Rubberwood, a relative of domestic maple, produces a milky sap known as latex, the main ingredient in rubber. Rubberwood is harvested from trees that have reached the end of their latex production cycle. A native to Brazil but now cultivated in Asia and other tropical regions, rubberwood is also sometimes referred to as para rubbertree, or parawood.
Rubberwood is typically a component in inexpensive furniture or other household items imported to the United States Rubberwood tends to warp and twist when drying; it is rarely exported as raw lumber, although it is fairly stable when seasoned. Retail stores typically refer to it as "plantation hardwood" when it's sold as furniture. You likely won't be able to find rubberwood at lumberyards, and domestic woodworkers rarely get the chance to work with it.
Color and Stain
Rubberwood resembles domestic softwood, with an amber or straw color fading to cream -- and it may have a pinkish tint. It is typically stained to bring out natural grain patterns and mask its resemblance to softwood. Stained rubberwood furniture is found in a wide variety of colors.
On the Janka hardness scale, which ranks wood density, rubberwood ranks at the low end for a hardwood variety at 960. For comparison, domestic red oak, a familiar hardwood, ranks 1,290.
Rubberwood has low resistance to decay. It's also susceptible to attack by bugs. As with any other wood product, care should be taken to avoid direct sunlight. Rubberwood furniture should not be placed in the path of moisture-producing appliances such as swamp coolers, heating or cooling vents. Variations in temperature should be avoided when possible to avoid expansion and contraction of rubberwood.
Caring for rubberwood furniture typically depends on what type of finish is applied. Although rubberwood can be finished just like any other hardwood, lacquer is used the majority of the time. Paint may also be found on rubberwood. If you're not sure what type of finish it has, check with the manufacturer. Lacquer is a light, see-through coating. Polyurethane has a thicker, amber tint. An oil-based, hand-rubbed finish appears to have no topcoat at all and is soft.
Lacquer is brittle. Avoid contact with hard objects to prevent dents and scratches. For a quick dusting, use a soft, dry cloth. Avoid using water, but if the dust persists, it's acceptable to use a lightly dampened cloth, followed immediately with a dry cloth. Moisture causes lacquer to blush, or turn white. Test the dampened cloth on an inconspicuous area for starters, to see if it causes any discoloration. Wipe up drips or spills immediately with a dry cloth.
A solvent-based furniture cleaner may be used if necessary to remove stubborn grime or dirt from lacquered rubberwood, but test it before continuing with the cleaning. Follow up with a liquid polish to retain the shine. Liquid polishes are blends of natural, soluble waxes sold commercially. If, by chance, the rubberwood is finished with polyurethane, the procedure is the same as if it were a lacquered finish.
Cleaning Painted Rubberwood
If the painted surface has dirt that can't be removed with a damp cloth, wash it with a solution of nonabrasive, mild detergent and warm water. Use a lightly dampened cloth and work on small sections. Wipe the surface dry before continuing to the next section. Harsh abrasives or cleaning agents that contain solvents or ammonia can damage painted rubberwood and should be avoided.
Oil-based finishes take time and effort to achieve. The affordability of rubberwood furniture makes it unlikely that it has an oiled finish. If it does, however, maintain the finish with an application of boiled linseed oil once a year. Never use oils that do not harden, such as mineral oil, on rubberwood that has an oil-based finish.