Purchasing a piece of antique furniture is an exciting thing. Adding a showstopping item for your home can provide years of comfort and conversation. It can also demand a certain level of care to ensure your piece lasts and looks good. Wood furniture especially needs close attention. Neglect can leave old wood’s finish looking drab, dingy, and dull. Fortunately, there are simple ways to maintain the luster and shine of the wood on your chairs, sofa, table, or other items. Here’s how to properly clean old wood furniture and keep it looking good and in the family for years to come!
Keep It Protected
The best way to keep your furniture clean is to ensure it avoids the things that ruin or make wood and its finish look dull and lifeless. Some stains are likely to fade or darken in response to the amount of sunlight they’re exposed to. Keep furniture out of bright sunlight or ensure that the windows of the room the furniture is sitting in are equipped with curtains or blinds to cut down on sunlight during the brightest parts of the day. Mind the humidity levels in your home as well. Add a dehumidifier to the space if the climate is overly humid. Finally, handle antique furniture with care. Be gentle when moving or placing it, and keep drinks and other hot or wet objects off the wood—especially with tables and chair and sofa arms. If the furniture comes into contact with moisture, it can leave rings on the finish. You also risk warping the wood. Keep drinks away, or invest in a quality set of coasters.
Keep It Clean
For starters, don’t make cleaning handmade wood furniture a once-a-month event. Take time during that month to give the wood a swift and untreated wipe down with a microfiber cloth. This will keep the dust from settling and getting ground into the grain. A swift run over the cushions of your chair or couch with a handheld vacuum cleaner will also help, but make sure to use a gentle brush attachment to avoid nicks and scratches while you clean. Make a house rule about not eating or drinking on the furniture as well, and let kids know that roughhousing isn’t allowed. Basic maintenance will make your job easier during the deeper monthly cleaning.
Do a Monthly Deep Clean
A deep cleaning involves the actions mentioned above, as well as a few treatments and cleaners that don’t need to be applied every day. Start by dampening a lint-free microfiber cloth with water and a non-harsh detergent like dishwashing soap. Despite the rules above about keeping the wood dry, a little dampness is needed to thoroughly clean it. Just make sure that after you’ve applied the detergent, you use another dry cloth to collect the water and detergent at once. Some people advise using a solution of vinegar and water as a green alternative to detergents. This is a viable way to clean your furniture, but ensure you’re using the right mixture. Other sites advise using olive oil, but this is inadvisable for furniture. Whatever you use, test its effect on the wood in an out-of-the-way place on the piece. If it harms the finish, obviously, don’t use it!
Polish It Up
To make the wood look extra appealing, you can employ a wax or other furniture polish. It is assumed that your furniture has retained its original finish or has been refinished. If not, consider having it refinished by a professional. Otherwise, you need to periodically apply wax or polish to protect the finish and make it shine. Polish and wax also cover and prevent scratches and other damage from outside forces. Waxes come in different forms, and some are thinner than others upon application. These will require more frequent applications, but a good paste wax finish can last for two years or more. Read up and watch videos about applying wax, because a bad application can make your furniture look messy, streaked, and drab. Start with a gentle and light coat and see how it looks. If its appearance makes it clear it needs another coat, give it one. After application, clean it off with another clean cloth and assess the results. A deeper, richer look can be achieved with more wax, but don’t overdo it!
Sometimes older furniture involves beautifully handcrafted ornamentation that’s a royal pain to keep clean. While it's easy to wipe down a large surface like a tabletop, the curlicues, and carved decorations on a table leg, for example, may not accommodate your microfiber cloth, sponge, or another cleaning device. Use a soft, clean toothbrush and your cleaning solution to get into the nooks and crannies of a piece. Dust has a habit of building up in hard-to-reach spots. For ink stains left behind by an unmindful writer, create a paste of baking soda and water and gently wipe it into the stains. Immediately clean up the excess with a wet cloth, and then dry it off. Baking soda can be abrasive, so too much of a good thing can hurt. Go easy on it.
Tips and Tricks
When learning how to properly clean old wood furniture, it helps to know some other tips and tricks that will make owning an old piece a greater pleasure. For example, while it’s thrilling to discover a neglected piece of handmade wood furniture in a thrift store or old barn, sometimes that neglect manifests itself in unpleasant ways. Mildew and mold can be easily removed with the soap and water solution, but the fabric parts of a piece may have absorbed nastier things. Consider reupholstering the piece for animal odors and the like, but sometimes a quick dusting of talcum powder or baking soda can remove musty odors. Be sure a piece doesn’t show evidence of insect infestation by looking for chewed-up areas or dust. You might want to reconsider bringing a piece like that home.
While it’s important to care for antique handmade wood furniture, don’t forget what it’s meant for: beautifying your home and bringing people closer together! Treat your furniture well, but take advantage of the artisanship and craft that went into its creation. It’s furniture, not a museum piece. Let it bring a fresh look to your home with its elder charm!