We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission.
About a year ago, I posted a photo of a super sad piece of wood furniture to my Instagram Stories asking my community if there was anything short of a full, professional refinishing that could make the surface look better. (It was something I’d bought at a yard sale that I felt wasn’t worth the refinishing costs.) Many people chimed in, but my friend Shamika Lynch, the founder of Maximizing Tiny Interiors, came to the rescue with a brilliant product that works almost as well as refinishing.
It’s called Restor-A-Finish (made by the wood care company Howard) and it costs about $10 for a 16-ounce bottle. Lynch promised me it would have my furniture looking its best in no time. She recommended cleaning the wood with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser first — a tip I’d never heard before that she’d found on Pinterest. Lynch was also gracious to answer my questions about how bad the stuff smells and if I could use it in my small apartment. Her answers: not too bad and yes, but only with all the windows open and fans running — better to take it outside if possible.
The only problem was actually finding Restor-A-Finish. I was eager to buy it in person so I could be more confident in matching my wood tones. It turns out this specialty product is not stocked in every hardware store, so call ahead before seeking it out or order it online. Once I found a hardware store that carried it, I picked the closest match I could find to my piece.
After a thorough cleaning, including Lynch’s Magic Eraser hack, I was ready to test it out. Applying the Restor-A-Finish with a rag, I was a bit nervous I had chosen too dark a hue, but as I worked the product into the wood, it became clear that a miracle was happening. My sad, sorry furniture looked fresh and renewed — not refinished, but so much better than before.
I let the product dry completely and then buffed in a coating of Feed-N-Wax (an optional extra step). I was hooked. Once I completed that first piece, I ended up using Restor-A-Finish on several other similar-toned wood pieces in my home (you can see two such pieces in process below, with the Restor-A-Finish-treated piece on the right) and found myself wondering why I hadn’t tried this before.
I should note that I used Restor-A-Finish on inexpensive pieces that were headed to the landfill if I didn’t improve them. This product gives a permanent finish, so I’d caution against using it on a fine antique, anything of particularly sentimental value, or even a moderately valuable mid-century piece. According to Howard’s site, “Restor-A-Finish penetrates and permanently restores most wood finishes without removing any of the existing finish — this is why it is very popular for antiques.” The word “most” in their description gave me pause.
Curious for another pro’s take on the product, I emailed my friend Mary Duffy, founder of Maine Mid Century. She wrote back immediately to say she would never use Restor-A-Finish because it can complicate professional refinishing services down the road. “Restor-A-Finish eventually bleeds into the wood, permanently staining the furniture and making it impossible to professionally refinish properly later,” she says. Essentially, the product melts the existing lacquer finish down and redistributes it.
“It looks good!” Duffy said about my recent project. “But because the finish was failing already, it can and will eventually seep below the finish and discolor the wood.” Fortunately, I’d used it on items that had no resale value. So with that warning, I encourage you to go buff up your yard sale finds so they can live another day.
This piece is part of Money Month, where we’re covering everything from side hustles to down payments to a beginner’s guide to investing. Head over here to read more!