Tips To Care For Your Finish:
The way you care for your finish depends largely on what kind of use the item will receive, and what your objective is that you want a product to help with (e.g. for dusting, or for scratch protection). Wax and oil polish treatments can be beneficial to furniture, by improving shine and scratch resistance. They also make cleaning and dusting easier. Unfortunately, makers of these products often make ridiculous claims about what their product will do. The most common of these bogus claims made are by products that claim to be "finish feeders," or say the product "feeds and nourishes" wood or finish. The claims of feeding & nourishing make the using of a particular brand sound more urgent and necessary, and also encourages more frequent use so you will need to keep buying more of it. The fact is, the purpose of a finish is to seal the wood so that nothing can penetrate it, and this is how you want it. The wood under the finish is very dry, and this is also as it should be. Don't confuse the shine that a product adds and believe there is any feeding and nourishing involved. The oil or wax provides a thin barrier that gives you scratch protection, and usually improves the shine. That is all it can do. Keeping your furniture away from strong light and physical abuse is the most important thing you can do to protect your furniture.
Things to Avoid:
Strong light, especially sunlight
Strong light causes colors to fade, and will cause finish deterioration faster.
No finish is scratch proof. Glass is not scratch proof and there is no finish harder than glass. Avoid behavior of usage that will scratch the finish.
Certain Solvents such as nail polish remover can seriously damage a finish on contact.
If left against a finish directly or contained in its wrapping material will cause damage similar to nail polish remover
Plastic tablecloths and placemats are fine to use if they are removed after use. If left in place for an extended period of days the plastic material may begin to react with the finish, causing damage. Vinyl covered books can do the same thing.
Heat and Steam
Place nothing from the stove or microwave on the finish except raised above it on trivets, or with the protection of heavy duty custom table pads. Heat and steam can penetrate hot pads, tablecloths or towels, so these are not always adequate protections. Do not place hot pizza in the carry- out box, or paper plates with hot food on them against the finish for the same reason.
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Different Product Categories:
Use no product
This is certainly the first way to consider, especially if it is an item we just refinished for you or it is a new piece that you own and have not used anything on it yet. If the item is not subject to heavy use where the added scratch protection of a polish or wax might help, then your care duties can be made simple Use a very lightly damp cloth, followed by a dry cloth for dusting. Use a little mild soap like Ivory liquid with water to remove fingerprints and other grime. Always wipe dry. We can recommend this method for the furniture that we refinish because we apply several coats of our finish, and it is a very moisture resistant coating. This would work as well on many other newer furniture finishes, but you should always find out what the manufacturer recommends. Some finishes may be sensitive to water and this method should not be used. This method would not be advised on any older finishes or antiques with original finishes.
Any brand of Paste wax will provide good scratch protection, and may add shine. Wipe the wax on the wood surfaces and allow the wax to dry a few minutes until it hazes over. Then, rub off all the excess wax, finishing with a clean soft cloth. To dust after that, use a very lightly damp cloth. Do not use any other polish product after that because it will probably dissolve the wax. The downside to wax is the time and effort it takes to do it. The wax also may be more sensitive to moisture than the actual finish, especially ours or a newer finish. You can remove old wax with common paint thinner, which won't affect the finish. Then apply new wax. There is no significant difference between brands of wax. Some are harder than others, but this factor should not be of any great concern. Some waxes are presoftened to make them easier to spread out so for this reason those might be better.
Wax and Oil mixtures
Usually, these are a blend of Beeswax, oils and petroleum distillates. The benefits are the same as those with paste wax. The application is much easier because it is in liquid form. These are the products you'll find at antique stores and out of the way places. There are many different variations and brand names. I like these products a lot for their ease of application, and the shine and scratch protection left by the beeswax. Many products in this category are often guilty of making some of the more ridiculous claims regarding their ability to feed and nourish the wood. In spite of the bogus claims that may be made, these products are a good choice for an antique with an original finish. They are also good on antiques that may have been refinished with a thinned oil-varnish finish. The beeswax gives shine to the dry appearance of older furniture items like these.
This category represents the largest among available products, ranging from lemon oil to Pledge. These are mixtures of oil and petroleum distillates and may come in aerosol form to spray or liquid that you apply to a cloth. They are good for general cleaning and dusting, and the oil will add shine and remain on the surface for scratch protection. Some oils, such as lemon oil, evaporate rapidly. Other oils, like silicone oil, evaporate slowly. Because of this, silicone oil, which is in Pledge and many other aerosol care products, offers the best scratch protection and longest lasting shine. The disadvantage is they leave the surface smeary. Polishes based on oily solvents only will be clear. They are good at cleaning off old wax or greasy buildup. They are not so good at removing water-soluble dirt, such as fingerprints and other food grime. This leads to the next category of products.
Water-emulsified Oil Polish
The way to recognize these products is by their milky white color. They offer the same benefits as the other category of oil product, but are much better at dissolving food and other water-soluble dirt and grime. These do contain some amount of water, however so they may not be a good choice for an older or antique furniture finish. They don't clean waxy, or greasy buildup as well as the previous category of oil polishes based on oily solvents only. It follows then, that they may make a mess if wax is present on the item you apply it to.
Caring for Antique Furniture
Unless recently refinished, the finish on antique furniture is typically dull and cracked. In addition, the joints holding the parts together may be loose and veneer may be lifting. Overall, the furniture is just more fragile that new furniture and you should treat it as such.
Keep furniture away from bright light, and it's more important to protect the finish from scratches because it's brittle and will damage easily. Past wax does this best. It's also best to keep the relative humidity in your home as constant as possible, because wide swings cause further loosening of joints and lifting of veneer. Beyond this simple care, no further steps need to be taken other than to enjoy the furniture.
Article written by: Dave Macfee, Macfee
Refinishing, Topeka KS
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