What's the best way to clean older furniture?

camlanDecember 1, 2011

This question probably should be over on Cleaning Tips, but since it's all older furniture, I thought someone here might have some good advice.

Over the last couple of years, I've been given quite a few pieces of furniture that originally belonged to my great-grandparents or grandparents. It's basic, solid family furniture from about the 1920s, give or take 20 odd years. So not antique. And it's been scratched and dinged here and there, so not in pristine condition. But certainly usable--no weak joints, missing pieces, serious damage.

But they were all made long before the advent of the polyurethane finish. I think some were waxed--there's black gunky stuff in the groves and carved bits. And some just have dust that a plain old duster isn't getting. And some have little finicky bits where a duster can't get, but the dust sure can.

Since I have no clue what the finish is on any of these pieces, what's the best way to approach cleaning them up a bit?

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Really dirty furniture can be cleaned with naphtha or paint thinner to remove the old wax and crud, sometimes a bit of superfine steel wool and a toothbrush for corners and crevices. When it's dry, rub it down with a woolen, then a colored wax (the ones by Liberon ave very good) will bring them back to presentable condition.
Solvents work best in warm weather, and you wouldn't want to do this kind of cleaning indoors without a respirator, and turn off pilot lights, etc.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 11:42AM
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I find that even in the winter, if you use mineral spirits and don['t sop it on....but just moisten a small cloth slightly, you can do a lot to clean up waxy furniture without stinking up your house too badly.
And after you have finished, wiped the piece down well and disposed of the rags outside, you can remove any remaining smell in your house by lighting candles.
also I often use a Q-tip for the really tight spots....it really works to get gook out of corners and carvings.\
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 1, 2011 at 4:11PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Along the same lines, I have a corner cupboard made by my g-g-grandfather around 1850, may be a little earlier, may be a little later. It doesn't need cleaning, but I worry about it drying out. It is mostly solid, but the raised panels on the lower doors have veneer in the center and a small piece has dropped/broken off. Don't want any more spots to do that. It may be the result of being hit by something-it happened years ago at my mother's house.

Forgive the hijack, please Camlan. It seemed to go along with your question and maybe will give you more info, too, if anyone has ideas.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 2:15PM
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The best way to keep old furniture from drying out is to keep your house at a healthy humidity level for people.
No matter what they say....you can't "feed the wood" or "feed the finish" by anything you put on the surface.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 3:48PM
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