For all types of finishes, dust at least once a week in order to maintain a clean surface and protect the finish from soil build up. Use a clean, lint-free, absorbent cloth for general dusting.
Protect the piece from direct sunlight. Exposure to the Sun's rays can dry out the wood and actually bleach out the color.
Wood breathes so avoid putting the piece in an extremely moist or dry air. Use a humidifier or dehumidifier when needed to help keep wood from drying out or warping. Also, do not place your wood furniture near air vents; the forced air will adversely affect the wood.
Cover the bottoms of your accessories and other tabletop items with felt to prevent scratching. Use coasters under glasses to prevent water marks. Never let water stand on a wood surface, and always use a protective plate under vases filled with water to keep moisture from drawing into your Oriental furniture piece.
Wash the surface of your piece about once a year with a solution of mild soap and water. Using a clean, soft damp cloth, work on a small area at a time, overlapping areas as you work. Clean with the sudsy solution, then rinse with a soap-free dampened cloth, and dry immediately with a soft, lint-free cloth.
Asian furnishings have various finishes from natural wood, varnish, lacquer, shellac, oil, and painted to name a few. It's important for you to know the type of finish in order to properly care for the piece. Remember, it is the finish you are cleaning, not the wood. If you are unsure about the type of finish, try the following tests in an inconspicuous part of the piece.
To determine if the piece has an oil finish, rub a few drops of boiled linseed oil into the wood. If it absorbs, the wood has an oil finish. If it beads up, the wood has a hard finish. To identify which hard finish, rub acetone over a spot in a gentle, circular motion. A piece with a lacquer finish will dissolve in 30 seconds under gentle, circular rubbing. Varnishes and shellacs will turn to a sticky, gel-like substance after a minute or two, and polyurethane/polyester finishes will shed acetone like water.
After you have decided which finish is on your piece, follow the appropriate procedures below.
After washing your piece, and after an occasional polish, mix equal parts of boiled linseed oil and gum turpentine and apply to the wood surfaces with a coarse, lintless cloth, such as cheesecloth. Rub briskly until the wood is completely dry and a sheen appears. Let the oil soak into the wood. Reapply if necessary.
For new Oriental furniture, apply once a month for three to four months, then apply twice a year or as needed.
For older furniture, use a mixture of two parts of boiled linseed oil and one part gum turpentine every six to eight months. Rub especially on the tops of tables, and to the underside of table leaves to prevent warping.
Lacquers, varnishes, shellacs, and painted surfaces can all be protected with waxes or polishes. Select the wax or polish according to the level of gloss or sheen you desire. Do not mix products as a dull film may result. To remove an inappropriate wax or finish, clean the piece with cleaner-conditioner, and then apply the appropriate finish protection.
A paste wax or an aerosol or liquid polish containing silicone will create a high gloss on your piece. Paste waxes offer the best protection and with consecutive applications and a lot of buffing, provide a beautiful high gloss. Paste wax is recommended for fine antiques with a hard finish. It is made from beeswax, a softer, more nourishing wax, and carnauba, a tougher, harder wax. Paste wax comes in various shades, from dark to light, to blend in with the tone of the wood. Clear waxes are also available for painted surfaces.
Aerosol or liquid polishes which contain silicones offer high gloss with very little buffing, clean as well as shine and give the wood a durable protective finish. However, silicones are rather difficult to remove and, therefore, can complicate the process of refinishing in the future. They also tend to show finger smudges more readily and need more frequent applications to maintain the gloss, causing a heavier silicone buildup. Satin-gloss and low-gloss finishes are best achieved and maintained by the use of cream waxes or liquid cleaning polishes which do not contain silicones. Oil polishes can be used as well, but require more rubbing and attract dust quickly.
It is important to make repairs to furniture as quickly as possible after the spill or other mishap occurs.
Candle Wax, Chewing Gum:
Hold an ice cube over the wax or gum for a few seconds so that it will chill and harden. Be sure to wipe up water as the ice melts to prevent water spots on your furniture. Remove as much of the wax or gum as possible with your fingers, then scrape the remainder gently using the dull edge of a table knife. Rub the spot briskly with a cloth saturated in cream wax. Repeat if needed.
Do not apply nail polish remover to stain; it will quickly damage the finish of your piece. Instead, soften the nail polish by rubbing it with a cloth saturated in mineral spirits. If the finish is hard, apply paste wax with fine steel wool in the direction of the grain. Apply a small amount of oil to an oil finish.
Checking and cracking of hard finishes on Asian furniture is usually caused by exposure to extreme heat or cold. Although it is usually necessary to refinish the surface, waxing will improve the appearance when checking is not too extreme. Once the wax has dried, however, it may appear white in the cracks. To remove the white lines, rub with a cloth saturated in turpentine. Use an old toothbrush to get wax out of the crevices. Wash with mild soap and warm water, rinse with clear water and dry well. Rewax the surface. NOTE: When working on a checked finish, always use a circular motion.
You can hide minor scratches which have not penetrated the finish just by applying paste wax. If this doesn't work, try one of these:
- Break a Brazil nut, black walnut or butternut in half and rub into the blemish.
- Color the scratch with brown coloring crayon or liquid shoe dye (especially good on walnut).
- Stain the scratch with iodine: Mahogany - use new iodine; Brown or cherry mahogany - iodine that has turned dark brown; Maple - dilute one part iodine with one part denatured alcohol. After staining the scratch rub the area with rottenstone and oil as prescribed for alcohol stains.
