Troubleshooting tips to care for wooden furniture

July 27, 2015

Water, rough handling and negligence are wood's worst enemies. This is true for any piece of furniture or accessory that is completely or partially constructed of wood. With a few precautions and proper care, however, you can make good wood furnishings — ornate or plain, new or old — endure for generations to come. Here are a few troubleshooting tips to care for your wood furniture.

Troubleshooting tips to care for wooden furniture

1. To eliminate stains

Chalky white stains can be minimized or eliminated.

  • Apply toothpaste (not gel) with a clean cloth and rub gently following the grain. Wipe with a clean damp cloth, followed by a dry one.
  • If toothpaste doesn't work, rub the spot gently with mineral spirits and #0000 steel wool, following the grain.
  • Or, try coating the stain with a thick layer of petroleum jelly and leaving it there 48 hours. The jelly should soak into the stain and even out its colour.

2. To hide marks and scratches

Scratches and marks can be disguised in a number of ways.

  • Use a wax polish containing a stain. This product is purchased by wood colour, such a "light oak" or "dark oak." Apply it with the usual two-step method. Since this is a thick liquid or soft paste, protect the floor or carpet with a drop cloth in case of a spill.
  • Wood filler comes in a variety of colours as well. Apply it with your finger, then wipe away with a damp cloth.
  • Coloured wax fillers, those crayon-like sticks carpenters use to fill in the holes above recessed nails, will also fill in scratches on furniture. Match them to the wood's colour.
  • A child's crayon, selected in a matching colour, will also fill scratches. Soften the crayon with a hair dryer, then rub it over the scratch. Wipe the excess away using a dry rag.
  • Fresh walnut or pecan meat rubbed over a shallow scratch on light woods will disguise a small scratch.

3. To remove built-up polish

Layers of polish can dull the finish of wood furniture.

  • To remove the buildup, use a wood cleaner — not a stripper — to get back the original shine. Wood cleaners combine a mild solvent with oil to dissolve and lift built-up polish and dirt.
  • Use a commercial one, or make your own by mixing two parts vegetable oil (olive or lemon oil) with one part vinegar or lemon juice.
  • Apply it with a soft cloth and wipe clean.

4. To remove greasy buildup

  • Vegetable-oil-based cleaners will dissolve grease and accumulated grime on your wood without damaging its finish.
  • Apply and wipe off with a clean cloth only.
  • Repeat if necessary.
  • When the wood is clean, rinse by wiping it off with a damp cloth, then wipe dry with a dry cloth.

5. Wiping up spills

  • Clean up any spill as soon as you can, especially acidic drinks (soft drinks or fruit juice) or alcoholic ones.
  • Wipe with a clean cloth that is dry or slightly damp.
  • For sticky spots or dried-on residue, use a mild soap and water solution, but avoid overwetting the wood.
  • Follow with a clean damp cloth and then a dry one, wiping with the grain of the wood.
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