Furniture Care Tips
Antique Furniture Care and Preservation
methods of care for historical or valuable antique furniture have
changed over the years.
No longer considered just functional, antique furniture should
not be cared for or repaired in the same manner as modern home furnishings.
The use of polishes, adhesives, fasteners and finishes can dramatically affect the
current and future value of such pieces.
UV or ultraviolet light is damaging
to antique furniture. Sunlight can degrade early finishes, wood and
fabrics. Antique furniture should be placed out of direct sunlight,
and curtains or shades should be used to diffuse or block sunlight
when possible. Clear finishes can yellow or turn opaque from the
exposure to sunlight.
Avoid placing your antique furniture in front of heating and air
conditioning vents, radiators, fireplaces or stoves. The heat can
cause shrinking that can loosen glue joints, veneers, inlays and
Your antique furniture is also affected by the amount of moisture in
the air. Changes in relative humidity can cause wood to expand and
contract. This expansion and contraction can cause glue joints to
loosen, drawers and doors to drag or become stuck in their opening.
Extended periods of high humidity can lead to mold growth, rot and
The use of a humidifier or dehumidifier is recommended to help
maintain the relative humidity and minimize the adverse effects that
moisture can have on your valuable antique furniture.
Insects and Pests
Wood, leather, fabrics and
upholstery materials such as horsehair can be inviting to insects
and other small pests.
Insects such as powderpost beetles or termites eat their way
along the grain inside wood until they mature. Mature insects bore
their way out of the wood leaving exit holes.
Active infestations can be identified by exit holes and a fine
sawdust called frass appearing under the piece of furniture. Active
infestations should be isolated as soon as possible and an exterminator and/or conservator
should be consulted.
Cockroaches can damage the existing finish by feeding on the build up of
body oils, grease and dirt that has accumulated on the surface. Their
excrement can stain raw wood surfaces found in drawers and interior
Small rodents are attracted to the upholstery materials found in
antiques for use when nesting. Rodent activity should be addressed
as irreparable damage could result if left unattended.
Cleaning and Polishing
The idea that antique furniture
needed to be fed with oil to keep from drying out is a myth.
Wood does not dry out from the lack of oil but rather from the lack
of moisture. As such, storage in hot dry areas such as an attic
should be kept to a minimum.
Furniture oils will temporarily enhance the finish and appearance,
but can contribute to the degradation of the finish over time as
oils leave a residue that can attract dust and dirt build up.
The preferred method of maintaining
a varnished finish is a coat of high quality paste wax. Furniture
paste wax is stable and long lasting. It will provide protection
from moisture and dust and is not permanent.
A thin coat of wax
applied following the manufacturers recommendation annually will
help protect your antique furniture's finish. In between waxing,
dusting with a soft, lint free cloth on a regular basis. Dampen the
cloth slightly and turn frequently. A dry rag can cause scratches
Wax may not be appropriate for surfaces with a deteriorating finish;
if in doubt, consult a furniture restoration specialist in your area
for advice on how to best care for your antique furniture.
Silicone based polishes should be avoided as silicone can penetrate
the finish and will cause problems with future restoration or repairs. Silicone oil leaves a difficult to
remove film behind that affects the adhesion of spot repairs or
restoration of the existing finish.
With time brass and copper hardware
will acquire a soft patina that may appear to some as unattractive.
Brass and copper hardware on historical and other valuable antiques
should not be polished to remove the tarnished appearance. The
original finish and patina should be retained on the hardware
including handles, knobs, hinges, pulls and escutcheons.
Handling and Moving
When moving your antique furniture
you should check for loose or damaged joinery. Chairs should always
be carried by the seat rails as opposed to the back splat, top rail
or arms. Tables should be carried by the apron or legs instead of
the top which could pull loose from the base. Large pieces should
always be lifted and never dragged across the floor.
When transporting your antique furniture it's best to first remove
shelves, doors and drawers. Protect glass doors with moving blankets
or other adequate padding. Large items should be transported on
their back or top, preferably their back.
Marble tops should be removed and transported vertically. A marble
top transported laying flat can crack easily. Mirrors and glass
should also be transported and stored vertically.
The finish found on historic
furniture is as important as the furniture piece itself. Stripping
and refinishing removes the original finish coating and damages the
patina as well. Once removed, it can never be recovered. Patterns of
wear indicating the history of use are also lost during refinishing.
The appearance of antique furniture can be enhanced without damaging
the existing finish. Consulting a restoration expert prior to
treating your antiques will help preserve what only time can
produce. Maintaining the original aged finish should be the primary
General Antique Furniture Care
- Avoid placing antique furniture in front of a window or direct sunlight.
- Avoid placing antiques near air conditioning and heating vents.
- Don't place your antique furniture near fireplaces and stoves.
- Blot up spills immediately.
- Dust regularly using a lint free cloth.
It's worthy to note that not all
antique furniture has significant monetary, artistic or historical
value. The notion that removing the finish from any
antique or collectible piece of furniture destroys the value is only exaggerated by the simple
misinterpretation of comments such as this seen on popular
Many antiques increase in value after the proper restoration or
complete refinishing and repair. Consult a professional when in
As always, it's best to err on the side of caution when considering
a course of treatment or repairs to your antique furniture. If you
believe you might possess a piece with significant historical value
or provenance, it's best to consult a licensed appraiser for values
and conservator for any repairs or restoration.