Caring for your Top
Depending on which type of finish you have applied to your top, the care instructions can vary. Here are some generic guidelines for any wood surface:
Moisture changes are the most detrimental issue that can affect a wood top, causing it to warp, split, check, etc. The primary purpose of finishing/varnishing is to protect against this. Do not store your top in locations that are prone to wide or focused temperature or moisture swings. (Think wet basements and garages)
As wood tops accrue minor cosmetic damage over time, it is important to check them over occasionally for any excessive wear. If the finish looks to be worn, or removed, it is time to consider a touch up or full refinish. This will happen gradually, but could be expedited by use of chemical cleaners that break down the finish. Avoid products like bleach unless the finish explicitly states that chemical cleaners can be used.
Do not place items from the stove or oven directly onto a wood surface. Trivets will alleviate this constriction of kitchen function, check out our countertop companions page for some ideas on other products for your kitchen use.
Mineral Oil Care Instructions
Mineral Oil tops need regular maintenance to protect them from damage over the years. The Oil fills the wood pores and saturates them to avoid constant shrinking and expanding; Over time, using the surface as a workspace will deplete the wood of mineral oil. When this happens, the counter will look dry. This is a vulnerable state for the top as any moisture added to the top (usually from cleaning after use in the kitchen) can start to damage the wood seams. While the glue we use is waterproof, the boards can shrink and expand naturally enough for the seams to split. It is, therefore, important to keep them well saturated with mineral oil. We recommend monthly assessment of the surface to ensure it retains a somewhat wet appearance with a dull luster. If the counter looks to be drying out completely, more mineral oil should be applied.
A newly purchased product may shed tiny wood fibers and feel rough after the few washes. This is normal as the product is acclimating and will dissipate over time.
Cleaning and Care
When cleaning a mineral oil surface it is important to remember that it is an semi-sealed product. While the oil is fresh, the pores are saturated and will not absorb moisture from outside sources. When this finish is reduced, the wood can start to absorb characteristics of liquids applied to it. It is important to avoid chemicals for this reason. It is highly recommended to use dish soap and water to clean a mineral oiled surface, and if more potent solvents are necessary, a solution of vinegar and water will suffice.
Waterlox Tung Oil Care Instructions
The information found in this section is an excerpt from the Waterlox Kitchen, Bathroom and Countertop Guide referenced above. For more information, please refer to the linked electronic document.
Cleaning and Care of Waterlox Finished Surfaces
After your surface has dried and cured for at least 7 days, regular cleaning may be performed. To properly care for your surfaces, use only recommended cleaning products and avoid using cleaners/chemicals that can damage your finish. For information on refreshing or recoating a Waterlox finished surface see our other guide.
Recommended Regular Cleaning Products
Waterlox Cleaner Concentrate – Follow the directions on the label for proper dilution steps for your cleaning job. Excellent for heavy duty cleaning and large areas. Follow with a clear water rinse on food contact surfaces or after heavy duty cleaning.
Waterlox Wood Surface Cleaner – A ready-to-use product that can be used on any project, but is specially formulated for food contact surfaces. Does not need to be rinsed off.
Warm water with a mild detergent – Avoid dish detergents (like Dawn) as these are designed to break down oils. Recommended to rinse with clean water to remove any soap residues.
Vinegar and Water – Mix 1 ounce of white vinegar into a gallon of warm water. Ideal for light, every day cleaning.
Murphy’s Oil Soap¹ – Follow the directions on the label. This will leave a residue on the surface, so it may reduce your gloss. See the footnotes for more information.
Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner – Non-polar solvents like VM&P Naphtha or Turpentine² can be used to clean up stubborn marks or scuffs. Not recommended for regular cleaning, but are safe to use on stubborn messes.
For small projects such as furniture, jewelry boxes, trim, turnings, etc., we recommend dusting with a dry microfiber dust rag/duster or a lightly dampened cloth or towel. The methods mentioned above can also be used for more heavy duty cleaning of your wood surfaces.
