There are many reasons why people choose to own vintage furniture and artwork. Whether a treasured heirloom or investment, or simply the love and appreciation for the aesthetics of a past style, when you own a piece of vintage furniture or artwork, you own a little piece of history. We as collectors are the current steward of that particular object and have a shared responsibility to maintain it as best we are able for the next generation of antique enthusiasts. To do so in the most effective way possible, you need proper know-how.
As an antique and vintage store with almost 30 years of experience, GoodWood has a lot of tips and tricks to share about maintaining a myriad of furniture and artwork. We are happy to share our knowledge in the hopes that it will help antique owners preserve their well-loved items for many years to come.
Dust is the bane of collectors everywhere. The most effective way to keep dust in check is to be consistent - set a cleaning schedule and then stick with it. Taking a few minutes to clean just a little bit, more often, makes the occasional deep clean of your space much easier. At GoodWood, we clean new items as we bring them in the store, as well as a weekly deep vacuum to ensure that the store stays clear of dirt, dust, and debris.
We also recommend acquiring an all-natural feather duster. These are gentle but highly effective, and make it easy to dust corners, nooks, crannies, and all the other hard-to-reach places. An added bonus is that using a feather duster also reduces paper waste.
With most non-wood surfaces, a spritz of an all-purpose cleaner paired with a cleaning cloth should be enough to remove dust. For more stubborn stuff, our secret weapon is using a high-alcohol-content hand sanitizer. A little hand sanitizer poured into a microfiber cloth can easily cut through any grease, leftover adhesive, and other types of grime. For reflective surfaces, we’ve found the best thing to clean with is your run-of-the-mill glass cleaner.
Prolonged contact with water or high moisture can be detrimental to wood furniture. Too much moisture can seep into the wood grains themselves, leaving them prone to swelling or wood rot. We do not recommend washing wood furniture with water and suggest that any liquid spills be taken care of immediately.
It’s also important to identify the type of wood finish if possible as it can affect how to clean and maintain your piece. Some finishes react badly to the sun or need to be applied on a regular basis, while others may be susceptible to mold and mildew growth. It’s helpful to do a little research and plan ahead so you can minimize wear and prolong the life of your piece.
Most wooden furniture benefits greatly from being cleaned with citrus wood oil. When sprayed over the surface and buffed into the wood with a paper towel or microfiber cloth, it cleans and disinfects the surface while also creating a beautiful sheen. Citrus wood oil also revitalizes dried wood by replenishing the natural oils within its wood fibers, which might ease small cracks in the wood. However, citrus wood oil is not always the best cleaner for wood furniture. Very rarely, a finish will react poorly with citrus wood oil due to its acidic nature. This is why it’s important to identify the wood and finish before cleaning it when possible. If you’re not sure, we recommend doing a spot test on an out-of-sight area to make sure it reacts well.
Antique rugs and tapestries can sometimes be a challenge to properly maintain. Rugs especially see a lot of daily wear and must be handled delicately to maintain longevity. One of the best things you can do to extend the life of your textiles is to get them professionally deep cleaned every 2 to 4 years, depending on how much use or foot traffic it sees. Textile fibers can be damaged over time by accumulated dirt and debris, which can be eased by a deep clean.
While you can wash textiles at home, we recommend hiring professionals for antique and vintage textiles, since they will have the specialized knowledge to ensure they won’t damage the potentially fragile fibers. What’s more, most people don’t have the tools at home to completely dry the rug or tapestry, putting it at risk of developing rot.
You can, however, do regular maintenance to stretch out the time between each cleaning. Weekly vacuuming is an excellent way to keep dirt off your rugs. A trick we use at GoodWood is flipping the rug over and vacuuming the bottom as well to make sure you get as much dirt out of the rug as possible.
Addressing spills the moment they happen is also extremely important so as to not give the spill the chance to damage the fibers or dyes of the textile. Depending on the type of spill, you might need to use cleaning fluids, but make sure to use the least amount possible to avoid fiber rot. Never scrub; instead gently dab the liquid out with a towel, going from outside of the spill inward.
Framed paintings, prints, and sketches need an occasional light dusting to make sure dirt and debris don’t collect on their surfaces. Important note: you must be extremely careful if you are dusting the naked surface of a framed piece of art; even the most gentle of dustings may, over time, slowly remove little pieces of the artwork itself, so less is more in this particular instance. Only dust when the surface is noticeably very dusty, otherwise it is fine to leave it alone. Any cracks on the surface of the painting are a significant indicator that the painting should only be cleaned and maintained by a professional conservator.
Water or liquid cleaners should never be used to clean the naked surfaces of any art. If the frame itself needs to be cleaned, you should spray a gentle cleaning solution directly on a microfiber cloth and never directly onto the surface of the frame to avoid accidental contact with the art. If there is any damage or dirt on the canvas or paper, including the aforementioned cracks, having a conservator restore the piece might be the best option to ensure the piece isn’t further damaged.
Sculpture maintenance can vary greatly depending on the material the sculpture is made from. Most metal sculptures should be left alone beside an occasional dusting, especially bronze and copper sculptures. Any heavy-duty cleaning with chemicals, water, or other substances could potentially damage the patina and make the piece less valuable. Porcelain, ceramics, and stone can be washed with gentle dish soap and water if necessary. For wood sculptures, we would recommend following our suggestions for wood furniture.
There are as many tips and tricks to maintain vintage and antique items as there are vintage and antique items. The advice noted above comes from what we’ve found to be helpful in our many years of caring for and treasuring vintage goods. However, this is general advice, and might not work in all cases or for all materials. You might find that your particular piece needs a different cleaning or maintenance routine.
We highly recommend that you conduct some research on your specific item to learn more about its needs. If you are uncertain about how to start, you can also reach out to vintage specialists (such as the ones at GoodWood) to get some specific, expert opinions on how to maintain your vintage furniture and art collection.
We’re always happy to help other antique enthusiasts. Please feel free to come by the store and chat with us!