How to Care for Solid Wood Furniture
What Makes Wood Furniture So Unique?
Like a lot of traditional building materials, wood has been replaced by plastic, Formica and other man-made materials. This is due, in part, to the demand for cheaper furniture, but it hasn’t completely cooled the demand for wooden pieces. According to the latest research, 42 percent of US consumers still think it’s very important to have real hardwood furniture in the house. Here are some of the biggest reasons for this demand:
Most furniture is built to look a certain way, and mass production guarantees no unit looks different from the rest. On the other hand, one piece of wooden furniture can look different every time it’s stripped and refinished. Furthermore, many wood pieces are handmade, and since no two trees come with the same tones and markings, no two pieces of furniture will look exactly the same.
Control The Environment
Your furniture responds to changes in temperature and humidity by expanding and contracting slightly. You must keep the indoor humidity in the 30 to 45 percent range and the temperature in the 60 to 80 degree range 365 days a year. Ultraviolet light from the sun and florescent fixtures can cause chemical changes in the wood and/or finish. Avoid placing furniture in an area where the sun will shine directly on it. Keep furniture away from direct sources of heating and cooling. Avoid storing furniture in an attic or cellar-type environment. Inexpensive humidity gauges can be purchased at your local hardware store.
Many building materials contain formaldehyde, which has been deemed a carcinogen by numerous health organizations. Wood does not pose this risk, and because it can last a long time there’s less need to throw out old or damaged pieces, which end up in crowded landfills. Even if a piece stops working as furniture, the wood can be recycled into something else.
Furniture works the same way as fashion. A funky bracelet or a fedora looks good for one year and then silly for the rest of its existence. A black dress or simple dark suit lasts forever. Wood furniture serves
the same purpose. Leather or fabric furniture looks good only in certain settings. Wood belongs in any setting, no matter the theme.
Even if you don’t need to fix solid wood furniture, time will take its toll. Like other household items, furniture can look worn after years of everyday use. Also, because wood is a natural element, it’s more vulnerable to other natural elements than pieces made from chemicals. Over the years, your classic furniture can start to look like an old hand-me-down. Luckily, there are things you can do- and avoid – to lengthen the life of your furniture.
What to Do
Regular maintenance can slow the deterioration of hardwood furniture- or even prevent it altogether. Here are some of the best ways to preserve the beauty of your pieces:
Everyday Maintenance for your Solid Wood Furniture:
Clean & Polish Regularly: you don’t have to clean your furniture every day. as long as you make it a part of your regular cleaning calendar. You’ll need to spend more time cleaning the pieces that get the most use, but for regular use semi-daily dusting and a polish every six months.
Keep Used Surfaces Covered: Whenever you do something on wood furniture, you compromise the quality. Cover up those used areas to protect your investment. Place tablecloths and placemats on dining tables, for instance, and place felt pads under the lamps on your end tables. Also, keep coasters nearby— it doesn’t take long for a water ring to form on a table’s surface.
Monitor the Climate: Wood swells in high humidity and shrinks in low. All this up-and-down eventually warps the wood and may even cause your furniture to break. Invest in a humidifier and/or dehumidifier to keep furniture intact, especially if you live in an area that experiences on extreme or another.
Prevent Infestations: Bugs are never welcome in homes, but certain bugs will literally eat you out of your house and home, including wood furniture. It’s much harder to resolve an infestation than to prevent one, so follow EPA guidelines and keep wood beetles and termites at bay before they destroy your real hardwood furniture.
What Not to Do
Many of the things we take for granted are also damaging to solid wood furniture. You can’t always eliminate them from your life, but you can take steps to keep them away from your furniture. Protect your investment by keeping it away from:
Chemicals: Keep items like solvents and nail-polish remover away from your furniture— if they spill, they can strip the finish. Also, choose cleaning products carefully. Some cleaners contain bleach, alcohol or other products that can stain or strip wood. Stay away from those products and find natural alternatives. If you’re not sure what to use, try a recommendation from the Environmental Working Group.
Plastics: Those plastic cups and place mats might have been a great value. Over time, though, their colors can leach into wood furniture and the heat and humidity they absorb can damage your furniture’s look and shape. Keep plastic items away from your furniture and replace them with cloth alternatives.
Sunlight: If you’re thinking that wooden chair would look great on your sundeck, think again. Sunlight bleaches wood and degrades furniture finishes, so it is best to keep it away from wood furniture altogether. Even artificial light can do damage, so furnish those rooms with UV filters and only turn on the lights when someone’s in the room.
Heat: Fireplaces, radiators and heaters keep a room warm but take a toll on wood furniture. It’s fine to keep the two in the same room as long as they aren’t side by side. Wherever theses heat sources sit, place wood as far away as possible.
