The Expert Way of Cleaning and Caring for Your Home’s Antiques

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The cost of antique furniture has reduced by as much as 80% in recent years, according to antique specialist and auctioneer Colin Stair.

As a result, an increasing number of homeowners are opting to insert traditional vintage pieces, including chunky brown cabinets, unique lamps, and second-hand persian rugs into their homes.

To keep these pieces looking their best, it’s essential that they are regularly cleaned. But as these items are decades old, you need to ensure that you’re cleaning them with the right materials.

cleaning silver antiques

So how do you start cleaning and caring for the antiques in your home like a pro? We’ve gathered the industry’s leading tips and tricks to achieve an extra shiny clean. 

How Often Should I Clean Antiques? 

All the antiques in your home will have different cleaning requirements. These are the most important ones to know:

  • Antique furniture should be dusted on a weekly basis to prevent it from losing its shine and being damaged.
  • Bedding needs to be aired outside once per week.
  • Antique rugs and floor coverings need to be deep cleaned twice per year and rotated four times per year.
  • Antique upholstery should be cleaned annually to keep it looking beautiful.
  • Wax wooden antiques four times per year.
  • Polish antiques made from brass three to four times per year.

General Cleaning

Woman vacuuming sofa

General cleaning chores around your home can also help you to care for your antiques without you even realizing it. These tasks in particular should be on your cleaning to-do list:

  • Dusting – As an antique furniture owner, dust is one of your biggest enemies as it’s abrasive, scratches surfaces, and attracts moisture. For these reasons, you need to dust your entire home weekly to prevent dust transfer.
  • Moth check – Having moths in your home is bad news for antique owners as they’ll ruin antique upholstered furniture and soft furnishings, such as drapes and pillows. So, a weekly check for moths and cleanup of any larvae is a must.
  • Vacuuming – Vacuuming eliminates the dust that can destroy antique furniture. Aim to vacuum your entire home weekly.
  • Remove signs of mold – it’s estimated that 70% of homes have some form of mold in them. Mold is one of the worst things that can get onto your antique furniture and furnishings as it can ruin, destroy, and stain wood and textiles. Wiping condensation from the windows daily can prevent mold. While a bleach and water solution should be used to scrub away any spots of mold as soon as they appear.

How to Clean the Tough Areas

Most people won’t have experience in cleaning and caring for antique furniture. But don’t make the mistake that they can be handled in the same way as standard pieces as this can lead to devastating consequences. The tips below will help you to keep your antiques in top condition.

Deep Clean Antique Rugs

Regular vacuuming is a good way to keep your antique rugs looking clean, especially as they might be holding as much as four times their weight in dirt. Since it sits at the bottom, your rugs catch everything from dead skill cells and insect feces to dust mites and bacteria. 

Deep Clean Antique Rug

And since everyone is always walking on it, these things get grounded deeply to the bottom of the carpet where they can cause serious problems and eventually ruin your rug altogether. 

But before you run the vacuum or carpet cleaner over your antique rug, you need to know the dos and don’ts. 

Loose dirt should be vacuumed up from your antique rug on a bi-annual basis. Avoid using the beater brush brush though as this will damage handmade rugs. You should also only vacuum in the direction of the pile and never back and forth.

Ideally, your rug needs a thorough clean twice per year. You can do this yourself by mixing half a cup of rug shampoo with a little white vinegar and five cups of warm water. A soft bristle brush or sponge can then be used to gently scrub the rug (in the direction of the pile) before laying it out on the floor to dry.

Alternatively, you may wish to utilize the services of a professional antiques rug cleaner. This is best if you’re worried about damaging your rug or if you don’t have the appropriate tools to do the job as their antiques cleaning expertise and experience will ensure your rug is returned looking, feeling, and smelling great.

Wooden Furniture

The most common problems that owners of wooden antique furniture face are fading, damage, and dullness. A little bit of tender loving care goes a long way and can help make your wooden antique pieces look like new

First of all you should lightly wipe away dust from the furniture’s surface. Many pieces of antique wooden furniture have beautiful twists, curves, and indents that make them unique. But the downside of these are that dust tends to settle in them. To remove the dust from these intricate spaces, you’ll need to scrub lightly with a soft-bristled toothbrush. 

Specialist furniture wax can then be used as a general cleaner to get rid of marks, stains, and fingerprints. Always make sure you apply it in the direction of the grain of the wood as this will make the piece look more aesthetically pleasing.

Give the wax around an hour to soak in and work its magic before buffing gently with a clean cloth. This should be done around four times a year to preserve the lifespan of the wood.

Antique Upholstery

Upholstered antique furniture such as chairs tend to require special attention, especially as most pieces will have been upholstered multiple times over the years.

The first point to note is that if anything is ever spilt on an upholstered piece of antique furniture then it needs to be blotted up with a kitchen towel or a clean cloth immediately to lessen the extent of the damage.

It’s recommended that you then consult with a professional upholstery cleaner regarding whether the stain can be safely removed or whether reupholstering is your best option.

When the surface of your upholstered antique furniture needs cleaning, a quick vacuum with a gentle upholstery brush should suffice. If you live with pets, you may find stray hairs linger on upholstery. Where this is the case, lightly dabbing sticky tape onto the upholstery will pick them up.

In cases where a deeper clean is required, you might want to consider an extraction foam cleaning. This is generally safer than a steam clean as no hot water is required so color transfer and running is unlikely to occur. Instead, a cleaning foam is lightly rubbed into upholstery and removed with a dry cloth or very damp cloth. 

