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ObjectsConservator1, Restorer
Category: Antiques
Satisfied Customers: 88
Experience:  30+ years of conserving and restoring museum and private-owned objects.
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We just received dining furniture that our grandma bought in

Customer Question

We just received dining furniture that our grandma bought in 1930 for $2400. It is made of mahogany, has been used to raise seven sons, then eight children of mom and dad's. It was protected, and really has no damage. However, it has not been cleaned. For years, it has not been dusted. I researched on Google, cleaning methods but one says olive oil and vinegar, one says baking soda, vinegar and Dawn dishwashing liquid, one says use only oil soap, one says use only natural beeswax....HELP. (please)
Submitted: 6 months ago.
Category: Antiques
Expert:  ObjectsConservator1 replied 6 months ago.
I'm happy to help you with your conservation/preservation and materials identification questions.Most of "preservation tips" and antique cleaning recommendations on the Internet are naive and outdated at best, ***** ***** out dangerous and wrong at worst. You're to be commended for stopping when you found contradictory directions. Unfortunately there's a mindset in the antiques world that just about everything is DIY. A lot of work on antiques can be done, but you have to know some basic chemical and materials principles.One of those principles is to have a basic idea of what type of dirt that you're dealing with, which leads you towards choosing a cleaning agent. In over 30 years of conserving and restoring antiques of all kinds, I have never heard of using baking soda and vinegar to clean wood furniture! Why would you want to make a model volcano on your table? That's a strange one. From what I can see from your photo, you have food residue, and some dust in the carved areas. I'm not sure what the white material is on the lower molding since the photo is out of focus in that area. It looks crusty.To start cleaning, wipe down the piece with a clean dry lint-free cotton cloth. You get bags of T-shirt rags from any hardware store, or use old soft T-shirts (white is preferable so you don't have to worry about dyes). You should also have some bamboo skewers on hand to help with cleaning out dirt and grime from the detailed carved areas. Cotton Q-tips are also helpful. I'd avoid steel wool or scotch-brite scrubbing pads for this type of basic cleaning. Get as much of the crusts and dirt off from between the moldings and in the carved areas with dry cleaning. Once that's done, I'd agree with the recommendation to use only oil-based soap. I recommend Murphy's Oil Soap, and that's what's used in historic properties that I oversee. Use a few drops in a gallon of warm water. You can always add a few more drops if you find that it's too dilute. Use a rag with the soap solution and wring it out well before applying it to the surface. If the finish is shellac, too much water on the surface will cause blooming, or white areas where water gets into voids of the shellac. That can be reversed with ethanol, but you want to avoid that. If you're running into grimy dirt, i.e. soil and other particles mixed with grease and oils, you can add a few drops of household ammonia to 'boost' the cleaning power of the solution. Dampen the Q-tips and clean in the detail areas. Thoroughly dry as you go with the damp rags with dry rags.Once you've done the overall and detailed cleaning, you'll have a better idea of the overall condition of the finish and what further treatments are required and to what extent you want to go with restoration.As far as a protective coating after cleaning, I do recommend a light coating of carnauba/bees wax paste wax. The Johnson's wax sold in yellow cans is a good product and readily available. Avoid applying too much of the wax in the carved areas since once the solvent (turpentine) evaporates the excess wax can be unsightly and takes a while to remove. Follow the application directions on the can and you should be fine. Carnauba is a natural wax from a tree nut and is the hardest wax available. You shouldn't need to reapply it very often except to unprotected surfaces that get a lot of use. Wood does not need to be 'fed' with lemon "oil" (expensively marketed mineral oil with odorants added), or 'polishes'.Let me know if you have any other questions or if you need further clarifications.
Expert:  ObjectsConservator1 replied 6 months ago.
Please rate my response at your earliest convenience and let me know if I can be of further assistance.
Expert:  ObjectsConservator1 replied 5 months ago.
How did the cleaning turn out? Let me know if you have any further questionsThanks!
Expert:  ObjectsConservator1 replied 5 months ago.
How did the cleaning turn out, based on my recommendations? Let me know if you have any further questions based on the extensive information that I have provided above. Thanks!