How To Oil Your Wooden Furniture & Countertops

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

It’s a fact of life that things tend to get dry and crackly in the winter: your skin, your lips, even your wooden furniture. And if you think your apartment feels like a dry, cold, relatively inhospitable place at this time of year, chances are your furniture agrees. While painted and lacquered pieces are generally safe, those with oil and wax finishes could benefit from a moisturizing treatment to prevent them from drying out and cracking—consider this your coffee table’s version of a winter spa service.

How can you tell when it’s time for an oil change?

As a general rule, furniture that has oil-and-wax finishes or stain-and-wax finishes should be oiled once or twice a year, or whenever the wood looks particularly dry. Pieces that have finishes that sit on top of the surface, such as paints and glossy lacquers, can’t be oiled, because the oil won’t be able to penetrate through to the wood. Inspect your wooden furniture, countertops and cutting boards for dryness or any signs of cracking. Dull, thirsty-looking wood is a prime candidate for the treatment that follows.

Will oiling my furniture change the look of it?

For unfinished or oil-and-wax finished wood, oil may make the surface look temporarily glossier and slightly darker. If you’re oiling very light wood, like beech or pine, it may take on a golden tinge that will neutralize as the wood dries out again. If you want to maintain either a very light or dark finish, consider staining the wood before oiling it.

(Image credit: Sophie Timothy)

How to Oil Wooden Furniture

What You’ll Need

  • Wood polish and conditioner, such as Howard Feed-N-Wax ($8 for 16 oz.)
  • Small cloth pad
  • Clean soft cloth


  1. Saturate a cloth pad with the polish and wipe onto the wood surface, making sure to cover any dry areas and working in the direction of the grain.
  2. Let the polish soak in for about 20 minutes before wiping off any excess.
  3. Buff the surface of the wood with a clean soft cloth.
(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

How to Oil Butcher Block Countertops

What You’ll Need


  1. Wipe down the countertop to make sure its crumb- and dirt-free.
  2. Apply an even coat of oil to the surface, then let it soak in overnight before wiping off any excess. Pro tip: Warm the oil by placing the bottle in hot tap water before applying to the countertop.
  3. To apply the protective cream: Swipe an even coat onto the countertop surface. Let soak in overnight before wiping off excess. The board cream will help seal the wood, keeping water out and the oil in.

Want to try the same trick for your wooden cutting boards? Whip up this homemade mix of beeswax and oil.

5 Tips for Protecting Wood Surfaces:

  1. Don’t let liquids sit on your countertop or dining table; wipe up spills as soon as possible. And remember: Coasters are your coffee table’s best friend.
  2. Don’t use harsh cleaners or chemicals on your wooden counters.
  3. Daily cleanups are more important than once-a-month oil treatments. Regularly wipe down wooden surfaces with a damp cloth, then dry.
  4. To prevent fading (or the darkening of cherry wood), avoid placing furniture directly in a window.
  5. Avoid exposing your furniture to extreme changes in temperature or humidity, especially when storing pieces. A cold attic might not be the best spot for those beloved vintage pieces you can’t fit into your current place.