Design Lesson

Furniture care 101

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Design Lesson

Furniture care 101

Kal Labidi, owner of Southern Exposure, specializing in custom-made European furniture in Concord, ON, recalls the sight of a wooden dining room table that was damaged by the homeowner placing it not even two feet from the heating vent.

“It was sad to see the table cracking,” says Kal. “Caring for your furniture is really basic stuff; but I'm surprised how many people don't use common sense.”

When you buy a classic furniture piece – like an upholstered tub chair, a chest of drawers, or a pedestal dining – you're making an investment in your home. But to retain the furniture's beauty and value, it needs continuous care. Looking after your furniture will not only keep these pieces looking great today, but also see them through wear and tear over the years. The pieces might even become family heirlooms someday. Here, furniture experts, like Kal, offer a little advice on furniture care 101 – how to keep your prized furniture in prime shape:

Upholstered furniture
  • Fluff and rotate seat cushions daily to promote even wear.
  • Vacuum seats frequently using an upholstery brush.
  • For spot cleaning, avoid using toxic materials, like those containing carbon tetrachloride. Instead, use a mild, water-free upholstery solvent or dry cleaning product. Follow manufacturer's instructions for each product and use cleaning products you are familiar with; otherwise you could do more damage to the furniture than good.
  • Test upholstery cleaners prior to use: simply turn an upholstered chair upside-down and spot-test on the bottom of the chair.
  • Professional cleaning is recommended for soiled upholstery, (for example, wine stains) high-end and light-coloured furniture.
  • Do not clean cushion covers separately from the chair or sofa, as fabrics may become discoloured and no longer match.
  • Do not place dark-coloured upholstered furniture, or those made in fabrics like silk, in direct sunlight. Sunrays will discolour the upholstery.
  • Dark-coloured upholstery is recommended for homeowners with kids and/or pets, so that wear, tear and dirt will be less visible.
  • Check to see if upholstered fabrics contain built-in Teflon or other protective agents, meant to withstand accidents (spills bead up and can be wiped clean with a slightly damp cloth). If not, consider Scotch Guarding.


“Some retailers, including Harvest House Fine Furniture, offer accidental insurance,” says Sandra Collins, store manager of Harvest House. “Unlike regular warranties, it's meant to protect your prized possessions from those accidental, heart-breaking wine spills.”

Wood furniture
  • Dust regularly with a soft, slightly damp soft cloth (using lukewarm water). Dry the surface immediately to prevent water bubbling, which can eventually lead to cracking.
  • To renew a wood's luster, use a quality furniture wax or polish at least once a year; avoid chemical products. Mild cleaners, like Murphy's Oil soap, are safe; silicone-based cleaners are not.
  • “Never use window cleaners on polished furniture,” advises Mary-Ann Metrick of Elte, “Ammonia will harm the finish.”
  • To touch up nicks and scratches, use a wax scratch remover stick. Colour-matching furniture polishes are also available. To hide dents, use specialized cleaners to raise the wood grain.
  • Clean up spills immediately to avoid liquids absorbing into the wood, leaving marks or discolouration. Veneered layers will bubble and lift.
  • Do not place hot, cold or damp items directly onto the furniture surface as it will damage the finish. Use pads, mats and coasters to protect furniture.
  • Do not place wood furniture directly in sunlight or next to heating vents, as UV rays and heat can discolour the wood. Use a humidifier to regulate temperatures and prevent the furniture from splitting, cracking or warping.

Sarah Cook, director of design at Ridpath's Fine Furniture in Toronto, advises against using polishes on your wood furniture. “It's like putting a layer of wax on your beautiful furniture,” she says. “Eventually, it will build up and take away the beauty of the piece.” To avoid that waxy look and feel, Sarah uses a product called AntiqueWax. Wax polishes that are vegetable-based, paraffin or beeswax work best. Apply using a soft cloth, along the grain of the wood, then buff. Do not wax polish furniture more than once or twice a year. Avoid waxing urethane-finished furniture, as it attracts dust rather than repel it, says Mary-Ann.

“Never spray any product directly onto the furniture,” says Sarah. “Apply it to the cloth and then use it to clean and polish the wood.” Applying it this way also prevents spray marks on the furniture.

Use rubber or nickel caps or casters to protect furniture feet and floors.



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Design Lesson

Furniture care 101