The Definitive Teak Care and Cleaning Guide
Because you’re reading this you obviously own, or are about to own, one the most beautiful and durable tropical hardwoods on the planet, Tectona grandis.
And now, so that your teak furniture and accessories will provide you with decades of enjoyment…
I’m going to tell you the best-kept secrets of how to care for, clean, and maintain your teak so it’ll last for generations.
We’ll begin by stating a legendary truth, and dispelling an equally legendary myth
Truth! Teak is water-resistant.
Because of the rich natural oils and resins in hi-grade teak, water just rolls off it like water off a duck’s back.
That’s why the boats of ancient mariners were made of teak (if they were lucky enough to have access to it).
And, aside from its unparalleled beauty, it’s also why to this day many boaters have teak top decks and teak interiors (as do many of the most expensive homes).
Myth! Apply teak oil to preserve and protect your teak.
The truth is, teak oil will do absolutely nothing for your wood.
It will not clean or maintain it. And if you overuse it, it will destroy your teak.
I’ll unpack these truths about teak oil further below.
**Important Note: If you own a Teak Culture teak cutting or charcuterie board please read how to care for and maintain your teak cutting board. Because these boards come into contact with food, their care and cleaning are necessarily much different.**
Let’s do a little teak cleaning
If your teak furniture, accessories and decoratives are kept indoors…
The only thing you really need do is dust them!
As often as you dust the rest of your house.
However, if you own a teak shower mat
or a teak shower bench...
All you need do after showering…
Is shower off your bench and mat, too!
In other words, thoroughly rinse off any soap scum, hair, shampoo, lotion, dirt or oils that may have accumulated on it.
If necessary, use a scrub brush, especially in those hard to reach places.
As for your teak shower mat, after you rinse off the underside, lift it up, stand it on end, and lean it against your shower wall.
That way the underside will have a chance to fully dry out, too.
And that’s all you gotta do!
All you ever need do to maintain your teak shower mat and bench.
If on the other hand, it’s been weeks since you cleaned your bench and mat…
And now you notice black spots (mold or mildew), on the wood…
First, know this unequivocally: quality, hi-grade teak is absolutely mold, mildew, bacteria and insect resistant. Period.
But if that's true, why will your teak, whether it's your teak patio furniture or the teak in your shower, develop mold or mildew?
Well, it's not the teak's fault.
Your outdoor teak furniture collects dirt (however you define it), and your shower teak collects soap scum, hair, shampoo, oils, lotions, etc.
If all that is not regularly and thoroughly removed from your teak... mold and mildew will grow.
So here’s how you kill mold and mildew…
As a first step, use a kinder and gentler approach…
Try to remove the mold or mildew with just a scrub brush, soap and water.
If that doesn’t do the job...
Because you haven’t cleaned or aired out your teak - whether it's the teak in your shower or your teak patio furniture - in months)...
It’s time to get a bit more serious with your teak cleaning
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Step 1: Grab a small bucket.
Step 3: Add a splash of Clorox Bleach
Step 4: Pour in water, and mix. (1-cup of bleach to 1-gallon of water)
Step 5: Grab a hard bristle brush, or a Scotch-brite pad and gently scrub off the mold or mildew.
Step 6. Let the mixture sit on the wood for a few minutes.
Step 7. Give the teak a thorough rinsing.
Step 8. Take your teak outside, lay it in the sun, and give it time to completely dry out.
How easy was that!
You can use this same approach when someone (or you) spills red wine or coffee (or other liquids that stain) on your teak table or chairs.
The same goes for food stains you find on your treasured teak cutting board that you inherited from your grandmother.
If it’s just a few tiny spots of mold or mildew that you’re dealing with…
Place your teak treasure outside for a day or two in the intense summer sun.
The sun will kill the mold or mildew (but may not necessarily remove the back marks).
However, if you’ve seriously neglected your teak, and it’s deeply stained or discolored…
A deeper cleaning is in order.
I learned these next 2 approaches from a boater whose teak boat decks occasionally needed a serious intervention.
Deep cleaning remedy #1:
Now, If you do as I do and not as I say...
In other words, you rarely clean your teak.
You'll eventually notice mold and mildew stains - everywhere!
Yes, bleach, soap, and water will kill the mold and mildew
But the black spots will remain.