Removing grease stains on furniture very difficult. If the stain is very deep or old, you may be out of luck. For less severe stains try the following:
- Place a blotter over the greasy spot. Press with a warm iron. Repeat until the spot is removed.
- Make a thick paste of Fuller's Earth and liquid spot remover, such as Carbona. Apply to the spot and allow the paste to dry. Brush away dry residue. Repeat several times if necessary.
- Saturate the area with mineral spirits. Place Fuller's Earth, talcum powder, sawdust or an old cloth over the spot to absorb the grease as it is drawn out by the first application. Continue until the spot is removed.
Many common products such as perfumes, medicines and beverages contain alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol has a tendency to dissolve varnish and shellac. Should you spill alcohol on your piece, wipe it up immediately. For spotting, try one of the following treatments:
- When the damage to the surface isn't too severe, try rubbing the spot with paste wax, silver polish, boiled linseed oil or moistened cigar ash then rewax.
- An application of non-sudsy clear household ammonia will work on some finishes. Rub the spot with a damp cloth upon which a few drops of ammonia have been applied. Follow immediately with an application of wax.
- For alcohol spots that were not treated immediately, mix rottenstone and a few drops of boiled linseed oil, sewing machine oil or lemon oil into a creamy paste. Apply the paste to the damaged spot on your furniture using a soft cloth, rubbing with the grain of the wood. If a harsher abrasive is needed, try powdered pumice instead of rottenstone.
Burns are some of the hardest damage to repair; the deeper the burn, the more damage to the furniture. When burns are very deep or severe, only furniture refinishing by a professional will fix the problem.
- For minor surface burns or blemishes, use the same treatment as described above for alcohol stains.
- Another remedy for minor burns or blemishes is to dip a cotton swab in paint remover and rub the damaged area gently to remove the burnt part. Scrape the area if needed. Use one to two drops of clear fingernail polish to fill in the area. Let set and repeat until you build up the area to the same level as the wood of the furniture around it.
- To repair severe surface burns or blemishes, scrape the burned area of your furniture with a knife or razor blade which has been taped for safe usage. To remove loose dirt or charred wood, clean the area with a Q-tip or cotton-tipped toothpick dipped in turpentine. Wrap 4/0 steel wool around the point of a wooden skewer or an orange stick and smooth the damaged area. Clean area again with turpentine.
Complete the process by rubbing the blemish in the direction of the grain with very fine sandpaper or an emery board. Select an oil stain in a matching color and apply with a small brush or cotton-tipped toothpick.
Be careful to stay in the damaged area. Reapply until the stain matches the original finish. Let dry at least two hours.
Fill in the damaged area with stick shellac in a color that matches the wood finish. To apply the shellac, heat a spatula over an electric range unit until the blade is just hot enough to melt the shellac. Scrape off a small piece and press it into the blemish using the edge of the spatula blade. Repeat the process until the area is filled. To level off the area, heat the blade again, wipe it clean and scrape it across the surface. Any excess shellac still remaining may be shaved off with a razor blade. To complete the treatment, sand off the surface using very fine sandpaper or the fine side of an emery board. Rub lightly until the scratch is even with the finish. Lastly, rub the area briskly with a mixture of rottenstone and a few drops of boiled linseed oil, sewing machine oil or lemon oil.
If ink is spilled on a worn or damaged finish in which the unsealed wood is exposed, it will penetrate deep into the wood and become almost impossible to remove. If, however, there's a wax finish on your piece, ink can often be blotted up immediately without staining. Try the following:
Blot the spot immediately before the ink has a chance to penetrate the wood. Clean the surface using a cream wax or a damp cloth. DO NOT RUB - keep turning the cloth to prevent smearing. Should the stain persist, treat the spot with rottenstone and oil as prescribed previously for alcohol stains.
If the stain remains, apply an oxalic acid solution with a medicine dropper or glass rod (two tablespoons oxalic acid to one pint lukewarm water). Allow the solution to stand a few minutes and rinse. The oxalic acid solution is a bleach and works slowly, so give it time to work on the stain. It may also bleach out part of the natural color. The bleach will work better if the spot is sanded lightly before application. (CAUTION: Oxalic acid is poisonous. Be careful.)
Never use paint remover or strong chemicals to dissolve paint; they may cause extensive damage to the finish. Remove fresh paint by rubbing the spot with a cloth saturated in liquid solvent-base wax. For paint stains that have dried, cover the spot with boiled linseed oil. Let stand until softened; then remove with a cloth dampened with boiled linseed oil. If any paint remains, remove with rottenstone and oil, using the same procedure as prescribed for alcohol stains.
White Marks, Spots, and/or Rings:
White marks, spots or rings on furniture are generally caused by some change in the finish due to heat, alcohol or moisture. Successful removal will depend on sufficiently warming and blending the surface without making it rough. Remember that not all substances will work on all finishes. Begin with the mildest and continue to try stronger ones until the spot has been removed.
- Mix equal parts of boiled linseed oil, gum turpentine and vinegar and rub the surface gently.
- Rub lightly over the spot with a cloth dampened in a mixture of one part water and two parts non-sudsy household ammonia.
- Place a piece of blotting paper over the spot and press with a warm iron. For varnished or shellacked surfaces (not lacquer), rub the spot with a cloth dampened in essence of peppermint, spirits of camphor or turpentine and water. Watch carefully to see that the surface does not become tacky or sticky. When dry, apply paste, liquid or cream wax, or polish with a mixture of equal parts of boiled linseed oil and turpentine.
- Moisten a small cotton pad with denatured alcohol or dilute shellac in addition to a few drops of raw linseed oil. Rub over the spot in the direction of the grain.