Heavy Duty Cleaning
For heavy duty cleaning, the Waterlox Cleaner Concentrate is a good first step. Follow the heavy duty cleaning dilution steps and use to clean up after parties or other events that require a little extra cleaning.
For very heavy cleaning, such as stripping off cleaner residues or preparing for a recoat, it is recommended to use TSP (trisodium phosphate) or a TSP substitute. Follow the dilution/mixing instructions for your particular brand and follow with a clear water rinse.
To extend the life of your surfaces, there are some common tips to avoid more labor intensive repairs.
Don’t allow puddles of water to stay on the surface - The occasional drop or sweating glass will not cause problems for Waterlox, but try to avoid standing puddles. If these find the edges of boards or cracks they may seep into the wood and cause staining or warping. Wipe up standing water when possible.
Don’t trap water - Similar to the first point, do not allow water to become trapped in direct contact with your wood surface. The Waterlox finishes will hold up for a while, but water tends to find a way given enough time. Common problems are under house plants, soap dishes, pet bowls or other items that may be near the sink. If the water can freely evaporate it will not cause a problem, but if its trapped under a bowl, tray or mat, it may cause damage.
Use a soap dish – Soaps are designed to break down grease and oil to wash it away. Waterlox products are oil-based finishes (all of them), so prolonged exposure to even mild soaps and detergents can slowly break down the finish. This can lead to staining or damage to the film.
Absolute DO NOT USE Products
Some cleaners/products can actually damage or completely remove most Waterlox finishes. These should be avoided.
Bleach/Ammonia - Avoid any and all cleaners that contain bleach or ammonia. These products will break down the finish (either quickly or over time, depending on the concentration) and can remove the finish or cause it to become sticky with frequent use.
Other manufactures floor care products – Some of these products contain special additives that may replenish or restore their particular finishes. This may leave residues or cause damage to the Waterlox finish.
Dish Detergents – Dish detergents are designed to break down stubborn grease and other organic (food) stains. Waterlox products are essentially a VERY stubborn organic coating. Chronic use will start to break down the coating and may cause it to become sticky.
Acetone³, MEK and Denatured Alcohol – Many readily available cleaning solvents you can find at the hardware store can be used to remove common stains. Non-polar solvents like Mineral Spirits, Paint thinner, Citrus Solvent or even Turpentine will NOT harm Waterlox. Polar solvents like MEK, MAK, Denatured/Isopropyl Alcohol, Lacquer Thinner and Acetone can damage Waterlox finished surfaces.
Oven Cleaners, Baking Soda Pastes and other Caustic Cleaners – Waterlox products are popular for use on countertops and floors which are sometimes in the vicinity of ovens and cook tops. These cleaners are excellent at breaking down organic matter (i.e. food) to then wash or scrub it away. Caustic and oven cleaners can eat through a Waterlox finish very quickly and baking soda (if left unattended) can do the same.
Products to Avoid
Wax containing products – These typically will not damage the finish and wax can be popular for some furniture or fine woodworking. Wax is not necessary for protection and it tends to cause more issues going forward in terms of maintenance and recoatability. See our Wax and Waterlox guide for more detailed information.
Steam Cleaners/Steam Mops – These can force water into areas it wouldn’t normally be able to enter on its own by injecting hot vapor onto the surface. This tends not to harm Waterlox finishes, but it can force water into gaps or cracks unnecessarily. Some customers use them regularly with good results, but we still recommend against it.
¹Murphy’s oil soap and other similar products will usually leave behind a very slight oily residue. Frequent use may cause the finish to look dull and the residue needs to be removed. See the Heavy Duty Cleaning section for more information about removing residues.
Source:Waterlox Coatings Corporation. “Waterlox Kitchen, Bathroom & Countertop Guide.” Project Help for Using Waterlox Processed Tung Oil Finishes to Seal and Protect Wood Bathroom Countertops, Kitchen Countertops, 2020, www.waterlox.com/project-help/guide?id=8abadfea-3ef1-446a-8d80-33992c09f550.
