Spit and polish - Woodshop News

Spit and polish

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The furniture polish people have a fine product as long as they tout it as polish. It’s when they hype benefits to the wood that they stray into PR-speak nonsense.

My wife loves furniture polish. She cleans our furniture regularly, and a cloud of spray polish hovering over everything is a regular part of it. No matter how many times I tell her that wooden furniture doesn’t need that, she still believes the hype. (“It’s formulated specially for wood!”)

I can’t argue that the hype doesn’t sound awesome. I won’t mention names, but one of her favorites claims that it “…nourishes and restores the wood’s natural sheen.” Another says that it “…replenishes lost oils.” Still another promises to not only “… nurture wood surfaces…,” but also that it “…revitalizes wood.”

Although technically true, it’s all baloney: Those claims refer only to wood’s surface appearance, not the actual condition of the wood itself. But that’s not the take-away most people get from reading the carefully worded hype. They think there are magical properties in polish that actually make the wood healthier or something. That’s nonsense.

Most household wooden furniture has a film finish that protects the wood from water, fingerprints, kids, cats and anything else that might damage it. It also imparts a level of sheen particular to the finish used. But furniture polish never actually reaches the wood itself because the finish acts as a barrier. Some finishes, like polyurethane, do this quite well; it’s almost literally a plastic coating that nothing gets through.

Essentially, polishes have only two functions they can honestly claim. First, they clean the surface (which you’d pretty much expect from any liquid – you could spit on a cloth and achieve the same thing). Second, they add oily stuff to the surface, which makes your coffee table slick and shiny but imparts no improvement of any kind to the wood itself.

Of course, it could be argued that the entertainment value of watching your cat go sliding across the coffee table the first time it jumps up on it is a third benefit of furniture polish, but the PR guys seemed to have missed that.

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