5 smart tips for maintaining your wooden furniture

July 27, 2015

To keep the wood items in your home clean and protected, develop a regular schedule of dusting and polishing. Here are five tips for maintaining your wooden furniture and protecting the finish.

5 smart tips for maintaining your wooden furniture

1. How to choose a polishing cloth

Homemade cotton rags are great for dusting, but a commercial polishing cloth will put an extra shine on your fine wood furniture.

  • Usually yellow, polishing cloths are soft and have a fine flannel-like nap that helps them get into corners and crevices.

2. Dusting the right way

Dust does not harm wood furniture, but dusting the wrong way can.

  • Cotton diapers, old table napkins and terry towels make ideal cleaning rags that will not create static electricity.
  • Dust regularly. While the moisture in a dusting spray helps to pick up dust, other ingredients could dull a hardwood finish over time, and dusting sprays with silicone or oil can create a film that actually attracts dust.
  • Dusting sprays are excellent for laminated and polyurethane finishes. You should add dusting spray to the cloth, rather than directly on the furniture — the spray can mistakenly hit upholstery and other places where it doesn't belong.

3. Protecting tabletops

  • You can give further protection to tables and other wood surfaces by adding a 1/2-centimetre-thick (1/4-inch-thick) glass top with polished edges, custom-cut to size and shape.
  • Placing nickel-sized clear or brown pads under the corners of the glass will keep it slightly elevated above the table, so air can circulate.

4. Preserving valuable antiques

The term "antique" is given to most items when they are at least 100 years old.  All wood furnishings need care, but antiques require special considerations to preserve their value and original integrity.

The patina — the collected dirt and discolourment — that develops on old furniture over time and with use is a treasured asset, along with the original finish. So use restraint in dealing with antiques.

  • Dust, wax and polish, add some soap or beeswax to drawer slides to improve their movement, but don't do anything more without consulting a professional.
  • When dusting your antiques, use a clean, soft cotton rag, such as flannel; it will collect the dust without needing spray or liquid additives.
  • In carved wood details or gilded areas, dust gently with a large sable brush (a soft artist's brush).
  • Protect and polish the wood with beeswax (paste wax) or a softer mixture of beeswax plus carnauba wax, using a flannel cloth.

5. The right polish for your finish

When you polish, you are polishing the finish, not the wood itself. Select a polish appropriate for your finish; the label will tell you the types of surfaces that the polish is designed to clean.

If you use a liquid or formulated polish, use the same type each time you polish, since one brand may cloud or dull if applied over another.

  • An oil finish penetrates the wood and should be protected only with an oil-based polish. If you are unsure your furniture has an oil finish, apply a few drops of boiled linseed oil to the wood and rub gently. If it is absorbed, the wood has an oil finish; if droplets form, the wood has a hard finish such as varnish, shellac or polyurethane.
  • A hard finish creates a protective layer that sits on top of the wood. To determine your finish, dab a drop of acetone (found in some fingernail polish removers) on a hidden spot. Polyurethane will be unaffected, but lacquers, varnishes and shellacs will dissolve.
  • If the finish is shellac, it will be dulled or removed. Read the furniture polish label to find your finish or see if it's marked "multi-surface."

Follow these tips and you can extend the life of your wood surfaces and give your wood a healthy shine!

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