Furniture Care

How to care for and clean wood furniture

What's the best way to care for wood furniture? Experts agree on a few wood-care basics.

DUST FREQUENTLY. Dust is abrasive so infrequent or improper dusting can create a worn, dull surface over the years. Dust can accumulate in carving, cracks and grooves and make wood look dark and unattractive. This dusty buildup eventually becomes hard to remove.

Use coasters, pads, cloths or runners to protect against spills and water rings.

How to dust

Here are some detailed tips. Use a clean, washable cloth made of soft, lint-free cotton. The best choices include an old T- shirt, diaper, cheese cloth, dish towel, piece of flannel or chamois. The cloth should have no snaps, buttons, zippers or thick seams that could scratch furniture surfaces. Do not use a cloth that has hanging threads or unraveling edges. These could catch on wood slivers, molding, knobs or other loose pieces.
DO NOT USE A FEATHER DUSTER because it will simply move dust around, flinging it into the air. Feather dusters can't be washed, and a quill could scratch the wood surface if a feather breaks off.

Dry dusting versus damp dusting

Many experts believe that dusting with a dry cloth is abrasive and will ultimately dull the finish. A dry cloth will not really remove dust, they say.

These experts typically recommend sprinkling a few drops of water onto the dusting cloth. The trick is to moisten the cloth just enough to make dust adhere to it. The cloth should not be so damp that it wets the wood. If you can see any trace of water on the wood after you wipe, your cloth is too damp. Some conservators recommend using distilled water for heirlooms or antiques.

You might want to use a spray-on dusting aid or polish. If so, consider whether you want to apply silicone oil to your finishes. This type of oil is used in most commercial furniture sprays and polishes. To find out if your product contains silicone oil, consult the label or call the manufacturer.

Follow the grain

Wipe off dust using gentle, oval motions along the grain of the wood. Turn or fold the cloth as soon as dirt is visible on any section. Keep a pile of clean cloths handy so you don't move dust and dirt from one spot to another. Lift, don't slide, lamps and objects to dust under and around them. Avoid soiling adjoining upholstery. Launder soiled dusting cloths immediately.

Carefully choose wood care products

One common myth is that wood furniture is "alive." It does not "breathe," so don't worry about clogging up pores with wax. It does not need to be "nourished" or "fed'' with oily polishes. Changes in humidity, not a lack of oil, cause wood to crack.

Watch the humidity

Wood is very sensitive to changes in relative humidity. As the weather changes, so does the relative humidity in your home and in the moisture content of the wood in your furniture. This means that furniture is constantly expanding and contracting. Wood does best in moderate conditions of around 70 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of about 50 percent to 55 percent. That means using a humidifier in winter and an air conditioner in summer. Furniture ages more quickly if stored in a basement, attic, garage or warehouse. Excess heat and dryness can cause wood to split and crack. Place furniture away from all heat sources, if possible. If you must put furniture near an air duct, use a shield or guard plate to direct heat away.

Frequent and sudden changes in relative humidity are especially bad. Wood is most likely to crack when the climate in a home suddenly changes from hot and humid to cool and dry. Avoid placing furniture in front of radiators, heat runs or fireplaces. Store table leaves as close as possible to the table so they adjust to the same humidity conditions.

Avoid chemical exposure

Keep solvents such as nail polish remover, alcohol and paint thinner away from wood furniture because they can harm the finish. Alcohol is contained in colognes, perfumes and medications as well as in wine, beer and liquor. Fingerprints, perspiration and body oils can harm a finish over time, especially on chairs. Plants and flower nectar that touch the finish can also cause permanent stains.

Guard against scratches

Lift, don't slide, objects on wood. Place objects on trivets, tablecloths, doilies or others covers to protect the finish. Use felt bottoms on lamps and other decorative objects.

Carefully move furniture

Lift heavy furniture with the help of at least two people. Sliding pieces could hurt the wood floor and damage furniture legs by applying too much sideways pressure. If a drawer has two handles, use both to open it. Don't stuff drawers with too many items.

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