In an age of cheap, particle-board furniture, true heirloom furniture is hard to come by. If you’re lucky enough to come into a great piece of antique wood furniture, it’s worth preserving. In order to extend the life of your piece and keep it in great shape, you’ll need to thoroughly clean it; however, cleaning antique furniture can be difficult if you don’t know how to go about it. To make your antique furniture sparkle like new without causing damage, follow this step-by-step process.
1. Start by gently removing any surface dust, dirt, or grime from the piece. Begin with a soft, dry cloth to pick up anything easily removed. Then follow with a diluted solution of degreasing dish soap and warm water. Wash the wood lightly with a cloth dampened in the solution – as you wash, the wood should be lightly damp without feeling “wet.” Never use abrasive sponges or scrubbers on your antique wood furniture, as these can damage the finish. It’s also not recommended to use chemical solvents or cleaners, which can cause irreparable damage. In most cases, surface dirt and grime can be solved through patient, gentle scrubbing.
Once you’re satisfied that the piece is thoroughly clear of surface dirt, wipe it dry with a clean, dry cloth.
2. Very often, older wooden furniture will have characteristic white spots or streaking that seem to be embedded into the wood grain itself. This phenomenon is a bi-product of excessive moisture, which has become trapped behind the finish or within the wood grain itself.
While sometimes this damage is irreparable, the following technique can help remove or drastically reduce the appearance of these spots:
- Place a piece of heavy ink blotting paper over the affected area. It’s important that thick-weight blotting paper will be used, as this paper is specially designed to wick away moisture.
- Turn a clothing iron on low heat, and place it on top of the blotting paper, gently pressing down. Hold the iron firmly in place for several seconds, then begin moving the iron in a gentle circle motion around the paper.
- This gentle ironing will help to vaporize the latent moisture within the wood, which is then wicked into the blotting paper.
3. It’s not uncommon for old wooden furniture that’s been stored in an attic, basement, or garage to take on an unpleasant odor.
This odor can best be cured through the “old fashioned” methods that the furniture builders themselves would have originally used.
If at all possible, leave the piece outdoors for a few days. This is only plausible if the weather will be fair – neither too hot nor too cold – and there’s no chance of rain. Also make sure the piece is protected from direct sunlight, which can damage the finish.
After the piece has aired out, bring it back indoors. Mix together equal parts fresh ground coffee, baking soda, and uncooked white rice. Spread this mixture evenly across the wood, and allow it to sit for several days. The mixture will soak up many of the unpleasant odors that tend to linger in aged wood. After a few days, use a vacuum to clear away the mixture.
4. As wood ages, the grain tends to open and separate, making it even more susceptible to staining and smudging. To protect your furniture from future damage, it’s important to regularly apply an oil-based furniture polish.
Take note that the wax-based polishes most commonly sold for modern furniture aren’t the best choice for antique furniture. Wax polishes tend to seal in dirt and moisture, and can actually cause damage over time.