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How to Use Steel Wool on Wood [Explained in 10 Quick Steps!]

Steel wool is excellent in getting rid of stains. Hence, it is perfect for your wooden furniture and cabinets. With very little effort, you can make your old wooden furniture dazzle like new! It will make your interior look amazing.

How to use steel wool on wood?

You might find it unseemly to use steel wool to polish wood surfaces. But, if done correctly, it isn’t. Due to being very fine, steel wool is capable of scraping off a very thin layer. It leaves a silky smooth finish called a ‘hand-rubbed finish’. But you should have proper knowledge on how to use it properly on wood.

Sounds interesting? We have a whole 10-step guideline just for you!

Let’s roll!

10 Steps to Use Steel Wool on Wood [Explained!]

Steel wool is a fabric-like material draped around long steel wires. It adds a nice shine and protection against future dust problems. It makes a great utility to sand old wood. 

Follow this 10-step guideline to use steel wool on wood like a pro!

Step 1: Identify the Stain

Firstly, it is important to determine what kind of stain we are dealing with. Generally, it is a water or oil stain. Water stains typically appear to be fading into the wood. 

Whereas, you’ll find oil stains a bit greasy. To be precise, it looks like the wood is taking it in.

Step 2: Obtain the Supplies

Steel wool comes from actual steel. Hence, it is not that gentle on the hands. So, we recommend you put on a nice pair of gloves before starting!

You’ll need vinegar, paper towels, and clean rags or clothes to get started. 

Now, get a bucket of warm water with dish soap as well. You’ll need the dish soap because of its degreasing property. It dissolves the bond between the oil and the wood. 

A soft-bristled brush is optional, but you can get one if you want.

Step 3: Choose Steel Wool Type

Steel wools are often used to refinish indoor teak furniture. It comes in a variety of grades. Choose one according to your need in terms of toughness.

Extra steel wool is used to sand down new wood surfaces and dark spots.

Fine steel wool is fantastic for eradicating old leftover wax traces from the furniture. However, it will not eliminate water stains or other hard blemishes.

Step 4: Preparing the Work Space

Use paper towels to cover your work surface since it can get really messy. Then put your gloves on those rather than directly on the wood. This is critical because the oil from your hands will damage the wood over time.

Then place an old towel or cloth on the floor. This is to make sure that the floor doesn’t get messy. Be ready to get it stained by vinegar and dishwasher.

Step 5: Scrub Scrub Scrub!

The steel wool soap mixture will help you scrub away all the wood stains. You need to get into every gap or corner on your furniture. Use brushes that have soft bristles. But, refrain from overdoing it.

Step 6: Get on with Scrubbing

You may not be able to scrub all four sides at the same time. This happens when they do not fit on the towel placed underneath. 

In that case, replace them one at a time until all sides have been thoroughly cleaned. It’s better to get someone to hold the piece up whilst you scrub.

Step 7: Got to Clean up

This sort of cleaning begets a huge mess in the workspace. So, have plenty of paper towels nearby to clean up any spills that may occur.

Step 8: Dry off the Project

Dry the wood floor with clean rags or a paper towel. This will also help to remove any steel wool streaks and give it a nice dazzle!

Step 9: Protect the Project

Now that you’ve cleaned and dried the wood, we reach the most important part. It needs protection from future stains.

Obtain some furniture wax and apply it to the furniture. Here, I have recommended some quality furniture waxes for you:

Product 1
Product 2

Hopefully you’ll find it helpful!

For a less shiny look, you can opt for a clear matte finish spray. 

Step 10: Enjoy the Beauty for Years!

Once you have a satin finish, use a proper coat of polyurethane. You can also use tung oil, mineral spirits, or sealant. This will make your wood look glossy and dazzling like new!

Hopefully, these 10 steps would help you use steel wool on wood.


Steel wool comes with some disadvantages as well. 

Firstly, it is useless when it comes to cleaning unfinished wood. It is only recommended that you should use steel wool only on old wood. Using it on unfinished wood could cause some trouble.

Usually unfinished wood is not that smooth. It is because the wood hasn’t been polished or burnished yet. Using steel wool could create even deeper grain lines on the wood and mess it up.

Secondly, it can rust if in contact with water. This indicates that we should not use it between layers of finishes that are water-based finishes. Using it for paints is also a big no.

When you sand or rub, small fragments of wool may break off. Any that remains could leave rust blemishes. 

Hence, you can’t use it to remove latex-like paint from wood.


Question: Can steel wool be used for wet sanding?

Answer: Practically, you should not use steel wool for wet sanding. By nature, steel wool turns to rust when it is wet. Sometimes little parts of steel wool get stuck and get wet causing it to rust. 

Question: Is it okay to use steel wool on bare wood?

Answer: No, we shouldn’t use it on bare wood. Steel fragments are usually shed by steel wool. It could simply rest on the surface. If they are not quickly removed, water-based finishes can cause them to rust. 

Question: How do you cut steel wool?

Answer: It’s sort of a counterintuitive act. But if you use your dull scissors to cut steel wool, it actually sharpens them! It might not increase the sharpness by unprecedented heights but it renews the cutting edges. 


Hopefully this article helped you understand how to use steel wool on wood. Just adhere to these steps and use it on wood like a pro!

Don’t forget to wear protective gear when using it.

Until next time, adios!