How To Clean Wood On Antique Furniture Without Damaging Patina

Written by cat mccabe
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How To Clean Wood On Antique Furniture Without Damaging Patina
Harsh cleaners reduce an antique's value. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Patina is a unique surface quality that grows on an antique over time. Scratches, dents, spots where finish is rubbed away, a groove made in a rocker's arm from years of tapping from a knitting needle -- these things all combine to create patina, and cleaning and polishing it away will reduce the antique object's value. There's a difference between patina and dirt, however, and limited, gentle cleaning will protect patina and not destroy it.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Soft, lint-free cloths
  • Lemon oil (optional)
  • Carnuba wax (optional)

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  1. 1

    Dust antique wood once a week, lightly, with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove surface dirt.

  2. 2

    Barely dampen another lint-free cloth with water. Wipe a small section of the wood surface gently to dislodge stubborn dirt. Follow immediately with a dry cloth, buffing it until it is fully dry before moving on to another section. Repeat until the entire surface is clean and dry.

  3. 3

    Use a light coating of lemon oil to moisturise and protect antique wood without destroying patina. Wipe it on one small area at a time and follow with another cloth, buffing until the wood glows. Do this once each winter, when humidity is the lowest and wood becomes dry.

Tips and warnings

  • For shellacked, varnished or polyurethaned antiques, patina is not an issue. A light, annual polish of carnuba wax, buffed to a shine will keep the surface protected.
  • Do not use spray furniture polishes on antiques. They contain silicone which builds up and has an oily texture that never quite soaks into the wood.

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