Cleaning Wood Furniture

The cleaning of wood furniture is sometimes required when, after dusting or buffing, the finish looks dull or heavily soiled, or if there is a build up of wax. Cleaning should be per- formed only as needed, not on a routine sched-
ule. It should be attempted only on surfaces that
have a sound, stable, clear tinish or on those that
are completely unfinished.

Cleaning should always be preceded by the re- moval of loose surface soil or dust. This can be
accomplished by using a clean soft cotton cloth
or a vacuum with clean soft brush attachment.
(See Conserve 0 Gram 715. >

The cleaning of historic wood furniture beyond
dusting is not always desirable, and curatorial
judgment is often required. Some furniture has
developed a surface patina, accumulations of finish, wax, and soil that may in some cases be
considered an integral part of the piece’s
appearance. Wear and soil patterns can indicate
historic uses and contribute to the unique value
and character of the piece. If questions such as these arise, consult the Regional Curator or a
conservator who specializes in furniture
treatment for professional assistance.
Clear-Finished Furniture
Clear-finished furniture (those with a coating of
shellac, varnish, or lacquer) can be cleaned only
if the surface of the finish is neither embrittled,
cracked, raised, nor flaking.

After testing the finish, wipe the surface with a
cotton cloth dampened with mineral spirits. A
soft bristle brush dipped in mineral spirits can be helpful in cleaning hard-to-reach places around
carvings and intricate decorations. Wipe the
surface with a clean cloth and let dry for several
If a second cleaning is required to remove
stubborn dirt, try wiping lightly with a clean cotton cloth dampened in a weak solution of a
mild soap (e.g., Ivory Flakes’“, shavings from
Ivory” bar soap, or OrvusTM paste or liquid, but
not Ivory Dishwashing Liquid’“) and warm
water, and wrung out well. Follow this by a thorough wiping with a cloth dampened slightly
in clear water and then dry completely with
another clean cotton cloth. Never use detergents
because they leave a tilm that is difficult to
remove and which may permanently damage
some finishes.


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