Rescue Your Furniture from that Holiday Distress!

Hi Honey!

The whirlwind of holidays is marvelous, but draining. I’m at my winter home and having the time of my life! It is High Season here in Palm Beach and there are so many Charity Balls and Cotillions that I am half-weary from the tide of hugs and greetings from so many dear friends. How wonderful it would be, Dear Heart, to sit down with you over afternoon tea and indulge in sordid gossip! Thankfully, my dear friend Claire is always there for me in that capacity when I most need her to be! Well, there are a few choice tidbits, but for the most part, this Season, people are behaving themselves quite nobly and taking good manners seriously. So, with so little else to go on about, we should discuss the topic for this month’s chat.

If your furniture is like mine, it has seen more wear in a few days than it has seen in a few years! Like me, Hon, it is not only tired, but distressed. Don’t knit a single brow over the furniture, though. Ole’ Rose has a few tried-and-true touch-up techniques that will transform those tortured pieces.

Before anything can be done, examine the piece. This will determine how we will approach the problem. Is the piece finished wood or is the item painted? Is it a light, medium or dark color? What is the sheen (shiny-ness) of the finish?…this is normally described as flat (dull, but not necessarily uninteresting), eggshell (well, I’m sure you understand what that means), satin (like the fabric), semi-gloss or glossy (like wet paint). It the finish soft or hard to the touch? Is the finish newer (such as a polyurethane) or a traditional type, like shellac or varnish? You may know the answers to only a few of these questions, but even that will help in determining how to fix the problem.

First, let us deal with scuffs (we will get to the worse things later)…those marks left from something accidentally brushed or bumped against a piece of furniture that causes a superficial mark to be left behind. On dark furniture, these may not be easily seen, but on light wood or painted surfaces, they scream…and, Hon, screaming went out with the B-horror movies. Usually these marks are easily removed with the right product. Before proceeding with any of the remedies I am about to describe, test your method on an inconspicuous spot first to be sure it does not cause damage or discoloration. If the scuff is from a waxy or oily source, a little naphtha (available where hardware or paint is sold) rubbed on the spot with a clean soft cotton cloth should remove it. On other finishes, more ingenuity may be required. If you are working with a modern glossy finish, rub very gently with some Soft Scrub cleanser (white, not colored version). This works on both wood and painted surfaces. For satin sheen finishes (both new and traditional) over wood, some very fine steel wool may buff it out. This, however, is usually not appropriate for any painted surfaces. For satin painted surfaces, use an extremely fine emory cloth (a type of sandpaper) or some rubbing compound (found at auto parts stores for use on car finishes) and a small bit of water. With a lot of care, rub until the superficial spot is gone, but don’t overdo it or you can create a noticeable spot. It is best to work small and briefly, then stop to judge your progress and stop immediately if you are not satisfied with the results. Too much rubbing will cut through the finish and damage the piece. If the affected area is duller than the rest of the piece, polishing compound (from the same auto parts store) can revive the sheen. On most dull pieces, a very, very fine sandpaper (600 grit or higher) will remove superficial marks.

Scratches are another matter altogether and superficial scratches are most easily dealt with. For painted surfaces with satin to glossy sheens, they are tough to hide. Try to find a pigmented wax that is close to the finish’s color (these are sold at some paint stores), rub it into the scratch and buff to match the surrounding sheen. Wax crayons will also work (both the children’s and those made for furniture touch-up). An application of neutral colored car wax over the piece may also reduce or eliminate the visible scratch. The waxes may not work on dull or eggshell finished because waxes tend to become glossy the more they are buffed.

Scratched wood items are easier to deal with than painted surfaces. Touch-up crayons (as described above) can be used. For multiple scratches, rub in a wood stain that is close to the color of the piece. I like to let the can of stain sit for a couple of days to allow the pigments to settle to the bottom, then carefully opening the can, scrape up some of the paste-like pigment (on a strip of wood, for example) and rub into the scratched area using a clean, dry cloth. Wipe away excess with a soft, clean cloth. If streaking occurs, wipe across the affected area with some of the stain liquid or with naphtha. Let the treated area dry overnight and rub out the finish with a quality bees wax or paste wax furniture finishing product. Viola!

Some of your antique pieces can be brightened up with a regular regiment of cleanings, especially those with more traditional finishes. Take the piece outside and place it in a shady location. Wipe the piece with a clean soft cotton cloth moistened with naphtha to remove accumulated dust and grime. Use a soft natural-hair or synthetic bristle brush to clean out heavily carved areas and corners. Let dry. Then wax the piece lightly with a bees wax or paste wax. Cheesecloth is a wonderful polishing material.

Brightening up more modern pieces calls for a simple wipe over with spray wax products. Table tops with synthetic finishes polish well with car wax! Superficial scratches or dullness can be remedied by the use of ultra-fine rubbing compound followed by polishing compound. This is best applied by hand on small surfaces, but for larger areas a buffer machine may be cautiously used. Keep the buffing pads or cheesecloth meticulously clean. With patience, the table top will glow like new.

Well, Dear Heart, I must close this chapter of our tales of distress. Meet me here again next month, won’t you, and we will solve more of those furniture and home improvement woes. Until then, Kisses!


An earlier version of this article appeared in the publication New Directions for Better Living in the January, 1997 issue.

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