How to Clean Chess Pieces & Boards

When playing chess, your chess set up, your mind, and your chess pieces are the elements that make up your chess tool kit, as, without them, you simply couldn’t play. There are lots of blogs out there about how to play the game better, but not so many about how to keep your chess set in mint condition, whether talking about a top-of-the-range marble chess set or a themed Star Wars chess set.


As your shiny new chess set arrives, it’s either waxed, polished or shined. Either way it looks incredible! There’s nothing quite like the feeling of unboxing a new set. However, like everything, it takes care to keep chess sets looking amazing and that’s precisely what we look at here.

By reading this article to the end, you’ll know how to keep your pride and joy clean, regardless of what materials it’s made of. Chess pieces and chess boards made from a wide variety of materials and they all need different considerations to avoid damage.

That’s precisely what we look at here, as some chess equipment can be really valuable and be passed down through the family as a treasured heirloom if it’s looked after correctly. The steps you take today will ensure that your grandchildren will have the same aesthetically pleasing chess experience you did the first time you played.

That said, taking proper care of your chess set isn’t only for really expensive equipment, as even relatively inexpensive sets need to be maintained so that all the pieces and the board are in good condition the next time you go to play with them. So, without further hyperbole, why not sit back and relax while we explain how to keep your chess set looking great.

How to Clean Chess Pieces

Now, as we play chess, it’s unavoidable that over time, the pieces and the board become dirty. Many factors like the natural oils on our hands and dust can contribute to a dulling of your chess set’s aesthetic feel and appearance. Many standard varieties of chess sets will come with their own manufacturer’s cleaning instructions. If this is the case, then it’s recommended that you follow them to the letter.

Chess pieces come in a wide range of materials. Let’s look at each one and how to properly and safely clean them.

How to Clean Wooden Chess Pieces

Often though, chess sets get passed down through the family, so they don’t come with cleaning instructions. The correct way to clean your set will depend very much on what it’s made of and by far the most common type is the wooden chess set. Some people choose to use standard furniture polish, but that’s not really advisable, as some products can leave behind a mark on a wooden chessboard.

The problem is that once those marks are there, they’re very difficult to remove. What we’d recommend instead is using a cotton cloth that’s been lightly dipped in a weak white vinegar and water solution. This not only eliminates germs but also kills odours and allows your chess equipment to be buffed up to a shine. 

The vast majority of wooden chess pieces are coated thinly in shellac, a natural polish to protect the wood underneath from the oils produced by our skin. Cleaning them is pretty simple, involving wiping them down with a soft, damp cloth and then drying them off with another clean cloth. 

Some wooden chess pieces, however, come with a thick lacquered coat (usually nitrocellulose or melamine) and so they’re quite robust. Cleaning can be achieved with a lint-free dust cloth or a little mild soapy water if they become soiled.

How to Clean Stone and Marble Chess Pieces

Another material that’s used to create some truly stunning chess sets is a marble. Whilst marble is quite hard to damage, it can be tarnished relatively easily. That’s why when cleaning, you shouldn’t scrub at stains for fear of allowing them to seep into the marble. Instead, you should try and blot any spills up, and cleaning should be conducted with gentle chemicals. Absolutely don’t use an acid-based cleaner like lemon or alcohol as it could cause harm.

All you need to do is wipe your stone or marble chess pieces with a dry cloth or a damp cloth if a more thorough clean is needed. This works well for both marble chess pieces and marble boards.

How to Clean Metal Chess Pieces

Again, metal chess pieces need to be protected from the oils on our fingers and that’s also usually achieved using a clear, thin coat of lacquer. So, it’s the same procedure as before. Wipe with a lint-free cloth and use weak soapy water if they get sticky or soiled.

That said, they don’t always come with this lacquer, but the good news is that these metal chess pieces are usually manufactured from a metal that’s hard to tarnish. So, a wipe down with dry or damp cloth - depending on how dirty they are - is typically enough.

How to Clean Plastic Chess Pieces

If you own plastic chess pieces, you’ll be pleased to know that they’re the least likely to need aftercare, so if they get dirty or tarnished, you won’t have to worry too much about damaging them during cleaning. A wipe down with a damp cloth or a clean with mild soapy water will suffice.

How to Clean Polyresin Chess Pieces

The last chess pieces we look at are made from poly resin and the good news is that they’re another type that doesn’t require much aftercare. However, it is recommended that you don’t use any harsh chemicals, polishes or waxes. A damp cloth is usually enough to get the job done.

How to Clean Chess Boards

Chess boards are also made from a wide variety of materials. We now look at the correct way to clean them and keep them looking immaculate.

