The first thing you need to know: Most wooden furniture comes treated in one of these three ways.
- Clear lacquer
The most popular finish, it shows off the beauty of the wood’s grain, offers good protection against scratches and spills, and is easy to maintain. How to tell whether a piece is lacquered? Look for a thick coating on top of the wood. Underneath, there will usually be an obvious line where the coating stops. Still not sure? Call the manufacturer.
Usually found on teak and walnut furniture, oil is rubbed or soaked into the wood to give it a soft luster–which looks natural and beautiful but provides little scratch protection.
Paints on Oriental and antiqued furniture are good examples of this easy-care finish, which hides the wood’s grain but provides a tough barrier.
The fine points of polish
You can and should polish any piece of wooden furniture, regardless of its finish, to remove dust, keep it conditioned, and add shine. For most pieces, once a week is best.
- Read the label.
Before buying a polish, you need to know whether its base is oil or wax. If your furniture has an oil finish, you should always use an oil-based polish. If the finish is lacquer or opaque, either kind of polish is fine, but stick with the same type switching back and forth will make furniture look cloudy.
- Apply polish properly.
To avoid smearing and polish buildup, first add the product to a clean cloth and then wipe the furniture. Buff with another clean cloth. Always work in the direction of the wood’s grain.
Try this great new shortcut–a furniture wipe.
These premoistened cloths have oils and cleansers built in, so they zap dust and fingerprints while leaving some shine behind.
Surface marred? What to do.
- White rings and water marks
Apply clear ammonia to a dampened cloth and gently rub the stained lacquer. Dry with a clean cloth, then polish. For any remaining stain, use the following treatment: Make a thin paste of boiled linseed oil and a soft abrasive like rotten stone (both available at hardware stores). Lightly work the paste into the mark with your finger. Wipe with a soft cloth and polish.
And don’t forget …
- NEVER DUST WITH A DRY CLOTH. Tiny dirt particles are abrasive and will scratch the finish.
- TREAT SURFACES GENTLY. Wood is easily marked by plastic mats or appliances with rubber feet, so avoid putting these on wood. Hot or wet serving dishes can also cause trouble, so always place a trivet on top of a cloth or a fabric place mat.
- CLOSE THE BLINDS. Direct sunlight can bleach the wood or cause fine cracks in the finish.