Have you noticed that your favorite table feels tacky to the touch?
Where does that sticky residue come from, and what can you do about it?
What Causes a Wood Table to Be Sticky?
That icky, sticky feeling when you touch your wooden table may have a single or combination of causes, including:
Poor Quality Finish
A cheap table is unlikely to be finished to the same high standard as a craftsman-made furniture item.
The wood may be unfinished or have a thin coat of varnish or wax.
A minimal amount of damage and use can leave your table feeling sticky and unpleasant.
Don’t panic; you can easily refinish to a higher standard with the money you saved on the table and enjoy a clean, smooth finish.
Wear and Tear
Your table’s quality finish wears with age.
The oils in the varnish break down and cause deterioration, wax builds up, and dirt becomes ingrained.
Your sticky table may need a facelift to restore its youthful looks and smooth surface.
Your tabletop can suffer from the impact of spilled drinks and food splashes.
A kitchen table where you prepare your meals is unlikely to get through the day without being in contact with wet and sticky food.
Even if you wipe up all spills immediately, the food residue can eat into your table finish and provide a place for dirt and moisture.
Young people in the house (even the best behaved) leave a trail of dirt and moisture wherever they touch.
A few tabletop craft activities with glue and paint, extra scratches from games and laptops, and your tabletop becomes sticky to the touch with a layer of dirt, glue, and other residues.
Babies and toddlers are messier at mealtimes, and pureed, sweet foods are super sticky.
Account for the fact that you are busy clearing up and looking after your younger children, and it is no surprise that food remains in contact with your table for longer.
Harsh Cleaning Agents
In your drive to keep your table hygienically clean, you may use bleach or ammonia.
Unfortunately, these products are too harsh for your wood’s finish, and when you strip away the protective layer, dirt builds up.
The wrong cleaning products can discolor your tabletop and leave it unpleasantly sticky.
Too much wax is not helpful; a wax build-up leaves your table sticky instead of silky smooth.
It is essential to use the proper cleaning and nourishing products for your wood and not to excess.
The correct amount of wax sinks into the wood, keeping it supple and waterproof.
Excess wax on the tabletop feels sticky and greasy and traps dust, creating a dirty, sticky layer.
Poor Cleaning Technique
No one instinctively knows how to clean a table, a dish, or a face.
Typically, you pick up the process from observation, research, and practice.
If your parents do things one way, you will probably use the same techniques, which may or may not be effective with today’s furniture and products.
Refreshing your approach to cleaning your tabletop will help you develop an effective cleaning routine that saves you time and money because you are not fighting against permanent stickiness.
When Is Your Table Sticky?
Different causes of stickiness mean your table may be:
- Always sticky.
- Sticky after cleaning.
- Stains stay sticky.
- Sticky in heat.
Always Sticky to the Touch
If your wooden table is sticky every time you touch it, the finish is probably breaking down, or your tabletop needs a thorough clean.
The best approach is to give a gentle clean first and assess if you require more robust measures like stripping down and refinishing your tabletop.
Wooden tables have excellent longevity because they are straightforward to refinish.
Sticky After Cleaning
If your wooden table is sticky immediately after cleaning it, you may be using too much polish or neglecting the drying and buffing stage.
The final step in cleaning a table involves removing excess wax and buffing it to a smooth and non-sticky finish.
The most common mistake in cleaning a table is to use dirty cleaning cloths. You need plenty of clean cloths, and after you clean your table, wash and dry them before using them again.
A dirty cloth puts more dirt on your tabletop.
The answer is to refresh your cleaning technique and thoroughly clean your table with extra attention to finishing to a dry, silky surface.
Stains Stay Sticky
After you mop up spilled food from your table, you may notice that the food stain remains sticky, despite the cleaning.
This stickiness after stains may mean the table finish is old and worn. When the varnish breaks down or the wax layer is patchy, your wooden table retains stain residues.
These stained areas attract dirt and feel rough and sticky to the touch.
Sticky in Heat
A combination of heat and build-up of dirt and wax can mean you notice your table getting sticky when the weather is warm.
In hot conditions, the wax layer on your table may melt a little, increasing the tackiness.
Heat also breaks down most varnishes, causing them to flake and wear, but this is more common with older tables or tables exposed to sunlight.
Sunlight has a bleaching effect that can ruin your table’s finish and allow dirt to stick to the surface.
Regular cleaning and refinishing your furniture will prevent your table from excess stickiness regardless of room temperature.
Table Finishes and Stickiness
Table finishes depend on the style and purpose of your table.
An occasional table may have a decorative painted finish, and an antique table may have a high gloss from professional French polishing.
Does the table finish impact the level and frequency of stickiness?
1. Varnished Table
Antique tables may have a shellac lacquer, and more modern tables a polyurethane varnish to seal the wood and provide a surface you can wipe with a damp cloth.
