9 Tips on How to Care for your Antique Furniture

9 Tips on How to Care for your Antique Furniture
September 25, 2017 Antique Furniture

Antique furniture means something different to each and every individual. It could be an heirloom piece or you could simply have spotted it hiding in an off-beat little shop and bought it yourself. Over the years, the ways of cleaning and caring for antique furniture has changed and evolved to become a precise art with its own set of rules.

Compared to other functional furniture, antique furniture needs special care. No longer can you just slap a coat of oil on the antique and hope for the best – the finish on a piece of antique affects its value……… read on.

Tips to Maintain your Antique Furniture

If you are ever in any doubt as to whether you have an antique or not, it is always better to call in a professional and to get their advice, before you go adding any oil or polish to it.

Furniture from the 18th Century used to be painted bright red or blue in line with the decor of that time – some people may not know that and they could try and repaint the piece of furniture with disastrous results. Antique furniture collectors want their pieces left in an original state.

1. Keep furniture out of the sun

Sunlight, with its ultraviolet rays, is extremely damaging to all antique furniture. Any pieces with a lovely clear finish will go yellow in direct sunlight. It is best to close the curtains or shades to block out the harmful rays of sunlight. The sun can dry out the wood and cause it to crack and age.

2. Keep furniture away from Heaters or Air Cons

Keep your antique furniture away from air vents, heaters or air conditioners. Too much heat causes the furniture glue to loosen. It also upsets the veneer, inlays, and the make- up of the piece. The only thing that could be beneficial to the furniture is a humidifier which keeps the air at an even temperature.

However, too much moisture causes the wood to expand and contract which in turn affects the ease of movement of drawers and doors.It also paves the way for mould to start growing, rot to set in and insects appearing.

3. Watch out for Insects

Pieces of furniture made from wood or leather and which have fabric and upholstery in materials such as horsehair make an ideal home for pests and other insects, like beetles or termites. They make their way along the grain of the wood and also leave a trail of sawdust called frass. Some types of insects leave ugly exit holes. The sooner these pests are noticed, the sooner they can be treated by an expert.

Cockroaches in particular damage the finish of the furniture as they feed on the oils, grease and dirt on the surface of the furniture. As for the upholstery itself, it can be damaged by small rodents when nesting.  Obviously, you need to eradicate these animals as quickly as possible before any great damage has taken place.

4. Popular Furniture Wood

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, popular furniture woods were maple or cherry. They were then stained to give them the appearance of mahogany because it was imported and therefore more expensive, and more exciting than light brown wood. Using oil on the furniture will simply over time turn it black.

5. The truth about Furniture Oil

Most people seem to think that wood dries out from lack of oil – but, that is not true – it dries out from a lack of moisture. Keeping antique furniture in the hot, dry attic is no longer a good idea. Putting lots of furniture oil on your antiques will eventually leave them covered in dirt and dust, although it may look good for a while.

The best thing to do is to put on a coat of furniture wax or butcher’s wax which both contains bees wax, which preserves the wood and protects it from any lurking moisture. This wax layer will protect the furniture and not leave a ring when a wet glass is placed upon it.

6. The art of Dusting

With the wax layer on the wood, dusting will become easier. Dust it regularly with a soft cloth – a dry rag will just scratch the wood.  You can wet the cloth slightly and most of the dust and grime will easily come off.

7. Common Soap and water

Never use soap and water to regularly clean your antique furniture. Over time, it will stain the wood and completely dry it out. Commercial cleaners are also not a good idea as they contain chemicals that can also be damaging to the wood.

8. Everyday Wood Cleaners

There are a couple of everyday kitchen liquids that can be used to clean your antique furniture carefully:

  • Vinegar – because it is acidic, it will get rid of grease, grime and any oily stains, as well as any other weathered grimy marks;
  • Lime Juice – also acidic, works in a similar way to vinegar but has a better smell;
  • Olive Oil – you can clean your furniture very well with this kind of oil, and it leaves it with a bright polish finish;
  • Turpentine and Linseed Oil – gets rid of touch grease and grime and leaves a lovely polished finish, but does not have a great smell.

9. How to Treat Stains

That ring mark that is left on your gorgeous antique table by a wet glass or a hot pizza box can be removed. Without being too abrasive, rub the spot from the inside out towards the natural colour of the wood. Make a mixture of non-gel toothpaste mixed with baking soda and the mark will fade.

Another way to do it is to put a soft cloth over the stain, and using your medium hot iron, carefully iron over the spot for 10 to 20 seconds at a time. You may need a hotter iron or a longer period – you can judge for yourself when you are actually doing it.


All antique furniture has its own particular finished look. The final finished look of a piece of furniture is as important as the overall value of the piece. When you strip and refinish furniture, you destroy the patina – which is described as an old, valuable surface of furniture or the bronze handles of an antique chest of drawers, or such like. Stripping a piece of furniture means you can never recover that original look. So, do not ever do that, unless you are an antique furniture restorer and know exactly how to put it together again.

The marks and patterns you get on an antique piece of furniture are part of the history of that piece and indicate its previous loving care. And, there is no way that those patterns of wear and tear can ever be replaced.

A general rule of thumb for looking after antique furniture is to “leave it alone” – antique furniture collectors prefer to have the piece of furniture n its original condition showing the marks and ravages of time and wear or tear – that is part of its charm.

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