Oil, wax, varnish or polish?

One of the most common questions about wood care indoors is: how do I properly care for my wooden table or solid wood furniture? There are several options here: the purists and enthusiasts oil and wax with natural products, those who want to have little maintenance work can use a hard wax oil and families who often spill liquids usually have their products painted.

Living room with wooden furniture decoration

Where's the difference?

A surface oiled with natural oil is called open-pored. A lacquered surface is a full seal and completely shields the wood from environmental influences. The hard wax oil is something in between, but more in the direction of varnish. Here an artificial layer is created in the wood, comparable to paint or plastic, which looks rather unpainted, but creates a kind of plastic seal in the first millimeter of the wood surface.

The problem is: if a glass of red wine tips over and the liquid is not wiped off within approx. 15 minutes, the red wine, as well as other liquids of course, will slowly soak into the wood in the case of open-pored seals. This ultimately results in the well-known - mostly round - water spots. This cannot happen with a 100% sealed system, such as a paint job. That is why a painted surface seems more advantageous for families with small children.

After a few years, however, the tables turn. The lacquer can get hairline cracks or even real scratches due to damage, which cut through the lacquer layer, whereby moisture can penetrate into the wood. This moisture would like to escape again, but this is not possible because of the paint layer still remaining to 99.5%. The moisture spreads under the paint layer, which ultimately leads to the paint peeling off and an unsightly surface.

If the surface is unsightly:

This is exactly where the big difference comes in. A purely oiled surface with a natural oil can also be re-oiled selectively at any time, whereby the complete surface always has to be completely sanded off in the case of a complete seal. In the case of lacquered tabletops, the underside even has to be sanded down and then repainted. As a rule, this is not feasible for private individuals, and the table has to be expensive in the carpenter's shop. You can easily refresh yourself with a natural oil. But be careful: by natural oil we mean oils that do not contain any siccatives (quick hardness additive), but naturally harden in oxygen.

How long do the surfaces last?

A table is more stressed than a staircase. This is based on the fact that a higher weight acts briefly on the stairs, but a table surface is often treated with a damp microfiber tea towel or sponge several times a day.
A lacquered surface can withstand this for several years; A table that has only been oiled needs some oil to freshen up several times a year, but can then last forever.

What the surfaces look like:

It is very clear that a treatment with a natural oil, and thus an open-pored surface, gives the most natural look and texture. A good oil also emphasizes the wood grain, and the piece of furniture comes into its own. Lacquered surfaces usually shine and appear artificial. Here, beauty has to be weighed against comfort.

Mode of action HeliaCARE 3 component system

3 component system

HeliaCARE has developed an ecological 3-component system with which you can take excellent care of your table / furniture. The three products oil, balm and wax are coordinated and combine all the advantages of open-pored surface care. Contrary to most other products on the market, it is possible to apply care oil at a later point in time after applying wax.

Oil the untreated table

In the case of a new, as yet untreated table / piece of furniture, which has been treated with an ORGANIC NATURAL OIL such as HeliaCARE PREMIUM Fine Woodwork should be admitted, please proceed as in the instructions described. The first application is unproblematic. The more oil is sucked in, the more it darkens. The application must then be refreshed 2 to 3 times a year (approx. 10 minutes).

Polishes / wax

Furniture polishes are very often solvent-based and liquid. You can use it to fill fine hairline cracks in the surface of the furniture, and in some cases - as with a car polish - achieve an excellent result. The surface then has to be varnished (formerly shellac). Furniture wax and / or wood balm, also known as wood butter, are available for open-pored wood surfaces. Many products contain Canauba wax with orange oil and additives for quick hardening. One speaks of so-called hard waxes. On the other hand, there are soft wax products that are mostly made on the basis of beeswax. PROBLEM: once a polish or hard wax has been applied, it is difficult or even impossible for a care oil to penetrate deep into the wood. The HeilaCARE wood balm and the HeliaCARE wood wax are an exception here, as the two products contain parts of care oil, which gives the oil the opportunity to re-oil the wood when the care product is applied. See also the HeliaCARE 3 component system Care oil, care balm and care wax.

HeliaCARE wood balm can

Oil / varnish / oil

Painting the oiled table:
Under no circumstances can varnish be applied to a table that has already been oiled !!!!
Here the table has to be completely sanded down. Only then can you paint normally (it is advisable to treat the underside as well).

Treat the lacquered table with oil:
A lacquered table can be treated with oil as long as the layer of lacquer is still completely intact. The result is comparable to a furniture polish. However, if the paint layer is already clearly cracked and partially chipped, the oil would suck into the wood at these points and the surface would be unevenly stained. It then only helps to sand it off completely.