Age and damage will result in the breakdown of the varnish. Oils and plasticizers deteriorate, and a sticky finish will form on your table.
A thorough clean and refinish will have your table looking pristine for years.
Don’t be tempted to refinish in patches; you will get a better result if you treat the whole table.
Using several coats of a modern polyacrylic or polyurethane varnish will give you a hardwearing and easy-clean surface for your dining room table.
2. Stained Tables
Staining combined with another finish can turn a pale wood into a dark wood or add a color like red or blue.
Your stained table may become sticky because of the topcoat breaking down or the solvent in the stain evaporating with time and leaving a powdery dry surface behind.
Depending on your preferences, you can clean and refinish or change or refresh the wood stain.
3. Painted Tables
A painted finish is relatively fragile compared with natural wood, and the paint can fade, chip and flake.
Most painted tables receive an additional coat of varnish or a waxed finish for extra protection.
If your painted table gets sticky, the protective coat may break down and accumulate dirt.
A gentle clean and polish will improve how your table looks and feels.
4. Veneer Table
A veneer is a thin layer of more expensive decorative wood glued to a robust and more affordable base wood.
You need to be cautious in cleaning and refinishing a veneer table because:
- You can rub through the expensive wood to expose the base.
- You can damage the bond, and the veneer can delaminate from the base layer.
A badly dented, scratched, and sticky antique veneer table may be worth asking a professional furniture restorer to refinish.
5. Oak Table
Oak is an ideal wood for many purposes because it is durable and resistant to pests and decay.
The stickiness on an oak table rises from the breakdown of the wood finish rather than any wood properties.
You can refinish your oak table repeatedly, and your great-grandchildren can continue to enjoy your oak table.
If your oak table gets sticky, clean and refinish as appropriate.
6. Teak Table
Teak is an excellent wood for outdoor tables because the wood (Asian teak) contains a natural oil preventing water damage.
If you leave your teak wood table outside without varnishing or oiling, it will become an attractive silvery grey color. The naturally golden color of teak makes beautiful indoor furniture, and it is resistant to most wood pests.
You can treat your teak table with oil or varnish.
If your oiled teak table is sticky, it probably needs a quick clean rather than a significant refinish.
If the stickiness results from the varnish breaking down, teak is straightforward to refinish.
Teak is frequently a veneer on top of less expensive wood bases.
7. Pine Table
Pine is an affordable softwood with the charming property of darkening as it ages.
Pine is a popular choice for kitchen tables and is open to a range of finishes from oiling, waxing, staining, and varnish.
A solid pine table is straightforward to clean and refinish. If you strip off the old finish, you can opt for a different finish – food-safe oil if you want to use it as a kitchen food preparation table.
8. Mango Wood Table
Mango wood has a dense grain structure and classes as hardwood.
It takes wood stain to imitate other timbers and is easily cut, sawn, and shaped. It is durable and relatively low maintenance, but it dries out quickly and is prone to attack by fungi.
If you have a mango wood table, it is essential to keep it clean and well-polished to avoid stickiness and dehydration cracks.
The best approach to stickiness with a mango wood table is to avoid an issue by proactively cleaning and waxing instead of waiting for the table to get dirty.
9. Epoxy Table
An epoxy table is a wooden table with an epoxy resin finish on the tabletop.
These stunning and durable finishes can give a new lease of life to an old table or create a bespoke, modern table in glowing jewel-bright patterns.
You maintain the glossy finish with clean cloths and soft cleaning agents; avoid soap because it can leave a bloom on the surface.
If the surface becomes sticky, use a clean wet cloth to remove food stains and polish dry with a soft polishing cloth.
You can use furniture wax to buff to a high gloss. The epoxy coating is durable and waterproof.
You can fill and buff out any surface scratches acquired during use.
10. Dining Table
A dining table is a stunning centerpiece for family meals.
You can avoid stickiness by using table protectors like underlay mats, tablecloths, and placemats. Regular cleaning and polishing mean if a food spillage occurs, it is relatively straightforward to remove any stains.
If the dining room table surface suffers wear through scratches or burn marks, remove them yourself or call in a professional.
Dealing with small amounts of damage as they occur prevents a more significant restoration later.
The first line of defense for a dining room table is a barrier to protect the surface from damage.
11. Kitchen Table
A kitchen table may provide dining space and food preparation space.
It makes sense to use food-safe oil on a kitchen table and keep plenty of chopping boards to hand to ensure that you don’t quickly chop an apple on the wooden table.
A kitchen table experiences a higher level of wear and exposure to grease and humidity during cooking.
A regular cleaning routine and scheduled refinishing will keep your kitchen table free from stickiness.
A selection of oilskin tablecloths (waterproofed cotton or linen fabric) can protect your kitchen table surface during food preparation, kids’ activities, and general cooking.
These provide an attractive splash of color during the day and wipe clean with a wet cloth.