***Only use Waterlox time tested original formulas when refinishing your Sprague Woodworking top as their new VOC compliant formulas are not compatible with what we use, final topcoats should be the Waterlox satin finish in their original formulas unless you want a high gloss finish
Repairing Dings, Dents and Scratches
Wood countertops are similar to any other wood furniture that you have in your home. During the course of everyday life, your wood countertop is going to see normal wear and tear that will include dings, dents and minor scratches. It is inevitable! We like to call this "life's patina". However, sometimes a scratch or dent is deeper and more noticeable than you would like. Aside from refinishing the entire surface, our suggestion is to try one of the following furniture home remedies. This suggestion is meant to help hide the ding or scratch as much as possible. The only way to fully remove a ding or scratch is to refinish the surface area.
FOR A STAINED COUNTERTOP WITH WATERLOX FINISH - If you have an incident with your countertop that leaves a scratch that has penetrated through the stain and is leaving the natural color exposed, here is our best suggestion other than refinishing the top altogether. Here at Sprague Woodworking, we use Zar and Old Masters brand stains to stain our wood countertops and after they have been stained, we apply 5 coats of Watelox Tung Oil to seal and protect the wood surface. Your original invoice would include the stain color you selected when you placed your order. Once you determine the color, you can order small 1/2 pint cans of the stain online or pick them up at any paint store that stocks those brands. Using a small artists brush, apply the matching stain carefully to the scratch. Let it dry for 48 hours and with another artists brush, apply just a small amount of Waterlox to the scratch. Let that Waterlox dry and reapply only if necessary. This suggestion is what we recommend for a temporary fix to minimize the appearance of a larger than normal ding or scratch. Please remember normal wear and tear of wood countertops includes smaller scratches, dents and dings. The only way to completely eliminate these imperfections is to completely sand and refinish the countertop.
FIXING SPOTS RESULTING FROM A CHEMICAL EXPOSURE (BLEACH, MISC CLEANING CHEMICAL) - If you have an incident where you accidentally left a bottle of bleach or another damaging chemical on your countertop where it has removed the finish the only way to fix this is to refinish the area in question. To refinish an area on your wood countertop, it requires re-sanding that area of your top with an orbital sander to remove the finish ending up with a final sanding with 180 grit sandpaper and then refinishing. It is sometimes hard to blend new and old so you may want to want to refinish the entire top to maintain continuity in the finish. If your top is a very large countertop, and you can isolate the one or two boards that are damaged, sand just those couple of boards and do not worry about the entire top. In either case, once the countertop is sanded, you will need to apply the Waterlox Tung Oil finish as directed in the how to videos on the Waterlox website. Make sure you use the Waterlox Original Tung Oil formula, as this is the product we used to finish your top. Here is a link to the Waterlox website that carefully describes the finishing process.
Zar Oil Based Polyurethane Care Instructions
The Zar Oil based Poly has very little online in terms of tutorials or care instructions. If you are interested in perusing their saftey data sheets, they can be found on the product's webpage.
For the Zar Polyurethane finish Sprague Woodworking recommends following the same cleaning and care guide lines used for the Waterlox finish. Please refer to the care instructions section on the waterlox tung oil for cleaning and care. Keep in mind however that the two products are different and cannot be used in conjunction or combination with each other during the finishing process.
Some observations Sprague woodworking has about this finish:
Stands up to chemical cleaners in a moderate fashion; we do not, however, recommend regular use of bleach based or concentrated products.
Durable coating makes scratches less likely, however that does not stop natural distressing from occurring over time.
If the surface of the poly is damaged it is fairly easy to re-coat.
This product can be easily re-applied by a painter or someone having knowledge of finishing. A paint pad and brush are the best applicators for in home finishing. Due to it's self leveling properties, it is highly recommended to coat the entire surface rather than a "spot fix" as this can cause the poly to dry in a puddle shape.