Tips For Cleaning Wood And Upholstered Antique Furniture

Old, dingy wood and upholstered antiques only need a good cleaning to look like new. Read on for tips on how to handle delicate furniture.

When presented with a dingy antique, often our first instinct is to strip, refinish and reupholster to make it presentable again. Before you embark on a troublesome, timely and expensive refinishing project, you should dedicate some time to cleaning the piece thoroughly. Often, a run-down antique only requires a meticulous cleaning to make it look as good as new. Besides, preserving the original finish and upholstery increases the value of the piece.

You might be surprised to learn that an antique needn't necessarily be stored in an attic for decades to appear filthy or dulled; antiques that have been properly cleaned and maintained can also appear filthy or dulled. This is because wax and furniture polish used on wooden antiques naturally traps dust particles, creating unseemly build-up. Over time, these layers of grime will cause the finish to darken.

If you are simply maintaining and protecting an antique that does not need heavy cleaning, there are many high quality products available. Beeswax polish is often used to protect the finish on wood antiques. You will need two cloths (one for the application of the beeswax, and the other for the actual polishing). (Both need to be lint free and soft to the touch.) Apply a small amount of product with the grain of the wood and use considerable elbow grease to work it in. Remember, don't overdo it: once or twice a year is plenty.

While there is a wide array of non-beeswax products available, most of them are to be avoided. Products with an oil or silicone-base can attract dirt, leave a sticky film, or darken the finish. Water is probably the most damaging cleanser you can use; the moisture will cause the wood to swell and warp. Your application tools are equally important; the key is to use something soft that cannot inflict damage on your fragile antique. Soft cloths and brushes (even toothbrushes) are generally preferable to feather dusters or other abrasive tools.

Upholstered antiques require even more delicate handling. Before using a cleanser, vacuum the piece thoroughly using the special upholstery attachment. (If the fabric is particularly delicate, use the attachment alone, with the vacuum power turned off.) Next, carefully apply a cleaning product. There are several sprays and foams available in stores, or you can make your own formula by combing 1/4-cup laundry detergent (Woolite if the fabric is especially fragile) and one cup of slightly warm water. Rub the cleanser into the fabric with a damp cloth, allow it to dry overnight and vacuum it thoroughly.

It is important to remember to test a new cleaning product before using it on an antique. To test, use a small amount of the cleaner on a hidden area on the furniture. If there is no discoloration or other damage after it dries, the product should be safe for use on the rest of the piece. If the cleanser seems too strong, or if the antique still appears grubby after you've cleaned it, you may want to hire professional upholstery cleaner. Consult your yellow pages for an expert in your area.

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