12. Coffee Tables
Small occasional tables provide somewhere to put your coffee mug and snack while relaxing in your living room. Depending on the design, they may have additional magazines or other storage shelves.
The significant risk of damage and stickiness comes from hot and cold drinks sitting on the wooden tabletop.
A selection of drinks coasters will help prevent drink stains, and some people opt for a protective glass top to protect the underlying wood.
A coffee table with minimal use is unlikely to get sticky unless the wood finish breaks down.
A coffee table in constant use benefits from a regular clean and polish, and if stickiness develops, you may need a more advanced clean and refinish.
How to Clean a Sticky Table
The amount of cleaning and polishing depends on the depth of stickiness.
Generally, you want to avoid getting wood wet if you can, but many table finishes allow the use of a damp cloth to remove sticky stains.
You can make an all-purpose cleaning solution in a spray bottle using half a cup of warm water and half a cup of vinegar.
You can boost the cleaning power with a dash of dishwasher detergent, but it needs to be free from bleach and antibacterial agents.
The key to effective cleaning is plenty of clean cotton or linen cloths.
For a thorough clean, mist the tabletop with the cleaning solution. Next, work with the wood grain and use a clean cloth to scrub away the dirt.
Keep rotating the cloth as it becomes dirty and replace it with a clean cloth as necessary. Rubbing the wood with a dirty cloth transfers dirt from one part of the table to another.
You may prefer to mist the cloth rather than the table, but avoid saturating the wood whatever route you choose. You want enough dampness to lift the dirt and no more.
If the table is exceptionally sticky or the finish begins to break down, you may need to repeat the gentle washing and rubbing several times.
When the table is clean, use a dry cloth to absorb as much excess moisture as possible before leaving the table to dry naturally.
Follow the cleaning with polishing or refinishing.
If the gentle cleaning isn’t working, you can use a wood soap like Murphy’s oil soap.
You still work along the grain and finish with drying cloths.
Even if you intend to sand and refinish the tabletop, clean the surface to remove stickiness, dirt, and loose varnish.
Preparation for Refinishing
If the old varnish or surface finish is deteriorated and needs replacing, you can use the finest sandpaper or wire wool to smooth away all the old finish after cleaning the tabletop.
Work with the grain, and after you finish, use a tack cloth to pick up all the loose dust and dirt from sanding.
If you have a veneer tabletop, avoid heavy sanding before refinishing because you may wear away the veneer.
You can stain to restore the color or add a darker shade or color.
Follow the instructions on your chosen wood stain, but apply it with a clean cloth and use it sparingly.
After the wood stain dries, you will want to add an additional finish of wax, oil, or varnish.
Waxes and Polishes
Beeswax is an excellent product for nourishing the wood and keeping it hydrated, plus it protects the wood from water and stains.
Apply the wax with a clean cloth working it along the grain of the wood.
Use a clean, dry cloth or a sheepskin polishing pad to buff the excess wax away and give the table a soft, silky sheen free from stickiness.
Wash the cleaning cloths immediately and dry them for reuse. Wax impregnated cloths are not fire-safe, and the wax attracts dirt.
Wood oil adds color and protection.
Follow the instructions for your chosen oil but apply sparingly and buff for an expert finish.
Dispose of the rags carefully as oil-soaked rags are a fire hazard.
Don’t varnish on top of oil or wax.
If you opt to give your table a couple of coats of polyurethane varnish, apply after the table is clean and dry.
You can varnish stained wood to provide a waterproof barrier.
When the varnish is dry, you can clean the table in the future with a damp cloth and apply a wax layer to maintain waterproofing and stain resistance.
If you have a battered and worn table, an epoxy resin coat can miraculously transform it into a modern statement piece.
Consider applying decorative paper to the table’s surface before adding the transparent resin layer for a unique tabletop.
Finishing your table with epoxy is surprisingly quick and easy – clean and sand like any other refinishing. You can choose to stain, paint or decoupage your tabletop before pouring the epoxy.
Follow the instructions on the tin for quantities, but in essence, you simply pour the resin on and let it dry.
Cleaning a Painted Finish
The paint keeps the table waterproof, so a gentle wash with the cleaning solution, dry, and then polish with a wood wax is sufficient to keep your painted table pristine.
You can opt to add varnish or resin to put an extra protective layer on your painted table, but regular waxing is enough.
Use a dry cloth to wipe away dust daily.
Use a damp cloth to spot clean sticky patches and dry the table after cleaning.
Apply a weekly wax coat and buff to a soft shine; where possible, protect your tabletop with tablecloths, mats, chopping boards, and drinks coasters to prevent scratches and stains.
The best way to avoid a sticky table is to stay on top of your spot cleaning and use protective mats to prevent stains and damage.
However, after years of use, your table may need refinishing to restore its glorious luster, and accidents do happen.
Do not panic if you have a sticky table; it’s easy to fix and is an excellent opportunity to try something new.