How To Preserve the Patina on Reclaimed Wood: 5 Simple Steps

A sheet of reclaimed wood with a beautiful patina. Overlain in the bottom left corner is a cartoon paintbrush, and in the bottom right corner is a cartoon hand wiping with a cloth and gleaming stars surrounding it. Across the top of the image are the words "How To Preserve the Patina on Reclaimed Wood."

Using reclaimed wood in your home is an excellent option for flooring, accent walls, and furniture.

It’s also a chance to do your part in preserving the environment by preventing it from going to landfill.

But since some reclaimed wood has wood pests and other contaminants, what’s the best way to preserve its patina while eliminating these issues?

To preserve the patina on reclaimed wood, gently clean it with a soft-bristled brush or cloth to remove contaminants and loose splinters. Next, treat it with borax and water for bugs, and remove scratches and damage with low-grit sandpaper. Finally, apply a specialized sealant for reclaimed wood.

In this article, I’ll discuss the best ways to preserve the patina on reclaimed wood so you can enjoy it for many years to come. Let’s get started!

If you’re wondering whether reclaimed wood is right for your project, take a look at our article all about the pros and cons of using reclaimed wood.

1. Gently Clean the Wood

A reclaimed wood surface covered in dust being wiped with a moist sponge.
A little soapy water can work wonders and effectively clean reclaimed wood. Remember to clean gently to avoid damaging the wood’s patina.

Cleaning reclaimed wood is an essential step because it often contains contaminants and microorganisms that can affect its patina, such as:

  • Wood-boring beetles
  • Dead bugs
  • Dust
  • Loose wood splinters
  • Tiny pieces of vegetation

To prevent damaging your reclaimed wood, clean it gently with a soft-bristled brush or microfiber cloth, and avoid abrasive cleaning methods.

If the wood is particularly dirty or you’re concerned about wood mites, gently wipe it down with mild soap and tepid water.

Cleaning it before sealing or waxing it also ensures that you don’t lock in any dirt, microorganisms, or loose splinters that can spoil its aesthetic appeal.

Going forward, dust the wood regularly to prevent dirt and grime build-up, which can scratch the surface and damage the patina. Again, a soft microfiber cloth is ideal.

2. Treat the Wood for Bugs if Needed

A cardboard packet of borax sitting on a wooden shelf.
Image courtesy of

Unfortunately, reclaimed wood often contains wood-boring beetles; if left unchecked, they can create unsightly holes in the wood and damage its beautiful look and natural appeal.

Before treating reclaimed wood, it’s a good idea to treat it for bugs. This adds the benefit of ensuring the bugs won’t multiply, infest your home, and damage other wood.

Luckily, you don’t have to use harsh or environmentally-damaging chemicals to treat reclaimed wood for bugs. Instead, a mixture of borax and water is an excellent example of a natural, effective, eco-friendly bug treatment. It’s also widely available and a cost-effective treatment.

Here’s how to use this method:

  1. Combine 5 oz (142 g) of borax with 0.2 gallons (0.8 L) of tepid water, and stir well.
  2. Pour the borax and water mixture into a spray bottle or leave it in a container.
  3. Apply the solution by spraying the wood or using a soft-bristled brush dipped in the solution. Be sure to use the solution before it cools.
  4. Repeat the application if you believe your wood is severely infested.
  5. Allow the wood to dry thoroughly (usually takes a week).

In addition to killing any bugs present in your reclaimed wood, this method has the added benefit of repelling them in the future.

3. Remove Scratches and Damage With Low-Grit Sandpaper

This step is optional but vital if your reclaimed wood has scratches or damage.

Since reclaimed wood is weaker and more vulnerable than new wood, using a gentle and non-invasive method, such as low-grit sandpaper (preferably with a grit between 100 and 120) is essential.

I don’t recommend using an orbital sander for the job because it will exert too much pressure on the reclaimed wood and potentially damage it. Instead, manually sanding it with low pressure is the best method.

Gently sanding the reclaimed wood can also remove any loose splinters that would spoil its patina.

A carpenter sanding down a reclaimed wood door using low-grit sandpaper.
Low-grit sandpaper is all that’s needed to remove scratches and splinters in your reclaimed wood.

If your reclaimed wood has unattractive old paint or varnish, remove it using white vinegar and water. This effective natural method doesn’t involve damaging chemicals, such as paint thinners, which can spoil the wood’s beautiful patina.

Below is what you need to do:

  1. Combine equal parts of white vinegar and water, and heat it over a stovetop or in a microwave until it reaches boiling point.
  2. Apply the solution liberally to your reclaimed wood with a soft-bristled brush, allowing it to work its magic for half an hour. The natural acids and heat in the solution will soften the paint, making it easier to remove.
  3. Remove the softened paint with low-grit sandpaper or a dull plastic scraper.
  4. For stubborn paint or varnish, repeat this process.

4. Use a Specialized Wax for Reclaimed Wood

Applying a good quality wax for reclaimed wood is the most important step because it gives it a beautiful shine, conditions the wood fibers, and enhances the wood’s natural tones and grain.

It also creates a thin, protective layer over the wood to protect it from dust, scratches, and other damage.

Beeswax is a fantastic product for reclaimed wood because it’s gentle and doesn’t contain harsh chemicals that can damage it. You can apply beeswax to the wood with a soft sponge.

CARGEN Natural Beeswax (from is a fantastic product if you need a recommendation. It’s 100% natural, easy to apply, and you can use it with other natural wood furniture.

5. Apply a Top Coat

A large brush applies a top coat to a piece of reclaimed wood.
Applying a top coat makes the reclaimed wood durable and helps preserve its good looks well into the future.

The final step involves applying a wood sealant or top coat to lock in the wax layer, make the reclaimed wood more durable and prevent scratches and other damage.

A polyurethane wood sealant or top coat is suitable for reclaimed wood because it’s water-based and dries quickly.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Apply a thin layer of wood sealant after wiping the reclaimed wood with a soft cloth to remove dust and dirt.
  2. Allow the top coat to dry completely (this typically takes 2 to 3 hours).
  3. Apply another coat or two if you want a more durable finish (remember that several thin coats are better than one thick coat as it dries more uniformly).

Final Thoughts On How To Preserve the Patina on Reclaimed Wood

Preserving the patina on reclaimed wood involves several steps and a few hours of work, and can be tedious.

However, it isn’t costly, and you don’t need to be a DIY expert to do a good job.

The effort is well worth it because preserving your reclaimed wood will protect it from damage and allow you to admire it for many years to come.

Why not take a look at our list of reclaimed wood companies if you’re looking for places to buy reclaimed wood for your next project?

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