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Antique Furniture Care: A Homemaker's Guide

Updated on April 1, 2013
Antique furnishings help a room come alive!
Antique furnishings help a room come alive!

When decorating your home, there is always a place best filled with antique furnishings. These beautiful relics of yesteryear add a special touch that cannot be duplicated by modern pieces, even if those pieces are replicas of classics from earlier times. Genuine antiques simply add a special flair that cannot be duplicated, but with that flair comes a need for specific steps to care for your antiques. If you have a moment, let's take a look at caring for these treasures.

Cleaning Antique Furniture

When you need to clean the wood on your antique furniture, you should be use a damp cloth or chamois leather that has been wrung out very well. For tougher cleaning, a weak solution of vinegar and water can work wonders. Wipe again immediately with a cloth dampened in clean water and then dry with absorbent paper towels.

You should also wax every few months with a high quality polish that has a beeswax base. This will protect the wood while bringing out the richest colors. Apply by placing a small amount of polish on a soft cloth and rubbing it gently into the wood. It is best if you can do this, allow the wood to rest overnight to nourish the wood, then follow up by burnishing with a clean cloth the next day. If you do not have time to wait, you should still polish a second time with the clean cloth.

Also, if you use an aerosol wax, do not spray directly onto the wood as this will damage the wood over time. This is also true of furniture sprays such as Pledge and Endust. Instead, spray the cloth you will use and apply as directed above.

An uncared for antique sofa is a sad sight to behold.
An uncared for antique sofa is a sad sight to behold.

Of course, from time to time an accident will occur and when they do, they must be dealt with as quickly as possible. Spills should be wiped up immediately and coasters should be used to avoid rings forming at the bottom of cups and glasses. If a wet ring does make its way to the wood, wipe it up as soon as you can. Whatever you do, avoid waxing or polishing furniture until all damp areas have completely dried as the moist area will absorb more polish leading to permanent staining.

Vacuum upholstery often to keep is clean and dust free. Regular vacuuming is also important for pest control reasons. Be sure to also dust the wood areas regularly. A soft, dry cloth will usually keep metal handles and hinges shining bright, but if you have furniture adorned with brass, do not use polish intended for brass as it can damage the wood.

Your Antique Furniture's Environment

Antiques have so much character and warmth!
Antiques have so much character and warmth!

Fixing a Stuck Drawer

If a drawer is a sticking on a piece of antique furniture, it can usually be fixed with either soap or sandpaper. If it is lightly sticking, first try rubbing soap on the tracks as well as the specific area that is sticking. Usually you will be able to see marks on the drawer where it is rubbing in the frame. If soap cannot solve the problem, try sanding the area that is sticking. Start slow, repeating the process until the drawer slides smoothly.

When decorating, you should take into consideration where furniture will be placed. You do not want fine furnishings placed in strong sunlight as it will cause colors to fade. Antique furniture should either be positioned away from windows or other sources of sunlight, or those sources should be muted by blinds or curtains.Sunlight can also increase the heat in a room.

Temperature can damage furniture, especially when there is a great deal of variance. Central heat can also dry out the air which can also be very damaging to wood. If dry air is a problem, a humidifier may be necessary but often simply keeping fresh cut flowers in the room can help so long as they are properly watered. This natural remedy for dry air also adds to the beauty of the room.

Of course, a climate that is too damp is also not good for antique wood. If this is the case, a dehumidifier may be needed to lower the room's moisture. Proper humidity should be in the 50 to 55 percent range. There are a number of tools available for checking humidity including humidity indicating strips and cards as well as humidity meters and hygrometers. Monitor the humidity and room temperature often, keeping both as consistent as possible. Proper ventilation is also needed to allow old wood to breathe.

Protecting Your Antique Furniture Against Pests

Another danger that all antiques face is infestation by pests such as woodworm. Woodworm are actually the larvae of several wood boring beetles such as powder post beetle and the death watch beetle who lay their eggs in all the crevices and crannies in the wood of furniture. The eggs hatch and the woodworm eat the wood creating tiny tunnels until they become full grown beetles and fly away. Of course, they leave new eggs before they go, causing the problem to spread until your precious wood is destroyed.

You will want to treat for woodworm as soon as you see evidence such as tunnels in the wood or accumulations of wood dust. These signs are generally most evident in the summer months after the grown beetles have flown away. You can purchase fluid to kill the eggs, but be sure to only apply it to unfinished areas of the wood as it can damage finished wood. Use soft wax to fill in any holes left by the woodworm. In some cases, it may be necessary to consult a professional to thwart a severe infestation.

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