So, here's the secret sauce to removing mold and mildew stains, or any stubborn stains!
Substitute bleach for ammonia.
But do not mix ammonia and bleach together--because if you do, and you breathe it...it'll kill you! Seriously. No joke.
Use one or the other. Never mix both!
And then scrub the teak with the grain, using a hard bristle brush. Then rinse.
What you will notice, after the teak dries, is that the teak will miraculously show you its pristine, natural, just harvested color - without the stains.
Note: depending on how much ammonia you use, the teak grains will rise, giving the teak a somewhat rough texture.
You can then sand the teak with fine grain sandpaper, or not. Because, eventually the teak will smooth out by itself.
Lastly, if you want to apply teak oil (I don't, for the reasons below) to get your teak to shimmer and shine, go for it.
Deep cleaning remedy #2:
Use oxalic acid (an organic compound found in vegetables).
But when it’s condensed into pure crystals it’s quite potent, and toxic.
In other words, wear gloves when rubbing oxalic acid into stains.
First step: wet the teak and then sprinkle on the oxalic acid.
Third step: give the solution a few minutes to soak in.
Then thoroughly rinse the wood and let it dry completely.
Now, if that sounds like too much work, or too intimidating…
Try using a household cleaner that contains diluted oxalic acid, like Bar Keepers Friend.
Alternatively, you can buy…
Commercial teak cleaners and brighteners
There are 1-part, 2-part, and 2-in-1 cleaners.
They typically employ a mild chemical to clean the wood.
Amazon’s One-Step Teak cleaner, which is actually manufactured by Marine Development & Research Corp. (MDR), gets fairly good reviews for general cleaning.
These cleaners are more heavy duty.
They will restore the color to soiled, stained, and neglected teak.
But be careful using them.
These cleaners contain a strong caustic agent and an acid—typically hydrochloric acid.
And should only be used when gentler cleaning methods have failed.
The caustic agent will do the heavy cleaning, and the acid (part-2) will neutralize the caustic agent, and do some cleaning of its own.
Semco's 2-part teak cleaner is a good choice.
But don’t use a 2-part cleaner too often. If you do, it will leave the wood feeling rough and dry.
These products will clean the teak and brighten it.
They’re not heavy-duty cleaners, but for simple ease of use they can’t be beat.
Two popular 2-in-1 cleaners are:
If none of the above does the job…
Well, what in the world did you do to your teak?
But not to worry, this following method is absolutely guaranteed to return your wood to its brand new, just harvested state.
Won’t sanding, you ask, strip away the teak’s natural oils and resins?
Not at all.
The oils and resins in hi-quality teak are found throughout the wood. It’s saturated with it.
Besides, you’ll only be removing the thin top layer of wood that’s been stained.
The teak immediately below, which you’ll reveal by sanding, will be unaffected.
And it’ll look and feel as fresh and fine as the day it was harvested.
As a first step, just do a light sanding using 150 or 220 grit sandpaper.
If it’s outdoor teak furniture, you’ll immediately notice that the sun-bleached layer of wood that you’ll remove will give way to the original honey-brown colored teak below.
But if you need to sand deeper, to get beneath tough stains and other discolorations, use 60 or 100 grit sandpaper.
Then sand again with 150 or 220 grit sandpaper to give the wood a smoother finish.
By the way, it’s always a good idea to give your teak an occasional light sanding, just to keep it looking like new, and to remove any raised grains, so the wood maintains a baby-cheek smooth finish.
Don’t ever use a power washer to clean teak
Pressure washing may be fine on wood decking—but not on teak furniture.
It’ll cause discoloration and the wood could become pitted and splintered.
However, if you insist on using a pressure washer…
- Use at low power, and low PSI!
- Use a wide spray nozzle (e.g. 40-degree angle)
- Keep the nozzle at least 1-foot away from the teak’s surface
- Use long, even strokes
And then you’ll need to sand the teak to get a nice smooth surface.
As a side note: Teak can be left outside in all weather conditions—from desert heat to rain and snow.
But if you decide to cover your outdoor teak furniture…
Do not use plastic. A plastic covering will trap moisture, which could promote mold and mildew growth.
Instead, use a “breathable” natural fiber cover, preferably one specifically designed for teak furniture.
If you want to store your teak furniture in an outdoor shed or garage, just make sure it’s watertight and there’s air circulation.
