Furniture Tips: Dust We Must

I believe in Newton’s second law, the law of entropy, of things to move from an ordered state to a disordered one. What else explains how you can clean your house, go on vacation for two weeks, and when you return still need to dust the furniture?

Like death and taxes, dust is inevitable. And so is dusting. The dust that settles on your furniture has small amounts of grit in it. As this grit moves across the surface of your furniture, it can leave lots of little (and not so little) scratches that will damage your investment. It’s worth the time and the trouble to remove it.

Of course, there are lots of commercial products (Pledge, Endust, Larry’s Prit-E-Good Polish) and they’ll all do a good job of removing dust and they usually leave behind a patina of oil to increase the shine. Many of these aerosols are essentially kerosene with something added to make it smell better. But maybe you hadn’t intended to grease your furniture.

Ostrich feathers make a great hat, but a lousy duster. They only stir the dust up and broken feathers can scratch surface. You need to wipe.

Any clean, damp cloth will remove dust. Old T-shirts, socks, diapers or cheese cloth make great cleaning cloths but they need to be washed several times to remove the sizing from the fabric. A dry cloth will just drag the dirt around, so use a damp cloth. Remember to wipe with the grain so if you do cause a scratch, it’ll be less noticeable. A little bit of vinegar or dishwashing soap in the water will help dissolve the dust while you clean. Don’t like the vinegar smell? You can add a few drops of lemon, orange or cedar essential oil. Remember to wipe the surface dry after, you don’t want to ruin the finish by leaving water standing on it.

You can make your own dusting cloths by soaking them overnight in a mixture of warm water, dishwashing soap and a couple teaspoons of turpentine, linseed oil or mineral oil. I don’t recommend plant oils, like almond oil, because they will eventually go rancid. Hang the damp rags to dry and keep them stored in a clean coffee can. The turpentine, linseed or mineral oil will add a bit of shine to your furniture, just like a commercial product.

Difficult and oily fingerprints can be removed by sprinkling with a bit of cornstarch and then polishing it with a soft cloth. For more sensitive surfaces, like your TV screen, you can use a mixture of 4 parts water with 1 part fabric softener.

Now that it’s clean, how do you protect your furniture? A good paste wax will help leave a protective finish between you and the lacquer, shellac, varnish or polyurethane that is protecting the wood. Despite the claims of commercial products, you can’t “feed” the wood. The finish puts a barrier between you and the wood. Most paste waxes are a combination of carnauba, beeswax and synthetic products. The harder the wax, the better the protection. Don’t use floor wax because it is too soft.

Apply a little wax with a cloth or with 0000 steel wool. For things like a table top, use a circular motion and even it out by wiping with the grain. If you can see ridges in the wax, you put it on too thick. Be sure to let it dry before you buff it off, otherwise you’re only smearing the wax around. The softer the cloth, the shinier it’ll be. Yes, it’s a bit of work but it only needs to be done once a year.

As you know, using coasters and wiping up any spilled liquids will help prevent damage.
And you don’t have to dust, but as Phyllis Diller used to say, if you write the date in the dust, don’t put the year.

If you have questions about any of these articles, or suggestions for future columns, you can always drop me a line at ken@olyfurnitureworks.com.