How to Clean Antique Furniture

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March 23, 2016
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How to Clean Antique Furniture

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Valuable antique furniture will have a layer of grime on its surface from years of exposure to dust, dirt and fumes. Collectors and buyers of good antique furniture look for this layer of grime, which is referred to as the antique’s “patina.” If you are looking to sell the piece, it is best not to try to clean it yourself without first consulting a professional antique restorer. If you have antique furniture that you would like to keep for yourself in the best possible condition these are the steps you can take to keep it clean and well cared for.

  1. Remove the old wax from your antique furniture first because a cleaner of any kind will not penetrate a surface that has a buildup of old wax. There are varieties of name-brand cleaners and/or strippers that you can purchase at a hardware store to do this. Or you can use paint thinner at home in a well-ventilated room, wearing protective gloves and a face mask.
  2. Pour a small amount of the paint thinner into a glass bowl, then with a superfine (0000) pad of steel wool, gently rub in slow circular motions across the surface of the antique, being careful not to rub so hard that you scratch the wood. Eventually the old wax build-up will loosen and begin to re-liquefy and you can then gently rub it off with a soft cloth. Continue this step until you’re sure there is no more old wax on the surface.
  3. Mix a little mild dishwashing liquid in warm water. Now, using a soft cloth, gently wipe away the residue of the old wax and the cleaner from one small area of the antique at a time. Do not soak the wood, nor let water pool on its surface. Continue to wipe off the entire surface with your damp cloth until you are sure the wax buildup and residue is gone.

    • Wait until your antique has been thoroughly cleaned and dried before beginning to touch up old scratches, nicks, nail holes or discolorations in the wood. There is a variety of products at a hardware or home supply store that will help with this step, such as a touch-up furniture marker pen. Also now available are touch-up pens that can be used with a variety of stains, which can exactly match the stain on your antique.
  4.  Reapply a wax to your newly cleaned antique after you complete the touch-ups.The new wax will protect the new clean surface, unlike oily furniture spray polish, which may provide a shine but do nothing to protect the furniture.
    • Although there are silicone-based products, plain paste wax works well at keeping your antique protected.

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