Antique Porcelain

As you would expect, antique porcelain should be handled and cleaned with great care. Avoid submerging in water as the items could be porous. A damp cloth and a little detergent will usually clean antique porcelain well.

Antique Metals

Brass antiques should be cleaned to restore their shine. Lacquered brass should be spruced up with nothing more than a soft, damp cloth. Whereas, non-lacquered antique brass can be polished with a cloth and a little lemon juice or vinegar. 

Antique copper pieces should be wiped over with a solution made from boiling water, a tablespoon or salt, and a cup of white vinegar and applied when hot. While, toothpaste will bring an excellent shine to any antique pieces of gold in your home.

Antique Bedding

You probably know the importance of washing your bed sheets on a weekly basis on a hot temperature to destroy bacteria. But if your bedding consists of an antique quilt and pillows then you need to clean and care for them carefully.

These items should never be washed in a washing machine or dry cleaned as the chemicals and spinning could damage them. To keep your antique quilt and pillows in great condition, you should air them by hanging them up outside.

Handwashing in the bathtub using cold water, 1/2 a cup of white vinegar, and a mild detergent is also an option. You should check for colorfastness first though and if there’s any color transfer, stop straight away.

Another factor to be wary of when washing is hard water. If you live in an area where the water is particularly hard then it may leave mineral stains on your antique quilts and pillows. You can prevent this by boiling the water, allowing it to cool, and scooping out the impurities. Alternatively, install water filters onto the taps in your home.

Other Tips

Cleaning the antiques in your home isn’t fun, but it’s effective. Learning more about how to care and clean the antiques in your house can help to keep your home looking great, and may even benefit your bank account when the time comes to sell them on.

Safe cleaners for antiques

Safe Cleaners For Antiques

You’ve probably got a cleaning cupboard full of disinfectants, furniture polishes and sanitizers. However, the majority of these products shouldn’t be used on your antiques as they could damage them. The good news is that there are plenty of safe items you can use to clean your antique furniture and keep it in great condition. So, if you haven’t already got these products in your cleaning cupboard, it’s time to head to the shops. 

Beeswax

The best way to clean and polish most antique furniture is to use a high quality natural beeswax paste. This product is made to be stable and long-lasting and protects furniture from dust and moisture. You should apply it to your furniture every three to four months, and dust with a soft cloth on a regular basis. It shouldn’t be used more frequently than this though as it can dull wooden furniture and absorb dust particles.

Linseed oil

Linseed oil is a great way to restore antique furniture and get it back to looking its best. Boiled linseed oil should be rubbed into wooden antiques using a lint-free cloth. This process can take some time as you need to continue rubbing until all the oil is absorbed.

Vinegar

One of the most popular non-toxic disinfectants used in the home is vinegar. Just like its strong smell and flavor, this product packs a punch when it comes to cleaning. 

Vinegar is so effective because it contains acetic acid, which gives it antimicrobial properties. These properties make it awesome at killing mold and scrubbing away tough stains.

You can use vinegar to clean antique glass, stainless steel, and silverware without leaving streaks. It can even be used to remove rust from antique metal items, such as candelabras. Simply soak the item in a vinegar bath and lightly scrub the rust with a soft brush for expert results.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is good for that new recipe you’re trying for dinner, but you can also use it to remove stains from antique textiles. On white linens, lemon juice should be squeezed onto the stain and left in the sun.

The combination of the citric acid from the lemon and the heat will make the stain disappear. Printed fabrics shouldn’t be left in the sun though as it can fade the print.

Baking Soda

Baking soda can be used to clean almost anything in your home, so you really should keep a supply of it in your home. One of the things that it’s great at is deodorizing which is good news when your antique sofa smells a little off.

All you need to do is sprinkle some baking soda onto the upholstered cushions, wait 30 minutes, and gently vacuum the cushions for a pleasant smelling sofa.

Lavender

Have you got some antique soft furnishings that smell a little funky? If so then you need to get your hands on some dried lavender and make some lavender drawer sachets. These can then be placed in the drawers of your antique furniture alongside your textiles.

Before you know it, your textiles will smell fresh and enticing.

Caring for Antiques: The Rules

antique porcelain

Caring for antiques in the home ensures that they maintain their look and value. But, it’s crucial that you do it right and follow these basic rules to prevent causing long-lasting and irreversible damage to them.

Environment

Because antiques are older and made from different materials than newer items, it matters where you put them and what environment they are in. For example, antique furniture can take on significant damage if it is exposed to UV light. 

Sunlight can quickly degrade antique finishes, wood, and fabrics. Therefore, antique furniture and decor should be kept somewhere out of direct sunlight instead of in front of windows or outdoors. 

Antiques can also be negatively affected by heat and moisture. It’s crucial that you do not keep antiques near fireplaces, stoves, air conditioning vents, or in bathrooms where a hot shower can cause steam. 

Cleaning and Polishing

Cleaning and polishing antique furniture and other antiques can help extend their lifespan. However, furniture oils can contribute to the degradation of the finish. 

Brass is another material often used in antiques. To clean brass, you should simply treat it with light burnishing and dusting. Metal cleaners and polish can harm any wood or other materials surrounding the brass. 

Needless to say, antiques are old and delicate, but the truth is, sooner or later they will need some polishing. With these basic rules however, cleaning antiques will be simple and fun; and more importantly, the beauty and value of the item won’t be decreased when cleaned properly.  

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AUTHOR

Nora has more than 5 years experience in the floor covering industry, acquiring vast knowledge about installation and material selection. She now enjoys working as a writer and an interior decorator. Her work has been featured in The Spruce, Homes & Gardens, Southern Living and Real Homes. See full biography here.

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