Many homes and commercial properties have walls covered with wood paneling. This surface can be cleaned and even washed without doing damage. The finish on the paneling protects the wood, preventing light moisture from reaching it. When the paneling is cleaned, it is really the finish, not the wood, that is being treated. Prior to cleaning, inspect the wall for chips, cracks, or other damage because these areas require special handling.
To remove dust and dirt, use a soft cloth or a vacuum with a brush attachment to dust the paneling. Repeat this process every two weeks in a residential environment. More frequent office cleaning of paneled walls may be necessary, depending on the environment. Paneling usually gets dirty faster in locations with a lot of outside dust or when windows are kept open. Regular dusting can prevent the need for frequent washing.
In terms of cleaning products, avoid solvents and strong alkali solutions. If the paneling varnish or shellac is cracked, clean carefully because moisture can penetrate the surface and stain the wood grain. Bare wood should not be cleaned because it absorbs fingerprints, grease, and moisture. Cleaning may only make it look worse and polishes and oils must be applied regularly to keep the wood from drying.
Cleaning products used on paneling should be tested first. If all appears ok, the cleaning solution should be applied sparingly using a clean rag or sponge. Work from bottom to top to prevent drip lines, rinse the surface, and immediately buff dry using a clean cloth. Oil soap is a good general cleaner, while difficult stains might require mineral spirits. Apply the spirits to the paneling by lightly dabbing the stain or spot and allowing the area to dry.
To prevent hazing or streaking, remove the cleaning solution as soon as possible. When wiping or buffing, go with the grain of the wood to prevent streaks from appearing. Polish is not always required for home and office cleaning of paneled walls because the finish on the paneling coats and protects the wood.
Homemade oil soap can be created by combining a bit of vegetable oil with a mild detergent and diluting this with water. Wiping this on the wood paneling and then buffing the surface dry creates a sheen that is clean and free of smudges. A polish can be used to replenish oils but the result will not be noticeable on a high-gloss finish panel.