First, some words about common furniture myths…
Polishes and waxes serve a purpose, but they do not feed the wood (it’s sealed) nor the finish.
There are several reasons why a finish may appear streaky, smeary, or cloudy. While it may look like the finish itself is damaged, it can usually be resolved with a deep thorough cleaning.
Build-up can come from improper use of paste wax, oily polishes, frequent exposure to cooking and body oils, and neglect to deep clean on occasion.
Water damage will not occur from dusting with a damp cloth, but rather from standing water, moisture trapped by a glass, plant, or any other moist object left on the surface.
Most of the time, all you need to use is a slightly damp cloth as you dust. You can also follow with a dry soft cloth. Occasionally, depending on how much the furniture is handled and the environment it’s in, you can use products such as Murphy’s Oil Soap or Guardsman to remove grease, wax, fingerprints, cooking oils and body oils to prevent unwanted build-up. They are designed to clean different types of dirt, so it’s good to have both on hand. I don’t recommend Pledge because it contains silicone, which can cause problems over time. Many other polishes also contain silicone, though it’s not stated on the label. Since this is a known concern, some products will state clearly that they do not use silicone.
Paste wax is another option that produces good results but it is harder to apply. It is not recommended on matte finishes unless you want to increase the sheen. If you choose paste wax, never use an oily liquid polish over it. It will soften the wax and caused an uneven appearance. If you want to switch to a liquid polish, remove the wax with mineral spirits first.
If you already have severe build-up, you might need to use solvents such as mineral spirits or naptha. Apply liberally with a cloth rubbing with the grain, then wipe dry with a clean dry cloth.
Refold cloth as it becomes soiled and repeat until no more soil appears on the dry cloth.
An accumulation of body and food oils can soften a finish and cause it to wear away prematurely.