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Properly cleaned barn wood can be transformed into all sorts of indoor decor that will last a lifetime. Depending on what state the wood is in, cleaning it can get complicated. But there are a few common steps and different methods that can be taken.

Keep Safety in Mind

When prepping reclaimed barn wood for a new purpose, safety should be your top priority. For your safety, you’ll need eye protection, heavy-duty gloves, and a mask. Once you have personal protective equipment on, the first cleaning step is to remove any unsafe objects from the barn wood. This includes any nails, staples, fasteners, and other metal pieces.

Be sure you use the right tools for the job. A sturdy pair of pliers is often enough, but you might want to use specialized tools like nail and staple pullers to limit damage to the wood surface.

Don’t Under or Over Clean Reclaimed Wood

Removing surface grime is important, but cleaning and sanding the wood down too far will hinder the rustic beauty of the item that you’re crafting. The point of using reclaimed wood is to capture the unique texture of aged wood. Why even use it if you’re going to remove all of the patina that goes into showing the history of the wood? 

Meanwhile, a light cleaning may leave behind stuff you don’t necessarily want to bring into your home. You never know what kinds of grime, dust, and bugs could be layered onto reclaimed wood.

Mixing borax and water into a spray bottle is a great way to treat barn wood for bugs. While borax powder is deadly for insects, it’s completely safe for humans and pets.

Want to add reclaimed wood decor to your home? Skip the wood cleaning process!

Shop our reclaimed wood shelf collection

How To Clean the Barn Wood Yourself

Maybe you’ve already found the perfect piece of wood for your project. You just need to prep it. There are a few different DIY methods for cleaning barn wood:

  • Hose and bristle brush
  • Wire brush
  • Pressure washer
  • Steamer
  • Sandpaper
  • Freezer or oven

Hose and Bristle Brush

This method is very affordable, but it also takes the most work. Use the hose to rinse down the wood. Then use soapy water and the bristle brush to scrub it. Setting up the reclaimed wood on two sawhorses makes it a little easier.

Once you’re done scrubbing, rinse the wood off again and let it sit out in the sun to dry for a couple of days.

Wire Brush

A wire brush won’t provide the deeper clean you can get with a bristle brush. But it will help to remove any dirt, grime, and imperfections without losing the patina that comes from aging the wood.

Pressure Washer

With a large reclaimed wood project, pressure washing can help save a lot of time. But maybe you don’t want to buy a pressure washer. You may be able to rent one at an affordable price. 

If you want to clean the barn wood without changing the color, make sure you know how to handle a pressure washer. Too much pressure will strip away the wood patina and can even be strong enough to severely damage the surface.


A steamer won’t get down as deep as a pressure washer. But it will help sanitize the wood without changing its color.


To help keep the patina intact, hand sanding is preferred over palm sanding. Depending on your preference, you can sand the wood until it’s smooth or leave it a bit rough.

Turn to the Professionals

You could have professionals prepare the barn wood for indoor use. Kiln drying will remove the moisture from wood and kill off any bugs and bacteria that are inside of it. Air drying the wood is a more affordable option that takes much longer and isn’t as effective as a kiln.

Milling down a couple of sides of the wood is another option. It will help sanitize the wood, flatten it out, and cut down on its weight.If this is all sounding like a lot of work, you can skip cleaning old barn wood yourself. Instead, find a trusted company that uses reclaimed barn wood to make their products. At Urban Legacy, we use genuine materials to make our reclaimed wood shelves. All our shelves and reclaimed wood wall art are cut, cleaned, and ready for you to hang in your home. Have a custom reclaimed wood project? We’d love to hear more about it. Complete our custom project form and we’ll be in touch for more information.