Also, don’t move your teak furniture, which has been wintering outside, directly into a heated indoor room.
The dramatic difference in temperature and humidity could cause the teak to warp or crack.
Different teak finishes
The first thing you need to know about “teak oil” is…
It doesn’t contain even 1/1000 of a milliliter of teak oil.
Put another way…
There’s no teak oil in teak oil.
The “teak oil” you buy in a store or online contains absolutely zero oil from a teak tree.
Instead, it contains either tung oil or linseed oil, or both. Plus, other ingredients, like varnish, mineral oils, and thinners or solvents.
It’s marketed as “teak oil” because, Madison Ave decided it should be.
So why use teak oil?
The only thing teak oil does is enhance, or bring out, the natural beauty, color and grain patterns of the wood.
In short, it makes teak glow and shine, and admittedly does so spectacularly.
But that glorious, rich, warm glow and shine doesn’t last long.
A few weeks at most, less if it’s used on outdoor furniture.
So, you’ll need to continually re-apply teak oil to keep that glow and shine from fading.
Teak oil does absolutely nothing to protect or preserve the wood
In short, teak oil will not extend the life of your teak furniture.
The natural oil and resins that already exists in hi-quality teak will, all by itself, do a fine job of preserving and protecting your teak from mold, mildew, invasive insects and the weather.
If anything, repeated applications of teak oil will actually damage your teak furniture.
The solvents in “teak oil” will attack and break down the wood’s natural resins and oils. Depleting them. Leaving your teak dry and lifeless. Old before it’s time.
Plus, “teak oil” is not food safe.
So, under no circumstances use it on your teak cutting board, which is considered by many a chef to be the best wood for cutting boards.
Because, aside from teak’s hardness…
Teak’s natural oils and resins act as a protective barrier against many food stains, and bacteria, which can be easily washed away.
But having said all that, if you're only applying teak oil once in a blue moon, it probably won't permanently damage your wood.
So, go for it.
Two popular brands:
TotalBoat teak oil:
Most teak oils should be applied with a paint brush, and will require multiple coats.
The wood will initially "drink up" the oil, but by the third coat, the oil may begin to puddle in some areas.
So just wipe up the excess with a cloth, and let dry.
Now, before we move on to other popular finishes…
In praise of running around naked!
In other words, use no wood finish at all.
Because teak does not require a finish.
The natural oils in teak seep out, giving teak its characteristic velvety sheen.
However, if left outside in the elements, teak will develop a soft silvery patina on its surface.
The teak purists among us actually prefer that stately and timeless look.
But it’s only a look.
The wood beneath remains strong. Its oils and resins intact and undiminished.
Nevertheless, if you prefer a finish…
Because you don’t like the silvery patina, and you want the wood to really shimmer and shine and its colors to pop…
These are the most common teak finishes:
Linseed oil, surprise, surprise, is made from flax seeds.
But it’s not a health drink—don’t dink it! Not raw linseed oil, or “boiled linseed oil.”
Boiled linseed oil, by the way, is not really boiled (just chemically treated to make it dry faster than regular linseed oil).
And when applied correctly, boiled linseed oil will revitalize weathered teak, and bring back its natural color.
The other great thing about boiled linseed oil, and tung oil for that matter, is its ability to penetrate deep into the wood.
It offers protection not just to the wood’s surface, but to the interior of the wood as well.
However, the protection is really minimal. And it has to be applied in very thin layers to prevent it from wrinkling as it dries.
But after it dries, the teak is left with a shiny smooth surface.
Which is why boiled linseed oil has been used for hundreds of years by carpenters and refinishers.
A popular brand is Sunnyside Boiled Linseed Oil:
Note: boiled linseed oil still takes a fair amount of time to dry.
Depending on the climate and weather, it could take a few days.
Regular linseed oil, on the other hand, could take weeks if not months to dry.
FYI, boiled linseed oil is highly flammable.
So be sure to read the safety directions on the label.
Tung oil is derived from the nuts of the tung tree, (which was originally grown in China).
In the opinion of many professionals, Tung oil produces a much more attractive finish than linseed oil.
Linseed oil will “yellow” as it ages, not Tung oil.
Plus, Tung oil is more water-repellent.
But if you choose the Tung oil route, be sure to purchase 100% pure Tung oil.
