Wood Furnishings Care
Should you dust, clean, or wax your wood furniture? Read these suggestions followed by some tips from the experts.
FROM THE BOOK, MAKING A HOME and online at
Are you confused about dusting vs. cleaning, or waxing vs. polishing wood furniture?
While experts have varying opinions on the care of wood furniture, it usually depends on the finish of the piece.
On the following pages are many helpful tips from the book, Making a Home.
Always ask for specific care and cleaning guidelines when purchasing new or old furnishings.
Don't avoid dusting furniture. Frequent dusting removes airborne deposits that build up in a filmy layer and can scratch the surface.
Clean, dry, soft cloths or feather dusters will effectively remove dust; however, to avoid scattering the dust into the air, where it floats until landing back on furniture surfaces, dampen the cloth very slightly.
Tools for Dusting
Classic feather duster: An ostrich-feather duster removes dust from easily damaged, delicate surfaces, such as silk lampshades, mirrors, picture frames and art, and fragile collectibles.
Treated cloths: For dusting, soft, nonscratching cloths pick up and hold dirt. Use them in place of silicon sprays, which are not recommended for fine wood furniture.
Lamb's-wool duster: These contain lanolin, which attracts dust and makes it cling to the cleaning tool. They're also effective for dusting carved or turned areas that cloths can't reach. A long handle makes them ideal for hard-to-reach areas, including light fixtures and ceiling fans.
Soft, lint-free cloths: Clean cotton T-shirts or diapers are commonly used. Dampen them slightly to help trap dust.
Terry towels: Use a clean dry towel to remove any moisture left from dusting with a damp cloth.
Never use all-purpose cleaning sprays unless your furniture has a plastic coating, such as the kind used on kitchen tables and children's furniture.
You'll usually want to avoid cleaning wood with water. However, sticky spots may need to be treated with soap and water. Here's how: dip the cloth in mild soap or detergent dissolved in water, wring the cloth nearly dry, and wipe the area. Rinse and immediately dry with a clean, soft cloth.
Oil polishes, cleaners, and furniture oils protect wood by making the surface more slippery; they do not offer a hard protective layer.
Products that contain a high percentage of oil make the surface smear, showing fingerprints. Avoid polishing with pure olive oil, which smears and attracts dust.
Most commercial spray and liquid furniture polishes contain silicone oil, which provides some protection. If you have used sprays and polishes in the past or suspect that furniture has been polished with them, be aware that residues can interfere with refinishing and may need professional attention.
Homemade recipe for cleaning wood: Some experts recommend reviving grimy wood furniture with a mixture of equal parts olive oil, denatured alcohol, gum turpentine, and strained lemon juice. Apply with a soft cloth and buff with a clean cloth.
As a first step to removing layers of grime, use an oil soap and water. Rinse and dry well. If the finish still seems dirty, clean lightly with #0000 steel wool dipped in a cleaning product. Some products with a milky appearance are formulated to dissolve both solvent-based and oil-based residues. Do not use mixtures containing boiled linseed oil, turpentine, or white vinegars. Museum conservators say these things darken wood and attract dust and lint. Instead, apply clear paste wax.
Remove hardware from the furniture piece. Clean with a metal or brass cleaner and buff. Reattach when completely dry.
Scratching the Surface
If the top of wood furniture is slightly scratched, apply paste wax or use a felt-tip touch up pen.
To treat deeper scratches that gouge into the wood, use wood filler or a colored filler wax stick available at hardware and home improvement stores. Match as closely as possible to the color of your piece, applying in several thin layers rather than in one thick layer.
Adapted from the book, Making a Home (Meredith, 2001).