Okay, so you've found that perfect piece at a garage or tag sale! Now, how can you bring out its best?
As a first step to removing layers of grime, use an oil soap and water. Rinse and dry well. If the finish still seems dirty, clean lightly with #0000 steel wool dipped in a cleaning product. Some products with a milky appearance are formulated to dissolve both solvent-based and oil-based residues. Do not use mixtures containing boiled linseed oil, turpentine, or white vinegars. Museum conservators say these things darken wood and attract dust and lint. Instead, apply clear paste wax.
- If a vintage piece has a lingering smell, air outside on a warm, dry day. Shade from direct sunlight.
- Pour talcum powder or baking soda over the surface to absorb odors.
- Place a shallow pan of charcoal briquettes inside drawers.
- Rub the upper edge of sticking drawers with a white candle.
Remove hardware from the furniture piece. Clean with a metal or brass cleaner and buff. Reattach when completely dry.
If the top of wood furniture is slightly scratched, apply paste wax or use a felt-tip touch-up pen.
To treat deeper scratches that gouge into the wood, use wood filler or a colored filler wax stick available at hardware and home improvement stores. Match as closely as possible to the color of your piece, applying in several thin layers rather than in one thick layer.
Adapted from the book, Making a Home (Meredith, 2001).