Cleaning & Care Tips
Taking all these precautions won’t keep solid wood furniture from getting dirty. Your pieces require regular cleaning— within reason. Using cleaners with harsh chemicals or being too aggressive in your routine can actually do more harm than good, whether it scratches the surfaces or takes the shine off the finish. Proper care requires the right technique and the right product when performing any of these tasks.
Regular dusting, every few days or so, is the best way to keep your furniture looking shiny and prevent dust from settling on the wood. Soft cloths and feather dusters work best, but they only move the dust away from the furniture, not out of the air. A lambs-wool duster with lanolin or a slightly damp terry cloth will capture dust and keep your furniture dust-free for a few more days.
The finish is durable and resistant to most household spills. However, spills should be wiped up promptly to avoid potential problems. For most routine cleaning, a soft cloth dampened with warm, soapy water will do the trick. The use of well-formulated cleaning products, without abrasives, can be effective for those tougher cleaning tasks. If using these products, a follow-up with the warm, soapy water and soft cloth will help extensively. Remember that it is important to frequently refold the cloth to a clean side as it becomes dirty. A soiled, damp cloth can redeposit soil on the finish.
Avoid products that are ammonia-based or contain silicone. Use polishes sparingly if at all. Your finish does not benefit from them; and they tend to build up a film on the finish that will attract dust and soil. A good annual cleaning will also help protect the finish. Remember that warm soapy water and wiping it dry is the best cleaning method since your finish has a very hard surface. Using any easy care cleaning product can create a build up and we do not recommend this.
Control the Environment
Your furniture responds to changes in temperature and humidity by expanding and contracting slightly. You must keep the indoor humidity in the 30 to 45 percent range and the temperature in the 60 to 80 degree range 365 days a year. Ultraviolet light from the sun and fluorescent fixtures can cause chemical changes in the wood and/or finish. Avoid placing furniture in an area where the sun will shine directly on it. Keep furniture away from direct sources of heating and cooling. Avoid storing furniture in an attic or cellar-type environment. Inexpensive humidity gauges can be purchased at your local hardware store.
One reason wooden furniture can last such a long time is because most damage is easy to fix. Anything made from cheap material tends to break easily, and anything made with fabric loses its luster once the material rips. By contrast, hardwood furniture is sturdy and can withstand most mishaps.
The biggest challenge to repairing furniture is what to use. You want something that gets rid of the damage without destroying the finish. Wood-repair kits are available on line and in stores, or you could do it yourself using:
• Pumice, a mild abrasive that can sand down or smooth out a damaged surface
• Mineral spirits, a great alternative to turpentine
• Linseed oil, also sold as flax seed oil, which solidifies to create a shiny surface
Keep these materials handy to repair the most common issues, such as:
Spill and White Rings
This is why you need to keep coasters nearby. Sweat from a cold glass or heat from a hot beverage can penetrate the finish and leave a white ring on your tabletop. Try blowing a hair dryer on the affected area. If that doesn’t work, rub car wax, petroleum jelly or toothpaste on the area, and then wipe away with a damp cloth. Whatever remedy you use, use it right away. Moisture can travel far below the surface, and the longer it penetrates the harder it is to remove.
Ink stains can be difficult to remove from solid wood furniture, but not impossible. To get rid of ink, mix baking soda and water and pour the mix over the stain. Wipe it off with a damp cloth. Treated surfaces
would do better with a mix of water and dish washing liquid. Test a small spot before treating the whole stain -you don’t want to remove a stain and damage the finish in the process.
Gum sticks to everything and wood is no exception. If it gets stuck on your wood chair or table, remove as much of the gum as you can and freeze whatever’s left. Do this with a bag full of ice- some people
recommend ice in a paper towel, but that could leak and leave a water mark. Leave the bag on for about 10 minutes and then scrape the gum off with a butter knife or some other flat tool. If you end up leaving a scratch while doing this, read on.
Nicks and Scratches
It’s not hard to scratch up wood furniture – even cleaning with rough materials could leave a mark. If the scratch is small and shallow enough, all you need is a little color. Depending on the depth and finish, you can mask the scratch with a marker, crayon, shoe polish or even coffee grounds. Whatever you choose, two rules apply. First, choose a color that matches the finish. Second, apply the solution in the direction of the scratch.
Remove dust and dry stains with a vacuum cleaner or a soft brush attachment every 10-15 days. Dab spills with a soft, clean, white cloth or absorbent paper towel. If possible, do not let spills dry.
Leather upholstery should be dusted regularly and wiped down with a slightly damp cloth. Never use wax, polish or oil cleaners. A Leather Conditioner would be recommended for keeping your leather fresh and brings out the color. Using a soft cloth to buff the leather after cleaning will add luster to the leather. Spots and Spills: Blot excess liquid immediately with a clean absorbent cloth or sponge.
Invest in Solid Wood Amish Furniture for Your Home
Solid wood furniture is a great way to invest in your home. Like any investment, though, it needs proper care and attention. Follow the steps above and your hardwood furniture will be a long-lasting symbol of sophistication and timeless beauty.