Raiding Grandma's attic or buying a great thrift store find may leave you with a stunning piece of furniture that you have no idea how to take care of or clean. Some antique or vintage furniture may have a layer of dust covering it, while other pieces are truly dirty. Getting rid of the dust and grime allows you, your family and your guests to enjoy it and marvel at its beauty rather than what lies under the dirt crust. After you have cleaned up the antique or vintage furniture, you want to keep it looking as good as possible, which means you can't clean it like you would clean newer furniture. The finishes usually don't hold up to today's cleaners.
Cleaning Antique or Vintage Furniture
Bring your vintage or antique furniture outside for the initial cleaning.
Set a handheld hair dryer to a cool setting and blow as much dust and dirt off the surface as possible. If you don't have a hair dryer that has a cool setting, vacuum the surface with an upholstery brush attachment gently to remove layers of dust and dirt.
Wipe the surface of it with a chamois cloth. Wipe carvings and crevices with a cotton tipped swab.
If it still looks dirty, wet a well worn flannel rag or a chamois cloth with plain water. Wring out as much water as you can so the rag is left slightly damp. Wipe the surface of the vintage or antique furniture with the damp cloth and immediately wipe it dry with a second cloth. If it has any lifting veneer, work around that section, do not let the water come in contact with the lifting veneer until after you repair it.
If it still looks dirty and needs a little more aggressive cleaning, add 1 teaspoon of dish soap into a 1/2 gallon of water. Wet a soft, rag with the soap and water. Squeeze out as much water as you can. Wipe the surface of the furniture and follow it immediately with a dry rag. Do not let water sit on a piece of antique or vintage furniture -- you will ruin it. Test the soap method on a hidden area to determine if the finish is stable enough for soap.
Protecting the Finish With Wax
Wax adds a thin layer of protection to the furniture finish. This does not mean you can treat the item carelessly, it just means it is more protected than it was without wax. Wax should only be applied to vintage and antique wood finishes every two to three years.
Rub a soft, clean rag into a dark colored wood wax. Wipe the wax onto the finish and wipe it off the furniture before it dries. Rubbing the wax off before it dries leaves a thin layer of wax and requires less rubbing than dried wax. Dip a cotton swab in the colored wax and apply it to crevices and wipe it off with a clean cotton swab before the wax dries.
Lightly brush dust off the surface with a lamb's wool duster or a feather duster. Make sure the feather duster is soft and free of hard quills, as these will leave scratches on the furniture.
Always use coasters for beverages.
If it is a dinner table, use a table pad covered with a tablecloth.
Move the furniture when vacuuming to avoid crashing into it with the vacuum.