Cleaning and Care of Antiques

By Ed Mayorga

Caring for your antiques, ensuring they’re displayed, stored and handled correctly is essential to preserving them for future generations. Furniture needs informed care. It’s important to remember that furniture isn’t just wood; the beauty of wooden furniture is often how the wood is aged as well as the other materials used to enhance and protect it. The finish is there to protect and preserve the wood. The credo: ‘Do No Harm’ is certainly important  to maintaining and preserving our furniture in the short term as well as preserving it for future generations.

First: try to keep your furniture clean. Waxing the finish is important, but keeping the finish clean is even more important. To care for your furniture; clean it; to preserve your furniture, wax it. The way you care for your furniture and the products you use will make an enormous difference in how your furniture will look and how long the finish will last.

Second:  use common sense. When one cleans furniture, use the least invasive (abrasive) product, a damp cloth possibly mixed with a mild detergent. Depending on usage and how much dust is stirred up, cleaning twice a week should be more than sufficient. Got crud? A Murphy’s oil soap, properly diluted can clean most furniture. Are you waxing once or twice a year?  The Murphy’s soap will remove any buildup of wax. Yes, you may need to apply another wax coat. The simple test is whether your furniture buffs out with a dry cloth after cleaning. Every manufacturer is trying to sell you something. You may see a product that is supposed to work quickly, be easy to use, and can be bought off the shelf as you shop for groceries. Is that good for your furniture? Let’s see:
• Aerosol cleaners and polishes usually contain silicone oils and other contaminants.   SILICONES ARE BAD!
• Liquid polishes are often water based; their sheen will dissipate as the water evaporates.
• Oil polishes may be non-drying or drying. Non-drying oil polishes stay damp and attract dust. Drying oils bond to the furniture finish, are very difficult to remove, and darken with age
• Paste waxes are the best polish material. Look for products without silicones.
  See Master Craftsmen Services sheet on “Which is Best? Spray?Wax? Oil? Polish?”

Third:  if your furniture is only dusty, and doesn’t have any foreign matter such as fingerprints, it should simply be dusted with the feather duster.

Finally:  cleaning should be done with a damp cloth or a cloth sprayed lightly with “Endust”. Mist the cloth…..not the furniture.  Don’t soak the cloth with water. A damp cloth means a cloth not so wet that it needs to be wrung out.
The temperature in your home can greatly affect the condition of your furniture. Excessively dry conditions can cause furniture to dry out and shrink, while excessively damp (humid) conditions can cause mold growth. Try to keep your pieces in a stable environment where the temperature and relative humidity don’t fluctuate dramatically. The following points are worth bearing in mind:
* Don’t place furniture near heat sources since heat causes shrinkage. This can loosen joints, cause warpage, delaminate veneers and change the shape of the piece over time.
• Light can also damage furniture.  Both natural and artificial light of a high intensity can alter finishes and break down the wood. Use blinds or curtains to reduce light levels.

*If moving furniture, remove drawers and lock doors so they don’t open. Pieces should be padded and covered for transport. Use clean white cotton gloves when moving gilded furniture.

• Lifting furniture should be done carefully. Check for loose areas. Chairs should be lifted and not dragged by the seat, back or arms. Tables should be lifted by the legs rather than the top, which could be loosened or come off.

For more information contact:

Master Craftsmen Services, Inc.
Ed Mayorga
97 Heathcliff Rd.
Wilmington, NC 28409
(910) 793-5945