Cleaning oak beams

I wanted to minimise the use of steel in the building and I like the texture and appearance of untreated hard woods – that led to the importation of two eastern European oak beams for use in the barn.

That long journey (let’s not worry about carbon footprints for now) and a few weeks sitting outside on my yard left their marks on the beams. Both were water stained and blackened and in this state were installed into the barn and the first floor was built ‘on’ them.

Based on a combination of hind-sight and time earned experience here is the MyBarnConversion guide to cleaning oak (hardwood) beams.

If at all possible, clean the beams with a pressure washer prior to installation, that will save a lot of effort later.

oak beam before cleaning
oak beam before cleaning

oak beam being steam cleaned
oak beam being steam cleaned

oak beam before cleaning
cleaned oak beam!

If you’re unable to clean the beam before construction, then get out the elbow grease.

  • Wash down and scrape the beam to remove surface dirt and mold.
  • Use a steamer cleaner to open up the grain and clean into the beam, this will also have the effect of sterilising the wood. A wall paper steam remover will work fine.
  • Steam cleaning will begin to bring engrained dirt to the surface. You will find that badly stained wood will need to be scraped to remove the worst of it.
  • Using a combination of scraping and washing down (preferably with warm water and detergent) your beam will slowly become clean.
  • Rinse and repeat…
  • The wood may take some time to dry out, you’ll not be able to tell the final colour and finish until it’s dry, so don’t panic yourself into unnecessary cycles of the cleaning process.

Sand to remove particularly deep stains, splinters and scruffs.

I’ve read in a couple of places that sugar soap works well. Will give it ago as I have some other beams that need cleaning.






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