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Collecting Mania: Caring For Unpainted & Painted Furniture

Updated on May 29, 2010

Unpainted Furniture

Whether the wood furniture in your home is out of the showroom or out of grandma's attic, think of it as a living, breathing thing. Wood swells in humidity and then cracks when air gets too dry. Here's how to prevent the environment from ruining your unpainted wood treasures:

  • Extremes in temperatures and humidity can cause cracks and warping. Cut your risks by keeping wood away from air conditioners, air ducts, and radiators.
  • Guard against direct light as well. Steady sun weakens the finish and bleaches the wood, especially rich cherry.
  • Everyday household objects can pose a threat. Synthetic rubber and plastic items can release damaging chemicals. And those seemingly harmless newspapers? The ink could bleed into the finish. Even houseplants may prove harmful. Put plants in drip-proof pots and keep leaves from touching wood surfaces.

  • Make it a habit to use felt liners on lamps and other tabletop accessories to prevent gouging and scratching.
  • Use placemats or pot-holders when serving hot food, and always keep coasters handy for drinks. Wipe up spills immediately.
  • For routine maintenance, dust furniture about once a week with a lint-free, untreated cloth. It will stop household pollution and dust from reaching into the porous timber. Polish sparingly and go with the grain.
  • If you run into sticking drawers, common on high-humidity days, rub candle wax or soap along the sides and bottoms to get them rolling again.
  • When storing wood furnishings, wrap them in a blanket and avoid humid rooms like basements. Store table leaves on their sides to prevent warping.
  • Well-made wood furniture is sturdy, but don't overload it. Excess weight stresses joints and may threaten stability.

Respect nature's handiwork and your wooden furniture will last a lifetime.

Painted Furniture

Gone are the days when a coat of paint meant a quick disguise for cheap furniture. Today, the popularity of faux finishes and trompe l'oeil designs have turned the craft of furniture painting into an art.

Dust furniture with a water-dampened cloth. If the piece is very dirty, clean with a mild solution of soap and lukewarm water. Try to wring the cloth as dry as possible and work just a small area at a time. Never use an abrasive pad. Rinse the area with clean water and dry the surface thoroughly before continuing on to the next section.

Due to all the work involved in painting a piece of furniture, you should take extra precaution. Add a protective layer wherever possible - a blotter on a painted desk or a glass top on a coffee table, for instance.

Polishes and waxes aren't usually required. Besides, hand-rubbing with polishes may remove painted decorations. Don't ever use oil, oil polishes, or cloths that have been oil-treated on painted furniture. Also, keep your painted furniture away from direct sunlight to prevent fading.

Touch-ups can often look patchy, even with matched paint. You're better off trying to remove any scuff marks  or spots by washing them. Avoid any kind of sanding; even with a fine abrasive, you may wind up compromising the luster. If there is extensive damage, the furniture will need a complete repainting. Be aware of one caveat, however: If you have an antique piece with its original finish, do not repaint or refinish; you will end up removing its marks of authenticity and destroy its value.

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    • Becky Puetz profile image

      Becky 6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Excellent advice! I love to refinish and paint old furniture. I'm sure people will find your Hub is a great help. Thanks for sharing.

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