How to clean antique furniture

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The joy of antique furniture is that it can be used as well as admired. It’s quite easy to imagine a 17th-century family sitting around a humble walnut dining table, or a previous owner creating an artistic piece over an antique writing desk, quill in hand. But despite the inimitable craftsmanship of antique furniture, its usability also means that it’s susceptible to damage. The extent of a piece’s restoration can significantly affect its price and investment potential, so knowing how to clean antique furniture is a must.

How to clean and polish antique furniture

Whether you’re a collector or dealer, knowing the best way to buff up old wood right down to how to clean antique brass door knobs is invaluable if you don’t want the worth of an investment to drop. It’s important to know how different materials can be affected by heat, light, humidity, chemicals and even insects, so here are the precautions you need to take for the most common types:

Metals: How to clean antique brass furniture

The patina which forms on brass and copper is highly desirable, so one thing to avoid at all costs is cleaning it with a metal polish. It will turn brass into an unsightly greenish-brown and lower the value of a piece. If you’re wondering how to clean antique brass furniture, simply take a soft cloth or chamois and give it regular, light polishes - nothing too heavy as brass scratches easily. If it’s a case of how to clean antique brass furniture with heavy staining, buy a long-term brass cleaner or impregnated wadding such as Brasso. Use a soft brush to remove dirt or dust first, which could potentially scratch the surface if rubbed into the piece.

Woods: How to clean antique oak furniture 

As with brass, preserving the patina of wooden furniture is just as crucial to retain the character, authenticity and value of a piece. There are various different finishes to be aware of when you’re looking at how to clean antique oak furniture: oil or beeswax polishes are common on oak and country furniture from the 16th to 19th century. These are more resistant to minor bruises and light spills than varnish or lacquer. Furniture that has been regularly waxed over the years should only require a little buffing with a soft chamois leather or duster. Avoid furniture polishes – that many contain solvents which will leave white marks on surfaces and dissolve lacquers over time. If the piece has carved details, clean them with a soft brush and make sure you remove any leftover polish from the crevices.

Stone:

How to clean antique marble table top

Be careful with marble - it’s highly porous and tends to stain easily. Due to its common use in furniture tops, it’s prone to discolouring and deterioration. Lemon juice, vinegar and wine can all etch the surface of marble and remove its polish. Make sure you properly research how to clean antique marble table top pieces before taking to them with any stain remover - attempting to do this can force the stain deeper or erode the surface of the marble. To clean antique marble, use a white spirit and distilled (purified) water (about half a pint each) with one teaspoon of mild or non-ionic detergent. Gently wipe (don’t rub) the surface with cotton wool dampened in the solution. Dust white marble with pure talc to fill the pores and prevent dust from lying in them.

Textiles:

How to clean antique furniture upholstery

Dust and pests are your biggest enemies when it comes to upholstered furniture - so you’ll need a hoover to regularly shed pieces of lingering mites. You might be wondering how to clean antique furniture upholstery without the harshness of a hoover - this can simply be solved by placing a meshed stocking over the nozzle. The exception is with fine, very old upholstery: these should be used for display only, perhaps with a loose cover for extra protection.

Knowing how to clean antique furniture can often be a matter of common sense. Over-zealous cleaning, exposing pieces to the elements or going too far with restoration can all reduce authenticity and value. Understanding how these organic materials - wood, stone, metal and textiles - react to the environment around them will ensure your treasures retain their beauty for even more centuries to come. From buffed bureaus to high-quality cabinets, browse our cared-for collection of antique furniture or pop into Hemswell Antique Centre to see those glorious patinas up close.

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