Wood is very sensitive to water and changes in relative humidity. As the weather changes from season to season, so does the humidity in your home and also the moisture content of your wood furniture. This situation causes the wood to expand and contract with every change in the humidity. The purpose of the finish is to minimize the effects of moisture changes by sealing the wood. Wood likes moderate conditions of around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of around 45 percent to 55 percent. Most homes today have air handling systems that provide a humidifier in winter to add moisture when the air is “dry” and an air conditioner in summer to remove moisture when the air is “wet”. If you do not have this optimum condition but keep the temperature and humidity steady, even if they are to high or to low, self feeding spoon it is much better than frequent and/or sudden changes. Furniture can deteriorate quickly if stored in a basement (high moisture), attic (high heat), garage or non -climate controlled storage units or warehouses (continual changing conditions). Excess heat and dryness can cause wood to split and/or crack. Keep your furniture away from all direct heat sources like radiators, wood stoves and air ducts. If you need to put your furniture near a heat source, use a shield or diverter to deflect or direct heat away. Wood is most likely to check (crack) when the climate in your home suddenly changes from hot and humid to cold and dry. Frequent and sudden changes in humidity and temperature are especially bad.
Here are a few suggestions for dealing with humidity:
- Furniture can best handle temperature and humidity changes when they occur gradually. Sudden changes like opening a vacation home, or putting items into non-climate controlled storage in winter directly from your warm home can be problems for your furniture.
- When air conditioning your home, it is best to keep the intake of outside humid air to a minimum. Don’t open the windows to “air out” the house on fair days.
- Add a humidifier or vaporizing unit to your heating system to help stabilize the humidity level during the cold dry months of winter.
- Use dehumidifiers in damp rooms and during prolonged rainy seasons to remove excess moisture from the air.
The ultraviolet light rays from the sun will damage finishes and bleach the stain and wood underneath. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause the finish to crack, sometimes in a pattern resembling the looks like cracked glass. Try to keep furniture out of direct sunlight. When that’s not possible, reduce the amount of light streaming on any piece of furniture. Use window shades, drapes or blinds to block direct sun light during the time of day the furniture is exposed. The use of UV screening films will dramatically reduce long term bleaching effect and are well worth the investment. Uniformly expose surfaces to light. Avoid letting the sun hit only part of a surface. Occasionally move lamps, doilies and other objects so the wood bleaches uniformly. Cover furniture with sheets or blankets if you leave your home for several months at a time. Move your furniture around periodically so that the same piece is not exposed to light all the time. However, some bleaching can be desirable. Antique collectors actually look for the rich, soft tones that fading can bring, particularly on Walnut and Rose Wood.
Carefully choose wood care products. There is a lot of confusion about what wood-care products to use. Store shelves are stacked with countless brands of wax, polish, spray and oil. Clever marketing techniques, tell us to use there product because it “feeds” the wood while it cleans and protects it too. Unless your furniture is unfinished, or the finish has deteriorated and worn off, when you clean your furniture you’re actually cleaning the finish, not the wood. There is absolutely no way for any cleaning product to “feed” or “nourish” the wood because the wood is sealed and protected by the finish. Proper care will prolong the life of a finish. Waxing the finish makes the surface of furniture slippery so that objects slide along it without scratching and dust will not stick. The wax protects the finish and the finish protects the wood. To clean, simply wipe with a soft lent free, damp (not wet) cloth. Be careful using water to clean wood. Water is wood’s worst enemy. Wood should never get wet or soaked. Water can cause swelling, warping or satins if it penetrates a finish. Most finishes are water resistant, not water proof. Use coasters, pads, cloths or runners to protect against spills and water rings. Consulting a professional before cleaning valuable antiques and heirlooms.
What’s the best way to care for my furniture? Ask five different people, and you’ll get five different answers. But most “experts” agree on a some basics. First of all, remember your mother is always right: Dust frequently. Keep away from feather dusters. They just move dust around, flinging it into the air, moving from one item to the next. Broken quills have sharp edges and could scratch the finish. Some types of dust are abrasive so infrequent dusting can create worn and dull surfaces over the years. Dust can accumulate in carvings, cracks and grooves and look an unattractive “gray”. This dusty buildup eventually becomes hard to remove. This “gray” look is often imitated by finishers using wax mixed with pumice or rotten stone powders to make an item look aged (Aren’t we clever!).
Use a clean, washable cloth made of soft, lint-free cotton. My favorites are cotton diapers, old T-shirt, or any soft cotton fabric. When using old clothing be sure to remove all hooks, snaps, buttons and zippers that could scratch surfaces. Don’t use a rag that has loose threads or unraveling edges. These can catch on wood splinters, moldings or loose veneer and pull them off.
Dusting with a dry cloth is abrasive and will ultimately dull the finish. A dry cloth will not really remove much dust. Sprinkling a few drops of water onto the dusting cloth. The trick is to moisten the cloth just enough to make dust adhere to it. The cloth should not be so damp that it wets the finish (leaving water streaks). If you can see any trace of water on the wood after you wipe, your cloth is to wet. Do not use any spray-on dusting aids or polish. Most of them contain water with an emulsifier to suspend some kind oil, or contain silicones. This type of oil is used in most commercial furniture sprays and polishes.