(This Old House) -- Unless you live in a museum, your furniture takes a lot of hits. Wet glasses leave behind white rings. Daily use wears away the finish on the edges of tables and chairs. And then there are all the little scratches, dents, and divots that mysteriously appear on wood surfaces. Don't despair.
This kind of superficial damage can be fixed quickly and easily without harming your furniture or your wallet. (If you have a fine piece of antique furniture, you may want to leave repair to a professional restorer.)
The easy repair techniques will work on any clear finish -- lacquer, varnish, polyurethane, or shellac. You'll find the few materials you'll need, such as denatured alcohol, wax sticks, and touch-up markers, in the paint and finishes aisle at most home-improvement stores. Look for scratch-cover polish in the cleaning-supplies section.
Before tackling any repairs, clean the furniture thoroughly with a solution of dishwashing liquid or Murphy Oil Soap and water to remove all wax, grease, oil, or polish.
Once you've cleaned the piece, make repairs in this order: white water rings first, followed by minor surface scratches, deep scratches, and then dings and nicks.
After that, all you need do to keep a finish looking its best is to dust with a damp cloth, wipe up spills as soon as possible, and occasionally clean off any grease and dirt with mild dishwashing soap and water. This Old House: Give it a shellacking
White rings, caused when water vapor penetrates into a finish, can be removed by wiping them gently with a cloth barely dampened with denatured alcohol. (Black rings indicate damaged wood and require complete removal of the surrounding finish before any repair can be attempted.)
Too much alcohol can dull the finish. If that happens, restore a satin sheen by rubbing with extra-fine 0000 steel wool and paste wax. To bring back a gloss finish, use auto polishing compound applied with a rag. To make the repair blend in, go over the damaged area and the entire adjacent surface.
Where a clear finish is chipped but the underlying color is intact, fill the ding with a few drops of clear nail polish. After the polish dries, sand flush with 600-grit sandpaper. To restore the sheen on satin finishes, rub with 0000 steel wool and paste wax; for gloss finishes, use auto polishing compound and a rag.
Large scratches and worn edges
Felt-tip touch-up markers come in a variety of wood tones to match common furniture finishes. Use them to color large scratches or edges where the stain has worn away. Apply only to damaged areas, and wipe immediately if any gets on the neighboring finish.
Apply a coat of paste wax over the repair and the entire adjacent surface to impart an even sheen.
Keeping it clean
On the shelves of supermarkets, hardware stores, and home-improvement centers you can find dozens of products that promise to clean, pick up dust, impart shine, add a nice aroma -- or all of the above -- to your furniture. The truth is that although none of them will do your finish any harm, none is absolutely necessary to keep furniture looking its best.
Dusting with a dry cloth generates friction, which creates a slight static charge on the surface that in turn attracts more dust. Dusting/polishing sprays, such as Pledge, reduce the static and help the rag hold the dust, but a damp cloth does both these things just as well. Some sprays leave behind a thin film of oil that temporarily adds shine, but the oil acts like a magnet for whatever dust lands on it. This Old House: Five best non-toxic cleaners
For routine cleaning, diluted dishwashing soap or furniture cleaner such as Murphy Oil Soap is gentle and effective. Avoid strong alkaline- or ammonia-based detergents (like window cleaners); they can harm some finishes. And never use scrubbing cleansers, which contain abrasives that will dull almost any sheen. This Old House: Wood countertop care E-mail to a friend
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