3 Steps To Cleaning Antique Wood Furniture While Preserving Its Value

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Do you have antique wood furniture that needs to be cleaned up a bit? Over the years, antiques made of wood can accumulate a thick layer of dirt and grime on their surface. This layer is usually dark and uneven. It forms when the oil from human fingers gets left behind on the wood whenever someone touches it. This oil then attracts dust and dirt in the atmosphere, which sticks to it and forms the rough, sometimes unsightly exteriors you see on these antiques. However, you must be careful when cleaning antique wood furniture because if you damage it in the cleaning, you can diminish its value. Here's how to do it the right way.

1. Leave Painted or Gilded Areas Alone

According to PBS.org, antiques collectors want their pieces to look as close to their original condition as possible. This means that if there is any gilding or paint on your antique piece, you should leave it alone as much as you can manage. Dust these areas lightly, using a soft brush. It doesn't matter if the paint is cracked or the gilding is tarnished; dusting is all you need to do to keep these areas clean.

If you plan on re-selling the piece someday, your buyers will want original features like these as intact as possible. Therefore, being gentle so as not to damage what is left of the paint and/or gilding is important. 

2. Remove Water Soluble Residue

The areas of built-up oil and dirt are water soluble and can be removed without damaging the original finish underneath if you are careful. The piece will look much nicer without this build-up on it, and will still be maintained in its desirable original condition.

To remove the dirty build-up, use mild soapy water made with some light dish soap. Only use soap meant for dishes in the sink. Dishwasher soap is too acidic and may strip the original finish underneath the grime, which would diminish the value of your antique.

Dip a soft cotton cloth in the soapy water and use light pressure to gently break up and remove the solid grime. Only use as much water as you need to get the job done. If you saturate the wooden antique with water, you can damage it and cause the wood to crack or break. Dry the area with another soft cloth as soon as you're done washing it.

Don't put any water near places where the finish is already cracked or chipped, as this could cause even more damage to the piece. In these instances, it's better to leave the grime where it is.

3. Protect the Surface from More Grime With a Coat of Wax

Adding wax is the only acceptable addition to antique wood furniture. This is because it can be easily removed and does not damage the finish of the original piece. Once you are done cleaning off the grime, apply a coat of furniture wax without an oil base. The furniture will look shiny and new, and additional grime will not stick to it. A thin layer is fine. That allows the surface to be protected while still letting you see it clearly.

Cleaning wooden antique furniture is a delicate business. If yours has never been cleaned and has that tell-tale grime build-up, you will need to remove it to keep your furniture looking its best. The key is to clean it without damaging the original finish, gilding, or paint. This makes your furniture desirable to buyers, attractive to look at in your home, and preserves its value. If you have specific questions about how to clean a piece, make sure to consult an appraiser or other antique professional.