Caring for Your Furniture’s Finish

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Caring for Your Furniture’s Finish
J. Aubrey Bolen III

We all want to preserve the quality and sustainability of our furniture, especially those pieces of sentimental or significant monetary value.  Logically following the last article focused on investing in your furniture, there are several things to be aware of when caring for your furniture.  If you have invested in a piece of furniture, it must offer potential profitable or sentimental return and, thus, must be well maintained.  However, before we get out the dust rag and address general cleaning techniques, let us first consider preventive measures which can protect your furniture’s finish from harmful elements.

Exposure to sunlight is the most destructive natural element to finishes.  Even indoor lights will eventually take their toll on finishes, leaving your family heirlooms or historical treasures faded, cracked, or with wood damage.  Carefully consider the placement of your prized furniture, keeping in mind that windows, bright lighting fixtures, and even rooms with high lighting are not ideal locations for the most valuable pieces of your furniture collection. 

Oxidation is the second most destructive natural element to finishes.  This process of finish deterioration is extremely slow and can be easily overlooked if your furniture is not regularly cleaned and examined.  Just as the investor who does not monitor the stock exchange and his/her investments, you can find yourself with a heavy monetary or personal loss if you are not making consistent efforts to maintain the integrity of your furniture.  Oxidation causes most finishes to darken and eventually crack.  It is important to note that heat accelerates oxidation.  Therefore, it is best to store valued furniture in areas that are not subjected to extreme temperatures.  In Louisiana, this limits us to our homes, offices, climate-controlled storage units, or the homes of our loved ones where we know our furniture will be properly cared for and appreciated.  One thing is certain, the barn or storage shed behind the house is not the best place for grandmother’s buffet! 

Lastly, excessive contact with particular elements or chemicals can physically damage your furniture’s finish.  Always use trivets, pot holders, coasters and tablecloths to help protect your furniture from excessive contact.  Many items carelessly placed on your furniture or activities leisurely completed around your furniture involve these particular, harmful elements: heat, water, solvents, acids or alkalis.  For example, the heat from a hot casserole, the condensation from a glass of iced tea, or the drip from the bottle of fingernail polish remover can all significantly damage your furniture and would require “spot stripping.” 

Caring for Your Furniture’s FinishThe bottom line is that all finishes will show signs of wear over time no matter how careful we may be in our regular up-keep.  The best way to slow down everyday wear and abuse is with furniture polish, paste wax and/or a damp cloth.  Furniture polish and paste wax, found in grocery and hardware stores, reduce friction, so objects tend to slide over, rather than dig into, the finish.  They are also great for regular cleaning of your furniture.  Furniture polish is a quick fix for removing dust, and it comes in a variety of scents.  However, many brands leave behind an oily residue which can cause smudges and attract even more dust.  As with any cleaning agent, test a new product first on a small, hidden area of the piece and make sure there are not undesired reactions which would leave your furniture altered.  Paste wax has been used for centuries to protect furniture.  Although there is some elbow grease required in this process, the outcome is well worth the effort.  The process is comparable to waxing a car, resulting in a clean, shiny product.  In fact, the longer the paste is left to dry, the harder it is to rub off, but the shine on the product is significantly increased.  Another time-tested method of furniture care is a soft cloth dampened with water.  Old cotton t-shirts without designs are best since they tend to move smoothly across the furniture’s surface instead of tiny fibers actually penetrating the finish.  A soft, damp cloth will remove the dust and does not leave an oily residue.  Simple, but powerful.

It is critical to monitor and tend to your investments.  Your prized furniture is an investment.  Taking good care of your furniture will allow you to pass down for generations to come sentimental and valuable pieces and possibly increase the value in your pieces.  It is well worth the attention and effort!