Solid Wood Lacquered Chess Boards

Typically speaking, wooden chess boards have a gloss lacquer (nitrocellulose or melamine) that gives them something of a shiny finish. Whichever type of lacquer is used, dirt can grime can be easily cleaned away with a damp cloth that‘s been dipped in mild soapy water.

If you find that you get scratches in the lacquer over time, you can polish them out before cleaning again to avoid damaging the wood underneath.

Polished Solid Wood Chess Boards

Wooden chess boards also come with a polished finish which is usually an animal-based wax like beeswax. This provides great protection, however, unlike lacquer, it’s not permanent. This means that you’ll need to reapply wax from time to time to maintain the protective layer.

Generally speaking, it’s recommended to reapply wax every 6-8 months and avoid turpentine-based waxes as they can be quite toxic. Other than that, a regular wipe down with a lint-free cloth is enough to keep them clean.

Glass Chess Boards

If you have a glass chess board, keeping it clean is pretty easy, as it’s just a matter of washing it down - due to the fact that there are no inner-materials that need protecting. However, you don’t want to leave streaks behind, so it’s recommended that you use white vinegar and water solution for a smear-free finish - just like when cleaning your windows.

Marble Chess Boards

If you’re lucky enough to have a chess set made of marble or stone, you’re going to need to take a slightly different approach to your cleaning. That’s because damage can be caused when natural stone is exposed to acid, meaning that using vinegar may very well have an adverse effect. 

Leather Chess Boards

You’ll also find chess boards created from leather, which aren’t quite as robust as their wooden, metal and marble counterparts. The top side of the board is able to be cleaned with a damp sponge or cloth both for general maintenance and when dealing with spills.

This type of board also requires you to look after the underside of the board, so you should be sure to keep it away from any substances or liquids that might be absorbed into the leather.

Chess Set Storage is Also Vital for Maintenance

Whether you’ve got a standard chess set or a novelty Game of Thrones chess set, how you store it will play a big part in how well kept it is. Whether your chess equipment is just used in the comfort of your own home or you like to take it with you to your local chess club, it’s important to use proper storage to keep it in tip-top condition.

What you should never do - especially when talking about a wooden chess set - is leave it exposed to humidity, high temperatures or direct sunlight. Also, if you’re keeping your chess pieces in the same place as your board, you should make sure to place a soft cloth in between the board and the pieces to prevent scratching.


The Protection Provided by Chess Boxes

You’ll find an entire myriad of chess piece storage boxes and they’re very popular with chess players as they are the ideal way to keep your chess pieces protected and well organised. They come in as many shapes, sizes, and materials as the chess sets that go inside, so it’s easy enough to get a chess box that matches the style and finish of your set.

The important thing in this scenario is a storage method that keeps each piece of your chess set apart. Some people choose to keep their pieces in a bag with a drawstring, however, this can lead to wear and tear resulting from the pieces rubbing against each other. It might seem like a minor point, but small factors like these can result in real damage over time.

The Good News is...Chess Sets Can Be Repaired

If you have a chess set and it has seen better days, the good news is that not all is lost, as scratches can be removed. If you’ve got a chess set that has a lacquer coating, you can buy scratch removal cream that will have your pieces and board looking brand new again with a little elbow grease.

We’d certainly recommend staying away from ammonia or petroleum-based compounds to remove scratches though, as it can lead to damage. Metal chess sets that feature a lacquered coating can also be helped in this way.

Look After Your Chess Equipment & It Will Look After You

Whether you’ve got an ornate glass chess set or a standard wooden chess set, the principle is the same - look after it and it will provide you with hours and hours of stimulating fun. Maintaining your chess set doesn’t take long, as it only takes a bit of forethought and the will to clean and store your chess set correctly every time you use it.

At Official Staunton Chess Company, we offer the finest chess sets you’ll find online. In fact, we are the world’s premier location for the very best in chess equipment and we’re proud of the fact that we bring joy to people by helping them to enjoy the game at an entirely new level. Just try playing the game with one of our high-quality sets and you’ll soon see what we mean.

Your Source for the Finest Chess Sets Around

So, as you can see, there are many different varieties of chess boards and chess pieces out there that all call for specific ways of cleaning. Follow the tips we’ve shown you here and there’s no reason why your chess equipment can’t last you a lifetime. And all it takes is a little care.

At The Official Staunton Chess Company, we offer the finest range of luxury chess sets you will find anywhere online. If you’re looking for a quality set for yourself or a loved one, we have an incredible range of beautiful products to enhance your playing enjoyment.

You can find our complete selection by visiting us online at www.officialstaunton.com, where you’ll also discover other blogs like this one to help provide a better understanding of one of the oldest games in existence. Alternatively, give us a call on 01948 880 060 if you have any questions that can’t be answered on our website.