ashley englishsmall measures

Small Measures: DIY Furniture Polish & Abrasive Scrub

by Ashley

I’m not sure how it was decided, but as soon as I could steadily hold a broom and reach the countertops, I became our family’s designated housecleaner. While my brother took out the trash and mowed the lawn, I did the dishes, swept the floors, cleaned the windows, ironed the laundry, scrubbed the sinks and polished the furniture. I don’t think my mother was necessarily capitalizing on having free labor (or was she?). I think she was simply seizing on my natural proclivity for cleaning.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a cleaning machine. My dad is the same way, so perhaps it’s a genetic trait. (I’m beginning to see signs of a fondness for cleaning in my two-year-old son, fueling my theory.) Whether tweaking the placement of my toys, vacuuming my bedroom rug or meticulously organizing all of my Barbie clothes, I’ve enjoyed straightening or tidying and otherwise cleaning for, well, ever.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve swapped a number of the products I previously used for more natural options. And as my interest in DIY has progressed, I’ve since traded in many off-the-shelf items for ones I can whip up at home, saving time (spent shopping for the items) and money (many homemade cleaning products can be made with very basic materials) in the process. For today’s Small Measures, I’m sharing two of my easiest homemade cleaners: furniture polish and an abrasive scrub. Using ingredients you likely already have on hand (or can easily source), you’ll be making your furniture shine and your sinks sparkle in no time. — Ashley English

Instructions continue after the jump . . .

Wood Furniture Polish

This simple blend makes a go-to polish that is ready in about a minute flat. Don’t use your best olive oil for this, as you won’t be ingesting it and benefitting from its healthy properties. I highly recommend performing a spot test before use. Blot a small amount of polish onto a cleaning cloth and apply it to an inconspicuous area. Work it into the furniture and look for any changes in the surface, such as discoloration.

The Goods

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract* or 20 drops lemon essential oil or 1/2 lemon, juiced**


*Lemon extract can be found in the baking aisle of your grocery store.

**If you use fresh lemon juice, you’ll need to use the polish within several weeks; otherwise, it will turn rancid. Or you can store it in the refrigerator, allowing it to come to room temperature before use (this method will keep for about one month).

The Deal

1. Place the olive oil in a lidded container or jar.

2. Add the lemon extract, lemon essential oil or fresh lemon juice.

3. Shake liberally for the mixture to fully combine.

4. Blot some of the polish onto a cloth and polish your furniture.

Abrasive Scrub

A little baking soda and some castile soap are all you need to get scrubbing naturally. Feel free to use a scented soap, if you prefer.

The Goods

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/3 cup liquid castile soap*
  • 1–2 Tablespoons water (optional)


*Castile soap is made from olive and other natural oils. I used Shadow Lake’s Eucalyptus Spearmint scent, which smells incredibly invigorating, a great thing when you’re cleaning! Dr. Bronner is another well known and easily accessible manufacturer of liquid castile soap.

The Deal

1. Combine the baking soda and castile soap in a small bowl.

2. Stir with a small fork to fully incorporate the ingredients.

3. This creates a thick paste that you can scoop out and apply with a scrub brush to bathtubs, sinks or tile surfaces. If you prefer a slightly more liquid scrub, add 1 Tablespoon of water at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

You’ll see that I used cloth cleaning rags in both projects. I’m always looking for ways to curb the use of paper towels and have found that old cloth napkins (oil-stained and with small tears) and flannel sheets (“lovingly” chewed up by my black Lab, Dexter, when he was a puppy) make ideal cleaning cloths. Simply cut your sheet, pillowcase, towel or clothing garment (whatever you’ve got that’s beat up and would otherwise be tossed out) into small squares, about the size of a washcloth. Welcome to your new favorite cleaning rag!

If you’d like more ideas for DIY cleaning products, check out these previous Small Measures posts:


What about you? Got any go-to natural cleaning solutions you’d like to share? I’m always on the lookout for items to add to my cleaning arsenal, so I’d love to hear them! Otherwise, now that I’m a mom with a messy (albeit seriously wonderful) spouse, two dogs, three cats and 11 acres of forest to conspire against my cleaning efforts, I’m off to clean something (always). Admittedly, though, I’ll likely be whistling while I work.

Images and styling by Jen Altman

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  • Amazing. I would never have thought of making my own cleaning products but it makes perfect sense. Thank you for enlightening me!

  • You might have a tad bit of German blood in you if you love to clean as much as you do. My grandmother’s house was super-clean and spartan…to the point that when she downsized from the house to an apartment, it was just furnishings that had to be moved. Very little stuff, as I recall. My mother loves cleaning too, and is constantly lecturing to me to throw stuff out. I’ve got some Polish blood, so I resist somewhat, but I tend to throw out stuff…and clean not as much. Harrumph.

  • Baking soda does wonders. I love the idea of natural cleaning products because everything is so chemically enhanced now it’s scary! Half the stuff we use to clean and kill germs is probably way worse for us than we think.

