How to clean and care for your wood furniture

Purchasing good quality wood furniture can be a big investment for any family, whether you’re just starting out or are looking for an upgrade. It is important, therefore, to understand what can be done to maintain the quality of your wooden furniture pieces so that they can retain their value and sleek appearance.

Causes of Wood Furniture Damage

The first step in understanding how to prevent damage and maintain the condition of your wooden furniture is to understand what environmental elements can cause damage to your pieces. The vast majority of damage to pieces of wooden furniture stems from a lack of understanding of the properties of wood and how it interacts with its surrounding environment. Below we will highlight common environmental factors that may affect the quality of your wood pieces.

Light – Light is probably the most common environmental factor that can affect the quality of your wood furniture, and is quite manageable in the grand scheme of maintaining an optimal environment. As a general rule, the brightness and intensity of light is directly proportional to how much damage it may inflict. Unfortunately, light’s damaging effects are often irreversible. Depending on how bright the light that your furniture is exposed to, light can cause discoloration or bleaching, and can wear down the furniture’s coatings. Naturally, the best remedy for this problem is to remove your furniture from light as much as possible. This may include turning off lights when you are not in a room, leaving blinds closed during the day, or adding some type of cover to the exposed surface.

Humidity – As humidity rises and falls with changes in the weather, wood tends to absorb any excess water in the air, causing it to swell. This swelling tends to occur unevenly, and occurs differently depending on the direction of the wood grain. Over time this can cause furniture to warp, which may result in damage or pieces not fitting together correctly. It is important to maintain a relatively average humidity throughout the year in order to prevent the furniture’s wood from swelling and shrinking. If necessary, using a humidifier in the winter or a de-humidifier in summer may help mitigate large changes in relative humidity. Although this is not as big of an issue here in Southwest Colorado, it is still an important factor to take into account.

Mold, Mildew, and Fungus – Speaking of humidity, it is not uncommon for certain types of mold, mildew, and fungus to grow on wood furniture in environments with extreme humidity. As a general rule, keep relative humidity levels under 70% to keep most types of mold, mildew, and fungus from growing on your furniture. This also includes keeping your furniture away from any areas that are exposed to any excess water or moisture. If any of these growths do occur, reduce humidity gradually as to not cause shock to the wood. Basically, keep your furniture away from extreme moisture and these problems should not occur.

Cleaning Wood Surfaces

Most of the time, wood will not need much more than a light dusting to keep it clean and tidy. If there is an excessive buildup of dirt or wax, or if the wood is unfinished, painted, or has a strong finish, cleaning the wood may be a good solution to maintain its original quality. If the wood is already showing signs of damage, it is best to let a professional handle any cleaning and restoration as to not further damage the piece.

A lot of the time, if dusting doesn’t do the trick, a slightly damp cloth may be able to safely remove any access accumulation of dirt or dust. It seems overly simple, but it is important to remember that excessive use of furniture polishing sprays and waxes can build up over time, even causing dirt and dust to be trapped underneath. If there’s a large buildup of dirt or dust, an easy solution might be to use to brush extension on your vacuum cleaner. This adapter will likely be able to remove much of the unwanted buildup while not scratching the wood surface.

If cleaning your furniture is necessary to remove unwanted dirt, the best option is to use a diluted cleaning solution. Most importantly you need to test which solution works best on an unexposed surface of the furniture. A very small amount of mineral spirits or paint thinner diluted in water will hopefully do the trick. Clean only small areas at a time in order to prevent the wood from being exposed to too much moisture from the cleaning products. Follow the cleaning solution with a slightly damp cloth, followed by a dry cloth in order to remove any excess cleaning solution and moisture.

To put the finishing touches on your freshly cleaned wood furniture, you can apply a hard furniture polish in order to bring out the wood finish’s original shine. Waxing and polishing doesn’t need to be done very often, and if done too frequently can cause a cloudy buildup on the surface.

Source: Smithsonian Institute

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