BE VERY CAREFUL with liquids on wood. Wood should never get wet or soaked. Most Amish made furniture has a catalyzed conversion varnish finish that provides a temporary barrier from spills - prolonged liquid contact can cause swelling, warping or staining when it penetrates a finish. Blot spills up immediately.
Keep Plastic & Rubber Off
Only use fabric/cloth for tablecloths, placemats, and coasters, and use neutral felt instead of rubber for the feet of trivets or display objects that you place on top of your wood furniture.
Do not leave plastic or rubber objects lying on wood surfaces. Plastic tablecloths, placemats, coasters, or rubber trivet feet, etc., should not be used on top of wood furniture since the chemicals in the plastics/rubber may react with the varnish and damage the furniture surface.
Color from plastic tablecloths, appliance covers, wrappers, placemats and toys can leach into wood over time. Plastic can also stick to a finish, damaging it when it is pulled up.
Use fabric coasters, pads, cloths or runners to protect against spills and water rings.
How to Dust
DO NOT USE A FEATHER DUSTER because it will simply move dust around, flinging it into the air. Feather dusters can't be washed, and a quill could scratch the wood surface if a feather breaks off. Dust is abrasive so infrequent or improper dusting can create a worn, dull surface over the years. Dust can accumulate in carvings, cracks, and grooves and make wood look dark and unattractive. This dusty buildup eventually becomes hard to remove.
Use a clean, washable cloth made of soft, lint-free cotton. The best choices include an old T-shirt, diaper, cheesecloth, dish towel, piece of flannel, or chamois. The cloth should have no snaps, buttons, zippers, or thick seams that could scratch furniture surfaces. Do not use a cloth that has hanging threads or unraveling edges. These could catch on wood slivers, molding, knobs or other loose pieces.
Experts typically recommend sprinkling a few drops of water onto a dusting cloth. The trick is to moisten the cloth just enough to make dust adhere to it. The cloth should not be so damp that it wets the wood. If you can see any trace of water on the wood after you wipe, your cloth is too damp. Some conservators recommend using distilled water for heirlooms or antiques. As you dust, keep turning the cloth to expose a clean surface so that you do not scratch the wood finish with the dust already on the cloth.
Follow the Grain
Wipe off dust using gentle, oval motions in the same direction as the grain of the wood. Turn or fold the cloth as soon as dirt is visible on any section. Keep a pile of clean cloths handy so you don't move dust and dirt from one spot to another. Lift, don't slide, lamps and objects to dust under and around them. Avoid soiling adjoining upholstery. Launder soiled dusting cloths immediately.
Carefully Choose Wood Care Products
Unless your furniture is unfinished, or the finish has deteriorated, when you clean your furniture you're actually cleaning the finish, not the wood. Proper care can prolong the life of a finish, making the surface of furniture slippery so that objects slide along it without scratching.
The catalyzed finish on the furniture does not need additional polish. If you want to use a polish, do not use any wax or polish that contains silicones. Silicone oil is used in most commercial furniture sprays and polishes but this oil may penetrate the finish and make it difficult to refinish or repair the surface later. We recommend to avoid using anything that contains silicones. We recommend Guardsman furniture polish or Aristo Shield.
PASTE WAX has been used for centuries as a finishing material and a furniture care product. If used properly, paste wax will provide a thick, hard, lasting finish. Liquid wax is similar, but typically provides a thinner coating. Waxes dry hard so they do not smear and attract dust and dirt. Paste wax typically lasts six months to a couple years, depending on how much the furniture is used and how many coats are applied. Paste wax will help delay the formation of water rings, giving you a little extra time to wipe up the moisture. Some people, especially antique lovers, prefer the soft sheen provided by waxes. Wax will not interfere with future refinishing.
Make sure you buy a wax designed especially for wood furniture. Waxes for cars, shoes or other finishes might harm furniture.
