Prevent damage from water, heat and light
The most important key to caring for your wood furniture is prevention. Wood responds to relative humidity by expanding and contracting as it tries to maintain a balance with its environment. During the dry winter months wood tends to shrink and during hot damp summers wood expands. Long-term exposure to these conditions leads to cracking, warping and splitting.
Keep water and heat from damaging the finish. A great deal of surface damage can be prevented if you always remember to use coasters, mats and trivets and avoid placing hot and/or wet items directly on furniture. Spilled water should be thoroughly wiped up immediately. Alcohol and solvents (nail polish, nail polish remover, perfumes) should be dabbed, not wiped because they can act like a furniture stripper and damage the finish. White rings left from either a hot drink or a wet glass should be attended to right away. A little Brasso applied with a clean cloth may do the trick.
Prolonged, uneven exposure to direct sunlight will cause irregular fading and damage, so position furniture away from sunny windows or rotate/rearrange frequently to minimize the sun’s impact. Never slide anything (vase, plate, serving dish etc) across a surface because it will scratch. Deep scratches require the skill of professional restorers.
Use a clean soft rag, or micro fibre cloth, lightly dampened with water – just enough to pick up the dust. Lift objects to dust underneath rather than sliding them across the wood surface, which could scratch the finish.
Clean only when necessary
To remove surface soils, clean finished wood surfaces with a mild pH neutral detergent and water solution (e.g., a few drops of dish detergent in a cup of water) applied with a damp cloth, and dry immediately.
Protect and Shine
Wood furniture pieces with a hard finish such as lacquer, polyurethane, or shellac can be polished yearly with a high quality furniture wax in a well-ventilated area. Silicone sprays and polishes offer no real protection and can interfere with the eventual refinishing of the piece.
When necessary, call in an expert
Precious antiques may require special handling to maintain their value, so it’s wise to get advice from a qualified wood restoration expert or furniture conservator. Likewise, if you notice any splitting or cracking, chipped veneer, or peeling, flaking or gummy finish, it’s time to call in an expert.