you can use it. Before making use of reclaimed wood, it’s important to prepare your workspace, inspect the wood for embedded metal, and then perform a dry scrub and wet scrub to remove any remaining dirt. Once your reclaimed wood has dried, it will be clean and ready for use in your DIY project.

Megan Risdon

CEO EcoChic

Megan Risdon is the CEO of EcoChic Lifestyles. She was inspired to found the company when she discovered the possibilities for crafting art furniture from colorful fishing boat wood.