HeliaCARE wood wax can

Treat the table with oil

You have to be very careful here. If you have already embedded the wood surface with an open-pored natural oil, such as HeliaCARE PREMIUM Fine Woodwork, then you can safely apply new oil with a cloth at any time, even selectively. There are no problems here at all. Water stains can also be sanded away selectively and re-oiled at this point. That works very well - see at instructions under SMART REPAIR.
It becomes difficult if the table / furniture has already been oiled with another oil that contains artificial additives for hardening. Even if the manufacturer advertises with nature etc., it must be ensured that no "plastic" layer has formed in the wood. This is because the new oil cannot penetrate through this, and this creates unsightly stains. If edible oils were previously used, such as olive oil, walnut oil, rapeseed oil, etc., then other natural oils can be applied to them. However, edible oils are fundamentally unsuitable for the surface treatment of wood. In Germany, linseed oil varnish is only available with hardening accelerators (siccatives), which then equates to a hard wax oil (a kind of plastic layer in the wood). Pure linseed oil, such as HeliaCARE Premium linseed oil, does not contain any siccatives. However, we do not recommend it for kitchen tables or furniture, as this oil may develop its own odor indoors.
So if it is not clear which care product / oil has already been applied (e.g. when purchasing a used table / piece of furniture), please experiment in the non-visible area. If you have the option of sanding a treated backside and you notice that the sanding discs are immediately smeared - then a care product with hardening additives has definitely been applied. Then there are only two options: either sand it off completely immediately, or apply the new care oil, hope it works, and if not, sand it off completely;).
Oils that contain pigments, i.e. colored oils with siccatives (hardening accelerators), can be applied over other hard wax oils or linseed oil varnish - this is actually like "painting over" and the risk of irregular staining is low. But always follow the manufacturer's recommendation here!

HeliaCARE wood care oil Fine Woodwork can

If there are problems:
Below is a photo of how it shouldn't happen. The owner of this beautiful dining table did not know that the previous owner had applied a hard wax oil. He meant well and sanded "a little", but did not completely remove the old coating (sanded too little). Now, after applying the new maintenance oil, you can see that the surface has not become even. The reason for this is self-explanatory: The only partially removed “plastic” layer in the wood did not allow the new oil to penetrate evenly into the wood, and this is how the color differences and stains occur. The only thing that helps here is sanding off completely, and then applying an open-pored natural oil - which can then be re-oiled at any time.

Wood texture by using HeliaCARE products
Wood grain through the use of HeliaCARE products

HeliaCARE BIO wood protection

We at HeliaCARE have set ourselves the goal of developing a product range for private users for ecological wood protection and care that is not only food-safe, but also food-grade. In theory, most of our products could even be consumed. In the private sector, occupational safety is often difficult to comply with, and there is little desire to wear gloves and respiratory protection when oiling, and this is exactly where HeliaCARE comes into play: because we are no better than others, only are our products without chemical additives, as well as sustainably produced in Germany.

Product family HeliaCARE Wood
wooden furniture table
wooden bowl
wooden table above


  • Avatar for Birgit Hebestreit
    Birgit Hebestreit

    Got a nice oak dining table yesterday. The description only says: oiled
    Now I've been reading around for a while to see what is the best way to take care of it.
    If I understand correctly, oil is the best option because it is deeply absorbed (which of your oils would you recommend for an oak dining table?)
    Then you also describe your 3-component system of oil, balm and wax.
    Do I not "smear" the pores with the wax so that I can no longer oil them afterwards? Or do I have to "remove" the wax again before the next oiling? I haven't quite realized that yet.

    • Avatar for Team HeliaCARE
      Team HeliaCARE

      Thanks for your question.
      Basically you are right. The prevailing opinion is that if wax has been applied, you can actually no longer apply oil later.
      But that is not correct because there are different types of wax. Hard wax such as Canauba wax and soft wax such as beeswax. In addition, there is the "problem" that some manufacturers add additional accelerators to their wax for hardening (including hard wax oils), which then result in a completely lacquer-like seal. Then no more oil will run through later.
      HeliaCARE does NOT use any hardening additives and only beeswax = soft wax. Means that this soft wax is worn away somewhat over time (because the table is cleaned with a damp cloth every day) and, on the other hand, remains an open-pored structure. Although it is less open-pored than if you only use oil, it is still sufficiently open so that thin oil (such as HeliaCARE Fine Woodwork) can still be drawn in. It is then correct that it takes significantly longer for the oil to be drawn in, but it is still drawn in.
      In your specific case, I give you the following advice: You state that your table was delivered “only oiled”, but you don't know which oil and whether it was an oil with or without hardening additives. In this case, I would recommend first of all to use only one oil without hardening additives (e.g. Fine Woodwork), and check whether that is not enough for maintenance. You should see how quickly the oil is absorbed. If it is hardly absorbed at all, then the table has been treated with an oil with hardening additives (probability 50:50 without having seen a picture). You can use the HeliaCARE wood balm (oil with beeswax without hardening additives), but please apply very little (one square meter needs as much balm as you put toothpaste on the toothbrush). I advise against using a hard wax or hard wax oil. This is irreversible and in order to renew an order here, you always have to sand down beforehand. You should only use a HeliaCARE wood wax if you have not noticed any problems with the balm for several weeks / months. Here, too, please only apply very thinly. The good; Soft waxes such as beeswax can always be "washed off" with very hot water if necessary. With the HeliaCARE products you do not run the risk of damaging your beautiful table in the long term.

  • Avatar for Werner Stanzel
    Werner Stanzel

    Hallo zusammen
    Kann ich das Öl und Balsam aus dem Starterset auch für meine Bambus Bretter benutzen?


    • Avatar for Team HeliaCARE
      Team HeliaCARE

      Ja klar, wenn es für den Eigenbedarf ist. ;.)

      Nur Holzwerkern die Schneidebretter verkaufen, empfehlen wir das extra auf pflanzliche Allergenstoffe getestete Schneidebrett Öl von HeliaCARE und den Schneidebrett Balsam.

      Viel Freude beim Basteln !

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