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Preserving Furniture

Table made by a prisoner at Lansing Penitentiary.All of us have some type of furniture in our homes, and many of us have older furniture that has been passed down through generations or purchased at antique stores and auctions.

The main risk factors faced by furniture are:

  1. people
  2. the environment

People should treat older furniture with respect. Being careless with a vacuum cleaner can scar and even chip the bases and legs of your cherished pieces. Watering plants placed on top of furniture is always a risk, as spills and overflows will ruin the finish. Improperly moving furniture can cause joints to weaken, crack, or even break. Using harsh cleaning products can discolor woods, and waxes will build up over time.

Preserve your heirloom furniture by following a few simple rules. These include using caution while cleaning. Dust with a magnetic cloth, and never use commercial oils or sprays. Apply only a light coating of paste wax once a year. Protect surfaces by padding under heavy objects. Wipe up spills immediately, and cover dining tables to repel water, food, and other harmful substances. When moving furniture, never pick it up from the arms or top. Be sure to support it below its center of gravity, and never drag it across the floor.

The environment greatly affects furniture's longevity. Temperature, humidity, and light speed up the aging process of wood and upholstery. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity cause warping and splitting of wood. High relative humidity encourages mold growth and insect infestations. Low humidity leads to cracking. Light--especially sunlight--will fade upholstery and even wood.

A stable environment is the best protection for heirloom furniture. Temperature should hover around 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and the relative humidity stay as close to 50 percent as possible. This means, of course, that furniture should never be stored in most basements or attics. Make sure your family pieces are not placed in direct sunlight, and limit their exposure to sources of strong artificial light.

Be sure to seek the advice of a professional conservator before undertaking restoration or refinishing projects on your treasured heirlooms.

If you didn't find what you need under the links listed above, we encourage you to explore the following excellent sites offering information on the preservation of collections: