Quality wood furniture can last a lifetime and is often a treasured heirloom, passed down through multiple generations. Still, even the highest quality wood is susceptible to scratches and abrasions if not properly cared for.
When purchasing furniture, it’s always a good idea to ask for specific cleaning and care instructions. For furnishings already in your home, here are 10 tips to keep the wood looking its best for many generations to come.
1. Don’t Mistreat Furniture
To avoid rings and heat damage, always use coasters when setting glasses or mugs on wood tables, and never place hot food directly on them without the protection of a trivet or potholder. Incorporate decorative placemats or a tablecloth to protect your dining room table from food and drink spills.
2. Avoid Environmental Damage
Sunlight, heat and other environmental factors can wreak havoc on your fine wood. Don’t place valuable furniture in front of uncovered windows, vents or fireplaces, as the light and heat can damage and fade the wood.
3. Dust Often
No one really likes to dust, but the chore is one of the best ways to take care of your furniture. Airborne particles can build a filmy layer on wood that scratches the surface. Frequent dusting keeps this buildup from happening. Always use soft cloth like cotton T-shirts, cloth diapers or microfiber to avoid damage. Lambswool dusters are great for ornate carvings or hard to reach places because they effectively attract and hold dust.
4. Keep Your Wood Clean
Sometimes dusting isn’t enough and you’ll find it necessary to clean your wood furniture. Never use all-purpose cleaners, which can cause damage to the finish. If you have a spot that is heavily soiled or sticky, dip a cloth in water that contains a mild dish detergent. Wring it out as much as possible and gently wipe the area. Be sure to follow up with a rinse from a damp cloth containing just water, then immediately wipe with a soft dry cloth.
5. Protect Your Wood
Most commercial polishes and sprays contain either petroleum distillates or silicone oil to for a fresh and shiny finish, and to offer some protection for your wood. Make sure not to use too much product, because it can cause buildup that combines with dirt to create a dull, sticky film. Always be sure to buff well when using products to help avoid this buildup, and never use these products with a wax protectant because the combination will result in another gooey mess.
6. Treat Wear and Tear
Even with the best care, wood furniture can sustain injuries. For minor nicks and scratches use a product like Old English Scratch Cover. This liquid polish hides abrasions, restoring the wood’s inherent beauty.
If damage is too extensive to be treated with polishes or touch up sticks and you aren’t quite ready to give up your treasured fixture, you may need to resort to something more drastic. Painting a piece of damaged furniture will breathe new life into it and give it several more good years. Painting also allows you to save time by skipping sanding, something you can’t do if you opt to re-stain.
7. Re-Oil Dry Wood
If furniture has been stored and becomes overly dry, you may need to re-oil it. Begin by cleaning it with Murphy’s Oil Soap or another appropriate cleaner, and then prepare the surface with #0000 steel wool, always working with the grain. Liberally apply your furniture oil and let it soak into the wood for about 15 minutes. It you are going to apply a protective coating, let your furniture set for at least 24 hours before proceeding.
8. Re-Wax as Needed
Depending on the finish, some furniture may have a wax protective coating. As these pieces age it may be necessary to re-wax the surface for continued protection. Always prepare the surface with fine #0000 steel wool then wipe with a soft cloth to remove any residue. Apply a coat of wax and spread it with a Scotch Brite pad, using light pressure and always following the grain. Don’t allow the wax to set for more than 20 minutes. Remove the excess wax with a clean Scotch Brite pad, and buff with a soft cloth until the surface feels smooth to the touch.
9. Keep Wood Smelling Fresh
Sometimes older pieces will develop an unpleasant odor, especially if they’ve been stored. You can sprinkle the surface with baking soda to freshen it up, and place a pan of charcoal inside drawers to absorb smells that emanate from inside. You can even leave the piece outside in a shaded area on a warm, dry day to give relief from a malodorous stench and make your furniture good as new.
10. Remove Tough Stains
Despite your best efforts, sometimes the inevitable happens and your beautiful wood furniture gets stained. No matter what kind of stain you have, be sure to clean it as quickly as possible — the longer it sits, the harder it will be to remove.
- For white rings from wet glasses, apply a paste of equal amounts white toothpaste and baking soda. Rub it into the stain until it’s gone. Then, wipe off the furniture and buff with a dry cloth.
- For dark spots from water damage, try gently blotting the stain with a cloth soaked in vinegar.
- For crayon marks, apply mayonnaise over the area. Let it sit for a couple of minutes before rubbing clean with a damp cloth and buffing with a dry cloth.
Taking proper care of your wood furniture isn’t hard or even that time-consuming, and the reward for your effort will be a home filled with beautiful wood furniture that looks and feels as good as the day you got it — now and for years to come.
Megan Wild is a home improvement specialist who loves fixing up old homes and making them beautiful and functional again. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking in the great outdoors or tweeting house information @Megan_Wild.