With all the sprays, polishes, oils, cleaners, and waxes available today, it’s no wonder that this is the most asked question by far. My response is always the same: “Do you just want a shine or do you want protection also”? Spray-on polish and oils, “time savers”, give a quick temporary shine in just minutes, but that’s all you get. The reason they “shine” is because they are WET. This “wet look” may produce a nice shine but offers little or no protection. These products became popular in the late 1940s and have increased in popularity ever since. TV commercials showing a house wife using a product on a dull table top, followed by her smiling beautiful face in the reflection gave proof of the effortless shine their product would produce. Well, that was nothing but a good marketing ploy to boost product sales. What person, even today, would not want to save a lot of time and good old fashion elbow grease?
What they did not tell you, was that the silicone oils and petroleum distillates in their product would actually cause harm to your finish over time. In the late 60s and early 70s refinishing shops made a lot of money refinishing hundreds of table tops when there finish softened and turned into a sticky, gooey mess. These products are much improved today and can be good for the occasional quickie just before guest arrive, but prolonged use can still leave a gooey mess and still no real protection. It is easy to tell if a customer has been using these kind of polishes. You can make swirl marks in the wet oil with your fingers, or lift a cloth place mat from the table top to reveal a dull spot the same shape of the mat (the oil was absorbed by the mat). Because the surface is wet, it will actually attract and hold more dust and pollutants from the air.
Let’s take a moment and consider just what a finish is designed to do. First and foremost it is to seal the wood. Sealing the wood protects the wood from moisture changes, spills, stains, and surface abrasions. Second it is used to enhance the beauty of the wood grain. Have you ever heard someone tell how there produce “feeds” the wood. Unless your furniture is unfinished, or the finish has deteriorated, there is absolutely no way any polish, oil or wax is going to get through the finish to the wood. Another common misconception is that wood furniture is “alive” and need to “breathe,” so don’t seal the pores with wax. Wood furniture is not “alive” it can not “breathe” nor does it need to be “nourished” or “fed” with oily polishes. Just the very opposite is the truth! Continual changes in humidity, not the lack of “feeding”, cause unsealed wood to crack, warp, swell, shrink and glue joints to loosen.