Otherwise, you’ll be buying Tung oil that contains varnish and/or mineral spirits (paint thinner). Which is basically your average “teak oil.”
The downside of Tung oil is the work involved in applying it.
You need to sand it down after each coat in order to get a really shiny finish. And you’ll need to apply 5 to 7 coats.
Plus, each coat could take up to 3 days to dry.
So, if you’re still interested, Hope’s Tung oil is a good choice.
Varnish protects teak really well and has a very nice finish.
It forms a hard, impenetrable shell-like surface that repels water, dirt, and oily spills that might otherwise stain the wood.
However (there’s always a downside, isn’t there?)
Because varnish is clear, it doesn’t protect teak from the sun’s UV rays.
In other words, it’ll darken the wood.
For that reason, some varnishes contain sunscreen—UV inhibitors.
But because humidity and temperature changes will cause teak to shrink and swell…
Regular varnish will crack, blister and peel.
Though for your indoor teak, regular varnish will work fine.
For your outdoor teak…
The recommended solution is spar varnish.
Spar varnish is the universal choice of boaters, because it handles sun, UV rays, humidity and temperature changes much better than regular varnish.
Spar varnish typically contains linseed oil and/or tung oil, among other ingredients, which creates a softer, more flexible finish.
But teak, because of its high oil content, doesn’t hold varnish, or any finish, all that well.
Which is why you’ll need to apply at least 6 coats.
And, depending on your climate and weather, you’ll need to strip the varnish and reapply it fairly regularly.
Now if that hasn’t thoroughly dissuaded you from varnishing your teak, Helmsman Spar Urethane is a good choice.
Finally, if you’re exasperated by all of the above less-than-perfect choices…
There is a way to maintain and protect your indoor and outdoor teak without much of the fuss and muss of oils and varnishes.
Unlike finishes that have limited protective qualities…
A quality teak sealer that contains a variety of polymers creates a strong protective coating—an impenetrable barrier.
Preventing the teak’s natural color from fading by blocking the effects of air, moisture, and UV rays.
At the same time, it seals-in the teak’s natural oils and resins.
Plus, it’s easy to apply, and will generally last up to a year before it needs to be reapplied.
However, your mileage will vary depending on climate and weather.
In other words, you might need to reapply it in 6 months or even 3 months, depending.
A popular sealer is water-based Semco Teak Sealer.
It comes in five different shades.
The “Natural Color” is the most popular variety for outdoor furniture.
But you can also choose from a Clear Finish, Classic Brown, Honey Tone and Gold Color.
It comes in a 1-gallon can, which should be enough to seal about 200 square feet, as a first coat.
A second coat will cover an area twice as large because you won’t need to apply it as thick as the first coat.
Just wait about an hour for the first coat to dry before applying the second.
Another popular water-based and solvent-free sealant is Golden Care Teak Protector.
TotalBoat Danish Sealer is another option.
Developed primarily for boaters, it's a no nonsense easy to apply sealant that works just as well on furniture.
When sealing teak you’ve owned for quite awhile, thoroughly clean the teak, as described above in the “cleaning section,” and let it dry completely.
Note: Sealers need an oil-free surface to attach to. So, after cleaning the wood wipe it down with a rag soaked in acetone to remove any oil from the surface.
Don’t worry, teak’s natural oils will not be affected by this “quick-flashing” solvent.
If your teak outdoor furniture is brand new…
Again, clean it as described above, then leave it out in the sun for about 2 weeks to open up the grains.
This will allow the sealer to better grab the wood.
Lastly, a few words about…
Using Outdoor Cushions on Teak
Some of teak’s natural oils, and any applied finishes, will bleed out of the wood, especially after it rains.
Not so though if the teak is already weathered, and has developed its characteristic silver-grey patina.
But if your teak is brand-spanking new, or newly finished…
After you’re done enjoying your day outside, remove your outdoor cushions from the teak.
Otherwise, the oils and finishes may leave a stain on your cushions.
However, if you forgot to remove your cushions, and you now have a light stain on them…
A gentle scrubbing with a sponge and dishwashing liquid, and a thorough hosing of the cushion, should do the trick.
For heavier stains, try something stronger, like Simple Green or Oxyclean. Or whatever your cushion manufacturer recommends.
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Thanks for visiting!
Barry, Mendy, Kaiya & Grizz