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September 22, 2017

How to Clean Antique Furniture


Grandma goofed!

Imagine that your great-grandmother owned a lovely mahogany buffet. She loved the piece; she waxed it twice a year and dusted it regularly, which was the highest standard of care in her day. Would great-grandmother be shocked to discover that her regular waxing and dusting created the dingy, dirty finish that is on the buffet in 2010?

Antiques Are Covered With Old Wax and Dirt

You see, once you put wax onto wooden furniture, the only way to get it off is with a chemical remover. Each time the furniture is waxed, you put new wax on top of dirty wax and just move it all around. Every time the piece is dusted, some of the dust is picked up by the dust cloth, and some of it is rubbed into the accumulated wax. Over time, the finish begins to lose its’ shine and become dingy looking. The once-beautiful buffet becomes covered with a layer of dirt and wax.

The Wax and Dirt Must Be Removed

The key to cleaning antique furniture is to remove the old wax and accumulated dirt without damaging the underlying finish. This can be accomplished with a little patience and few supplies which can be purchased at any hardware store. Simply re-waxing the furniture or applying furniture polish will only add to the problem; if you want the antique to glow, you must remove the old wax and dirt. Of course, this cleaning technique assumes that the furniture’s finish is still intact; a finish with significant chipping and peeling should be refinished.

Your Antique Furniture Cleaning Kit

The first item needed is a solvent that will remove the wax without removing the furniture finish. The solvent for wax is mineral spirits, and mineral spirits will not harm any of the finishes commonly found on antiques. Next, you will need 0000 (“four-ought”) grade steel wool; other grades are too coarse. In the refinishing trade, 0000 steel wool is known as a polishing pad; the longer you rub a finish with it, the shinier the finish gets. You will need Q-tips, absorbent rags, and a bucket of water or a sink. For the final polishing, you will use a burnishing cream. Liberon makes a fine burnishing cream that can be purchased from several online distributors.

The Cleaning Technique

Begin by pouring about a half-cup of mineral spirits directly onto the furniture’s top. Using the 0000 steel wool spread the solvent over about a two-foot square area. Always rub in a straight line in the direction of the wood grain; rubbing across the grain will create visible scratches. Apply a slight downward pressure to the steel wool; your objective is to loosen the wax. Continue this procedure over the entire piece of furniture, using as much mineral spirits as is needed to keep the surface wet.

The drying time for mineral spirits is about 45 minutes. As the solvent dries, you will notice a dirty grayish film forming over the furniture. This film is the loosened, dirty wax that you have lifted from the surface. When the solvent has thoroughly dried, use a damp rag to wipe up the dried wax. Clean the rag often. Use Q-tips to get into corners and grooves.

Repeat the above procedure with mineral spirits and clean steel wool until no more waxy dirt dries on the surface. When the furniture is free of wax and dirt, apply the burnishing cream with a soft cloth, and rub until you are satisfied with the shine.

Ongoing Maintenance

To keep your antique furniture beautiful, polish it once a year with a good quality cream polish. If the finish is significantly worn and you have a few bare spots, treat the bare spots with a light coat of paste wax to protect the wood. Dust regularly. Never use spray polishes, dusting sprays, treated dusting cloths, or any product that touts its ability to make your furniture shine. Chances are those products contain silicone, and polishing your furniture with silicone is like spraying it with WD-40 lubricant. Proper care will keep your antique furniture looking beautiful for future generations.

Creative commons

Originally posted 2013-08-26 16:30:00.

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About Wayne Jordan

Wayne Jordan is a Virginia-licensed Auctioneer (#3481), as well as an AIA and CAGA Certified Personal Property Appraiser. Learn more at http://www.resaleretailing.com/wayne-jordan-auctioneer-appraiser/

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