Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cleaning Antique Wood Furniture

I received a very nice offer from a reader, Kay Davenport, to write an advice column about something she is passionate about and something she feels Martha Moments readers may benefit from. Kay is a lover of all things antique and spends hours cleaning and refinishing her finds, as well as those of her friends and family members. Below is an article she wrote for this blog about how to clean antique wood furniture. I hope you enjoy it!


Wood is a porous, natural material comprised of natural fibres that can bend, stretch and breathe. The older wood becomes, the more these pores and fibres loosen, allowing more opportunity for moisture and dirt to seep into its surfaces. On antique wood furniture, it is essential to minimize the damaging effects of dirt particles and moisture.

Depending on the finish that is placed on the top layer of the wood to stain or seal it, the furniture may still soak up any product or moisture that is placed onto its surface.

This is why many antique dealers suggest using an oil-based cleaner instead of a wax cleaner. Wax can actually seal dirt into the wood while an oil-based solution can loosen the dirt and bring it to the surface for removal.


When moisture enters wood, it not only weakens the fibres by softening them, it can also leave unsightly white areas showing on the surface of your furniture. Depending on the severity of the damage, some of these white marks may be removed.

To begin, place a heavy piece of office-grade ink blotting paper from a stationery store like Office Max over the affected area. Iron on low heat to cause the excess moisture to be drawn into the very heavy, specialized paper. (This may not work on all moisture stains, but it’s worth a try.)


Furniture that has been stored for many years will often have lots of dirt and grime both on and within its surfaces. Removing the dirt without scratching the delicate, aged wood is the secret. A shop-vac without any attachments on the hose can be used along with a paintbrush to take the large pieces of dirt off without leaving

Next, a heavy layer of furniture oil should be generously spread over the furniture and allowed to sit on the stubborn areas to loosen dirt or sticky areas overnight. To apply, spread the furniture oil in the same direction as the grain of the wood with a soft paintbrush.

After it has been allowed to sit in oil overnight, place a clean, unwanted gym sock on your hand and gently massage the extra oil along the grain of the wood.

The sock allows your hand to sense and control the pressure of the rubbing while going over all areas of the furniture, including any carved or curved details.

Next rub the wood along the grain with discarded t-shirts (the soft, worn cotton will not scratch the surface) until all excess oil and grime is removed. This process can take a little time as you examine all problem areas closely.


To remove smells from wooden drawers or cabinets, traditional methods can often be best. Using a mixture of coffee grounds and rice was a solution used in the early 20th Century by homemakers. Sprinkle dry coffee grounds into the drawer or cabinet, add grains of rice, and let this mixture sit for a week or more. (This can later be cleaned up easily with a shop-vac.)

Depending upon the strength of the smell, the process may need to be repeated. Stubborn smells, such as tobacco or mildew, may need the use of lemon oil or orange oil on a regular basis to gradually remove the odors over time.

About Kay:

Kay Davenport is an antiques collector and the creator of Antique Furniture, her personal hobby blog, which is focused on experiences related to antique furniture care and restoration. She helps her family and friends to learn how to restore and evaluate their antique pieces.

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