Caring for Antique Furniture
One of the great advantages of collecting antique furniture is that it is not only a good investment, but it is something that can be used and enjoyed every day. To protect your investment and insure it’s continued value, it is important to care for it properly.
There are three areas to consider when caring for antiques: proper cleaning, proper protection and maintaining a proper environment. When it comes to caring for antique furniture, dust, direct sunlight and improper environment are furniture’s worst enemies.
Regarding dust, if it is allowed to remain on the surface of your antiques, it can actually damage the finish of wood, brass and other surfaces. Therefore, it is critical to make dusting a part of your weekly routine. You should dust every few days, and at the very least, once a week. How often you dust may also depend on your environment and location.
When dusting, it is important to “do no harm”. Never dust with anything that may scratch the finish of your furniture, whether a dusting or cleaning compound or cloth that may have abrasive properties. Use only a soft cloth, and avoid sprays of any type, including furniture polish. The chemicals used in many of these products that are designed to repel dust and dirt may cause a weakening of the antique’s finish or even stain the wood. Remember, cleaning should protect and preserve your pieces, not cause damage. No matter how good one’s intentions may be, efforts to clean antique furniture, if done improperly, may actually do damage.
Spills should be removed immediately. Water may be simply wiped off with a soft cloth until the surface is dry. However, other spills should be treated more carefully. Rather than wipe away the spill, dab at it with a soft cloth until the spill has been removed. Wiping the spill may damage the finish of the furniture by spreading the spilled liquid over a wider area.
Another enemy of virtually all antiques is direct sunlight. To protect the surface and fabrics of antique furniture, keep them away from windows – especially windows with a southern exposure. Sunlight will not only fade or discolor upholstery, but it is hard of wood surfaces as well. If a piece of furniture such as a table is exposed to sunlight, it is very important to take care when placing lamps or other objects on them. Be sure to change the position of these objects. This will prevent spots from forming where a lamp or other object has been sitting. Once a piece of furniture has faded or been discolored by sunlight, no amount of cleaning or polishing can restore it to its original color and beauty.
Finally, to preserve and protect your antique furniture, it is important to control environmental factors inside your home. Because wood naturally expands and contracts with changes in temperature, it is important to keep temperature changes to a minimum, and take great care to avoid temperature extremes during summer and winter months. However, even more important than controlling temperature is controlling humidity.
Air that is too humid may cause wood to warp, drawers and doors to stick and veneer to swell. In extremely humid conditions, mold and mildew may occur and cause costly damage. Extremely dry air may cause wood to crack and joints to become loose.
If you live in a climate that is prone to temperature and humidity extremes, it is a good idea to invest in a humidifier and dehumidifier. During cold winters when temperatures plunge below zero, the humidity level inside a home can easily drop to as little as 5 percent. Room humidifiers are not expensive, and can easily protect your antique furniture from unnecessary damage due to dry air.
In extremely humid climates, humidity may be controlled by a home’s central air conditioning system. However, when outdoor temperatures are not high enough to make it necessary to use air conditioning, a room dehumidifier will help maintain a safe humidity level.
Antique furniture can be more than just an investment or hobby. Many believe it is best when used and enjoyed. When properly cleaned, maintained and protected these pieces can be passed on for generations.
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