Cleaning and sanitizing old barn wood desk

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Forum topic by Jimlaw posted 02-01-2016 01:52 PM 446 views 0 times favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 266 days

02-01-2016 01:52 PM

Topic tags/keywords: barn wood safety cleaning sanitize desk

Hoping to get your advice. I got some old barn wood from my wife’s childhood farm. It was part of a barn used to store hay. No idea what the wood has been exposed to. It was in a pile for a while. Found some mouse droppings in it. I gave it to a furniture maker and he made me a desk out of it with no stains, oils or polyurethanes. Picture attached. After it was delivered, I started feeling the wood, and it felt a little dirty. I ran a wet white cloth across it, and the cloth was very dirty. I called the furniture maker and asked him if he cleaned the wood (of course I assumed he would do this). Unfortunately, he told me that he wiped it off and lightly sanded it, and that is it. I then got some sponges and a bucket of water with small amount of dish washing detergent and tried to clean it best I could without soaking the wood. But now, if you rub it with a white cloth, it still comes up dirty.

I am a clean freak, and I am trying to decide what to do in terms of cleaning and sanitizing. Is there anything you would recommend for cleaning? Or sanitizing? Or, is there really any need for either? Should I sand it? Maybe I just put a satin poly finish on it and not worry about it. Although I cannot find any good discussion of it, I am thinking that maybe the dirt and the “patina” are one in the same, and to have the reclaimed look, there has to be dirt.

I did test it for lead and arsenic, and both tests were negative.

Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

4 replies so far

View Snipes's profile


87 posts in 1664 days

#1 posted 02-01-2016 07:26 PM

Looks like a nice desk. Don’t do any more scrubbing on it, just add a couple coats of satin poly. Do some testing on scrap first as it will change the color some. I prefer the look of oil base on that old lumber, but will definitely make it darker.

-- if it is to be it is up to me

View clin's profile


485 posts in 416 days

#2 posted 02-01-2016 11:49 PM

I’m no expert, but I think you are correct that what you are wiping off is the patina. Might be some actual dirt of course. But I think if you scrub too much, you’ll remove too much of the good stuff that gives it character.

I also add a vote for wipe on satin poly. This should reduce slivers, making it a bit more friendly to use.

If you’re concerned about germs, put the desk out in the sun. Sunlight is a pretty good sanitizer. Of course since the sunlight won’t get into all the nooks and crannies, or underside etc, this only does so much, but if anything it will add to the character of the wood, where bleach would be something to avoid.

And heck, who knows, that wood might actually have fewer germs than your kitchen counter.

-- Clin

View conifur's profile


955 posts in 571 days

#3 posted 02-02-2016 01:12 AM

2 things, at least you admit your fetish. OMG, I hate germafobes, germs are good for your immune system in small quantities. WTS, Shellac would be a good choice too instead of Poly and it is natural!!!!!!!!!!!!.

-- Knowledge and experience equals Wisdom, Michael Frankowski

View builtinbkyn's profile


650 posts in 360 days

#4 posted 02-02-2016 01:43 AM

There probably isn’t a lot to be worried about. The wood used to construct the desk was milled and sized by the person who built it. It’s a good bet that most if not all of the surfaces that were originally exposed to – what ever – have been removed by the fabrication process including the sanding he said he performed. Most if not all of what you are wiping off is the dust from the aforementioned processes and from the guys shop itself. I don’t think you have much to worry about in terms of “germs”.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to seal the wood. It won’t only protect you, it will protect the desk. There are various ways of doing this. Find a qualified finisher in your area and ask his opinion on what he would use.

Edit: It’s a nice desk. Get a glass top to protect yourself and the wood ;)

Here’s your ‘upstanding’ desk. It’s a shame to look at it ‘sideways’:)

-- Bill, Yo! Brooklyn :)

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