How to Care for Knotty Pine Paneling

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Homes built during the middle of the 20th century generally had at least one room outfitted with real wood knotty pine paneling or cabinetry. This type of paneling usually consisted of thick panels -- as thick as modern plywood or even thicker. To keep your knotty pine looking good for years to come, annual cleaning and maintenance keeps it glowing.

Knotty Pine Characteristics

The most common wood used for this paneling is southern yellow pine, although you can find some paneling made from white and eastern white pine. Unfinished yellow pine has a slightly yellow tint to the wood; a clear sealer locks in the color. Key characteristics of knotty pine include:

  • Lightweight wood
  • Fine, even texture
  • Consistent and straight graining
  • Small, tight knots
  • Doesn't take stain well
  • Durable, long-lasting wood

Caring for a Soft Wood

Pine comes from an evergreen tree, making it a soft wood. The type of pine used determines how hard it is. On the Janka hardness scale, southern yellow pine rates 690, with white pine 420 and eastern white pine at 380. This scale measures the density of the wood and how well the wood holds up to dents, scratches and mars. Eastern white pine is on the bottom of the scale, which means it mars or dents easily.

The good news is that if the wood has not been gouged too significantly, sandpaper can remove most small dings, dents or scratches. But if you prefer the distressed appearance of old pine paneling, don't worry about dents and scratches, as these lend themselves well to the shabby-chic distressed look. Water damage, however, presents another issue. Rain or water from a leaky wall, roof or plumbing can leave large unattractive water stains on pine that require sanding to remove.

Periodic Cleaning

For periodic cleaning on stained but unsealed wood paneling, use a homemade cleaning solution to clean pine paneling. If you don't have boiled linseed oil or gum turpentine, mix together 1 part ammonia to 4 parts of warm water in a gallon bucket.

Things You'll Need

  • Vacuum with hose and soft brush attachment
  • Gallon bucket
  • Measuring spoon
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • Gum turpentine
  • Large sponge
  • Rubber gloves
  • Plastic tarps

Step 1: Prep

Move furniture away from the paneled wall. Place plastic tarps next to the walls to protect the floors. Attach the soft brush attachment to the hose wand; vacuum the paneling starting at the top and working down. Remove dust and dirt from the crevices in the paneling.

Step 2: Mix

Put on the rubber gloves to mix the ingredients in a gallon bucket. Fill up the bucket with hot water. Measure 2 tablespoons of gum turpentine and 4 tablespoons of boiled linseed oil into the bucket. If you don't have these ingredients use the ammonia wash instead.

Step 3: Wipe

Begin in the top left corner of the paneling, working down, and then across, washing the wall with the homemade cleaning solution in 2-foot sections. Wipe dry with a clean cloth to remove excess oil that becomes tacky if left to dry on the paneling.

Commercial cleaners designed for woods also work on paneling, such as Murphy's Oil Soap, OdoBan's Lemon Scent Oil Wood Cleaner and Olde English wood cleaners.

Cleaning Up Mold Growth

Check the paneling or the ceiling to verify where leaks or faulty plumbing causes the problem and correct it to prevent future mold growth.

Wear a National Occupational Safety and Health Institute face mask or respirator to avoid breathing in mildew or mold spores. Put on rubber gloves and safety goggles. Test the vinegar or bleach solution on a hidden portion of the paneling for color fastness first.

Things You'll Need

  • Vacuum with HEPA filter
  • Sealable plastic bag
  • Nylon scrub brush
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Gallon bucket
  • Spray bottled filled with undiluted white vinegar
  • Soft, clean rag
  • Bleach
  • Sponge
  • Sandpaper

Step 1: Vacuum

Vacuum the mold on the wall using the brush and hose attachment. Scrub with the nylon brush to loosen any clinging mold spores. Empty the contents of the canister or vacuum bag outside into a plastic bag that you can tie off and dispose of in an outdoor trash can.

Step 2: Scrub

Add hot water to a gallon bucket with a few squirts of dish soap to create suds. Gently scrub the moldy area only with the nylon scrub brush after dipping it into the soapy water. For hard-to-kill mold, spray the area with the vinegar and let it sit for up to an hour.

Step 3: Wipe

Wipe the cleaned area down with a damp clean rag. If all the mold is gone, clean the entire wall using a homemade or commercial cleaning product.

Step 4: Scrub Again

Remove mold from unfinished or raw wood paneling by combining 1 part liquid detergent, 10 parts of household bleach and 20 parts of water in a gallon bucket. Add the cleaning solution to the wall via the scrub brush or thick sponge. Allow the solution to air-dry on the wood.

Step 5: Sand

Sand the wood if after the cleaning solution is dry, mold remains impregnated in the wood. Continue wearing your safety gear while sanding. Start at the outside edges of the mold growth, sanding with the grain toward the middle until all the mold is gone.

Step 6: Toss

Toss the cleaning rags into a sealable trash bag and throw it away in the outside trash bin.

Step 7: Refinish

Refinish the wood with a stain, and stain and sealer or acrylic sealant to prevent future outbreaks after treatment with a wood conditioner to open the wood's pores to accept the stain.

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