OILY CLEANERS and polishes will not provide a lasting, hard coat. The polishes and cleaners containing silicone oil will create a nice shine and a slippery surface, but they can interfere with refinishing. This type of oil can seep through cracks in the finish into the wood and can ruin a new finish later. Be aware that labels often fail to say whether products contain silicone oil. Follow the manufacturers' instructions when using spray or liquid polishes.
If you have waxed your furniture and want to switch to an oil-based polish or vice-versa, first clean the furniture with mineral spirits or a solvent-based wax remover. Do this in a spot with plenty of ventilation away from any heat source or sparks. First test the product you are using in an inconspicuous spot. When the piece is clean and dry, wax or polish. If you accidentally mix wax and oil, the finish will turn cloudy. In that case, wipe the finish off and clean it with mineral spirits or a solvent-based wax remover. Wax or polish when the finish is dry.
CLEAN BRASS HARDWARE with caution. If the brass hardware on your furniture has a protective lacquer coating, it probably will not tarnish and will only need to be dusted. If the brass is tarnishing and you want to polish it, either remove the brass or slide a piece of mylar plastic behind the hardware so that the brass cleaner does not touch the wood finish.
Avoid Direct Sunlight
The ultraviolet rays of the sun will damage a finish and bleach the wood underneath. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause the finish to crack, sometimes in a pattern resembling the skin of an alligator. Tablecloths and doilies slow down the process, but they don't stop it. Try to keep furniture out of direct sunlight.
When that's not possible, reduce the amount of light streaming on any piece of furniture. Consider planting shrubs in front of windows to block direct sunlight. Use window shades, drapes, or blinds to block light during the time of day the furniture is exposed. Consider using UV screening films or tinting windows and skylights.
Uniformly expose surfaces to light. Especially avoid letting the sun hit only part of a surface. Occasionally move lamps, doilies and other objects so the wood bleaches uniformly. Consider covering furniture with sheets or blankets if you leave your home for part of the year. Consider moving furniture around periodically so that the same piece does not absorb light all the time. Remember that some bleaching can be desirable. Antique collectors actually look for the rich, soft tones that slight fading can bring.
Avoid Extreme Heat or High/Low Humidity
Prolonged exposure to heat and/or high or low humidity can also be detrimental to wood furniture.
In a high humidity environment with lots of moisture in the air, wood will swell, absorbing the moisture, so it can warp. Low humidity or dry heat can make wood dry out and shrink, so splits and cracks may form and joints may loosen. This is the nature of real wood adjusting to the environment in which it was placed.
Veneered or artificial wood will not move - but solid wood will always expand and contract with the moisture level of the air, so it is important as the caregiver of the furniture to keep it in a climate-controlled room where the temperature is kept between 70-78 degrees and maintain humidity levels around 35%. - 45%. Use a humidifier or dehumidifier as necessary.
Avoid Chemical Exposure
Keep solvents such as nail polish remover, alcohol and paint thinner away from wood furniture because they can harm the finish. Alcohol is contained in colognes, perfumes and medications as well as in wine, beer and liquor. Fingerprints, perspiration and body oils can harm a finish over time, especially on chairs. Plants and flower nectar that touch the finish can also cause permanent stains.
Placing hot items on furniture can cause a chemical change in the finish that results in white rings or spots.
Guard Against Scratches
Lift, don't slide, objects on wood. Place objects on trivets, tablecloths, doilies or others covers to protect the finish. Use felt bottoms on lamps and other decorative objects. Avoid brightly colored felt because its color could leach into the wood. Some experts say brown is the best color choice.
Carefully Move Furniture
Lift heavy furniture with the help of at least two people. Sliding pieces could hurt the wood floor and damage furniture legs by applying too much sideways pressure. If a drawer has two handles, use both to open it. Don't stuff drawers with too many or too heavy items.
PLEASE NOTE: General wood furniture care advice is offered here, but for your specific needs, please consult a professional furniture repair technician. Furniture specialists can be found online or in the phone book. They can also assist you if your furniture is damaged or needs repair.
Some information on recommended temperature and humidity was gained from this great article: rusticelementsfurniture.com as well as from our Amish furniture builders' recommendations.