Me and my housemate are complete novices when it comes to home improvement/DIY/etc. so when we moved into a recently renovated house with solid wood worktops, we were oblivious to what care they might need and the thought never crossed our minds. We treated them just like any other worktop, and they have since become damaged. I am concerned about our deposit, so I want to know if there is anything I can do to 'fix' it.

There are a few things:

  • The worktops have become sticky because we just cleaned them with ordinary household surface cleaners (not bleach, but chemically stuff) and I think that has caused the 'treated surface' to 'melt' or something.
  • We left pots and pans etc. with water in them to soak on the counter top, making the area next to the sink totally water damaged - the wood is warped, and has gone black.
  • There are a few ringmarks where I've left mugs etc. on the surface

What could possibly be done to remedy these? We have not done ANYTHING to maintain these surfaces because we have no idea how to care for them properly, and were not instructed by the landlord to do so. We have no tools or equipment barring screwdrivers, so if you could advise exactly what I'd need to ask for at a hardware store to fix anything that would be great.

  • 4
    can you post pictures?
    – amphibient
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 16:27
  • 2
    Hardwood kitchen counters are a horrible choice for a rental property. They can be easily damaged by water, heat, knives, stains, copper, abrasive cleaners, etc., all of which are common in a kitchen. Even with careful care they should be oiled a couple times a year at least. Not that it really helps you...
    – Hank
    Commented Jan 13, 2013 at 23:46
  • My biggest question is whether its an oil finish (tung, linseed, mineral oil or a film finish (polyurethane, marine varnish). Repair will depend on which you have.
    – HerrBag
    Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 0:44

3 Answers 3


I'd really need to see a photo to know, but more or less...

A lot of your options aren't great for food prep surfaces: for a non-food surface, I'd use turpentine or Restor-a-Finish.

Start with baking soda, warm water and a green scrubber to get the gumminess up. You might try washing soda or dish detergent if the baking soda alone doesn't do it. Fill a small bucket with warm water, sprinkle some baking soda down, scrub it up, wipe it up with a wet dishcloth, rinse the dish cloth, repeat. I've heard you can alternately use white vinegar. You probably won't scratch the wood but it never hurts to go with the grain instead of in circles.

Either way, don't leave standing water on the counter, clean it up as you go.

If it is really nasty you might wind up with a few rinses. Once you get it clean, oil it with mineral oil or refinish it. If you go the mineral oil route, you pour a small amount on (small) and rub it in (with the grain) and repeat.

UPDATE: I just happened upon a blog post which suggests that a bowl of hot water, a few tablespoons of murphy's oil soap and a pad of steel wool will go along way. With steelwool and sand paper you definitely want to go with the grain, always. Never ever go in circles. Add the soap to your hot water, scrub with the grain, rinsing often as you go. Change the water as it gets grimy. Keep some rags handy to dry up with so you aren't leaving standing water.

As far as the warping goes, you probably can't do much except plane it, is a recipe for making everything worse if you don't know what you're doing. Are you moving soon or just starting to realize you maybe need to be more conscientious?

  • Regarding the mineral oil, you really can't use too much. I have a butcher block table and the manufacture instructions are to apply the oil liberally, and wipe up any remaining oil after 24hrs
    – Steven
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 21:15
  • Thank you. I'll try and get photos of it tomorrow. I'm not planning to move out for at least another year, it's just that I noticed it the other day and thought, "... well, crap." Basically it's where two parts of the countertop join, one has raised slightly above the other, and is slightly bowed. Do you think that if I don't let water touch it for a year, it might... settle back? XD
    – Maccath
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 22:33
  • 1
    @Maccath, it won't settle back, but frankly, if your landlords put a wood counter alongside a sink they had to expect some warping.
    – Amanda
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 23:37

Without photos, it's pretty difficult to answer your questions completely, but... the black stain can usually be removed with oxalic acid ("wood bleach").

As to the bowing along the seam... very often that sort of thing will return to more-or-less its original shape if allowed to dry really thoroughly. I'd leave that one alone until the Witching Hour.

The ring marks - that partly depends upon what was used to finish the countertop. If shellac was (ill advisedly) used, often rubbing alcohol will remove the rings by reflowing the shellac. A quick way to test whether it's shellac or not is to dribble a small amount of cheap vodka in an inconspicuous area - if the vodka dissolves the finish there, it's shellac (shellac is unique among wood finishes in that it's alcohol-soluble).


Watermark damages on wooden countertops can be fixed with products with oil such as oil base furniture cleaner, petroleum jelly, or mayonnaise. Apply on the affected area, leave it overnight then wipe it off and buff the surface with a clean, dry cloth. You can also use baking soda by mixing it with water creating a paste-like consistency. Rub the mixture on the affected area for about 10 mins and be sure to follow the grain of the wood. Wipe off the excess with a dry microfiber cloth.

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