  • Thank you for this! Please keep this type of posting up on DS! Maybe its own category in the search topics? Love it and find it super useful.

  • These look great! Do you make the scrub as needed, or can you make a large batch to store? (In other words: does it keep?)


  • If you use olive oil (or any other food grade oil) on wood, is there a chance that the oil could become rancid when exposed to heat and light? Just wondering about using olive oil on my kitchen table that’s right next to a radiator…

    • alix

      i’ve researched this a lot and some people seem to think it’s fine and others don’t. but in general the advice i’ve seen from furniture websites is that if you’re concerned about it going rancid in hot sunlight, you can reduce the amount of oil in the mixture of switch to mineral oil. :)


  • I would love to make my own lemon scented furniture polish and I appreciate your recipe, however, extracts, oils and juices are completely different and in my eyes – not interchangeable even with adjusted quantities. Lemon essential oil is(obviously) oil based, lemon juice is water based, and lemon extract is mostly alcohol based (with both water and oil present as well). So in theory you’d get 3 different results from these three products.

    I haven’t tried any of these yet, but just on the face of things the lemon oil should be the most successful because you’re mixing it with another oil, plus it’s shelf stable and will not leave anything on the wood that could evaporate, which could stain or dry it out over time.

  • @grace and alix: I use mineral oil on my butcher block and it never takes on a funny smell, it always smells like nothing (which I love because it’s for food), so that would be the best solution if you’re worried about heat. It’s cheap too – bonus!

  • Thanks so much for this. We have a lot of sensitivities over here, so DIY all natural cleansers are the best way to go for sure. I’m happy to add these to my collection!

  • Thanks for the great post! I love natural cleaners and the wood polish is a new one for my cleaning arsenal!

    As to the conversation on mineral oil…..Please just know that mineral oil is petroleum based and therefore using it depletes that finite natural resource. Not to mention that since it is oil based it will be absorbed into your skin and depending on what studies you read and who you believe – petroleum and its by products are not good for you.

  • old pantyhose/stockings are fantastic to use with the abrasive scrub – use it on your oven door and it will wipe away, no elbow grease required..

  • I’m Portuguese and olive oild in our country is the thing everyone has at home. It’s the heart of our gastronomy. In our family we make our own olive oil, we use it for everything, but I didn’t knew the recipe with olive oil and lemon juice, most tell my mother she will love it! Thank you so much. I’m loving the new columns at Design Sponge. They are so usefull and well written.

  • What about ammonia? I have been using a dilute of water, ammonia, and borax to mop tile floors and clean stainless steel appliances. Neither Seventh Generation nor Mrs. Meyer’s products could cut through the cooking goo in our very often used kitchen, so I had to get serious with how to get sparkling. Not sure if ammonia is ok for people with sensitivities or if borax is non-renewable but it is a super cheap and effective method. And it does wonders in the bathroom; I use it on all surfaces — linoleum, tile, porcelain bathtub, scary place behind toilet, and even painted surfaces like doors and baseboards.

  • i mop my (porcelain tile) floors with just water and an enjo mop and the mop fibres clean absolutely everything including kitchen oil splatters.
    it was an expensive mop, but it works really well.

    i have a different furniture polish recipe:
    60g beeswax
    30g soap (any bar soap will do, but i do happen to make my own)
    300g turpentine
    300g water

    shred soap and waxes, add to water and turps in double boiler.stir until it all melts. beat until creamy.
    when cool add rosemary/orange/lavender EOs……about 30g.
    to use: apply with clean damp cloth, work well into wood.
    polish off with clean dry cloth.

    for shower mould:
    fill spray bottle with 47% white vinegar and 47% water and 6% teatree/lemon-scented eucalyptus EOs.
    simply spray on and leave it for an hour. then scrub it off.
    DESTROYS mould.

  • I’ve been using olive oil in my cleaning products for years and never had a problem with the oil going rancid. If you’re cleaning wood, it’s always helpful to add vinegar to your solution. Vinegar draws out impurities in the wood and would help to stabilize the olive oil. Ashley, if you ever get tired of making your own, try mine! :) http://www.etsy.com/shop/mrsjonessoapbox

  • I love the bottle you use for keeping the lemon furniture polish in. It looks rather classy.What did it hold originally or did you buy it?

  • Shirley-I’m so glad you like the bottle! I’m always holding on to cool looking bottles, to up cycle into something else. In this case, the bottle used to contain a Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade Soda.

  • I wouldn’t use olive oil for wood because it becomes rancid over time. Mineral oil on the other hand doesn’t. Never thought about adding lemon extract to it. Excellent idea.

  • The castiel soap & baking soda paste, I have moved to an area with the heaviest Lyme water I have ever seen. Do you have any experience with this cleaner & heavy Lyme? Any other ideas from any you or readers would be much appreciated.

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