Caring For Vintage Furniture

As you may have read the other day, I recently scored a vintage armoire for $15. It was in kind of rough shape when I received it, but here’s how I fixed some of the problems.

Problem #1 – It was dirty.

See how dirty the bottom is? Left is as-is, right has been cleaned. It needed a thorough cleaning, inside and out.

Solution #1 – Murphy’s Oil soap, my friends. With a little hot water, just a few tablespoons of this stuff goes far. With a soft cloth (I use extra-soft washcloths) you can easily wipe away all of that dirt and dust from your furniture and not harm the finish. Wash the piece inside and out, and then wipe down with a soft, DRY cloth to pick up any sitting water.

You’d probably want to do this under cover outside (like a screen porch) and/or in the garage or basement. Somewhere where it won’t matter if the floor gets wet and where it’s out of the way. Not only can the piece dry thoroughly after being washed, you can also let it “cure” and absorb all of Old English you’re going to put on it next before moving it to its final resting place.

Freshly washed drawers. Yes, I washed the drawers. After all, I'm going to be putting things in them!

Problem #2 – It was dinged up.

Solution #2 – If you have never used Old English Scratch Cover, go out and buy some. Particularly if you are going to populate your home with dark wood vintage furniture, like I am. It is made of petroleum distillates (I am sure, as it smells rather awful), but it really makes things look much brighter and covers up scratches and dings. Don’t just spot-treat the scratches, do the whole piece as it is not only a stain, it’s also a wood-conditioning oil. Use a soft cloth to apply and rub with the grain. When completely finished, wipe down the whole piece with another soft, dry cloth.

And be careful to wear old clothes or be fastidious in your applications, as this stuff stains. Big time.

This was that bare spot on top of the armoire before Old English Scratch Cover.

And this is the spot after. Still visible (because the glossy finish was worn off), but much less obvious in real life than it looks.

Well, I can't do anything about the warped veneer, but I can make those chipped spots look less obvious.

And here is that same chipping after being doused with Old English Scratch Cover. Not perfect, but way less obvious.

Problem #3 – It smelled. Like mildewy basement and mothballs put together (but not that strongly, or I wouldn’t have bought it).

Solution #3 – Well, washing the whole thing inside and out helped, as did taking out the old paper liners from the drawers and having the doors open to air out. I also put a nice-smelling bar of soap in the bottom and closed the doors when done.

I stole my mom's linen closet trick and put some delicious linden-scented oil in the bottom of the armoire.

If it still smells in a few weeks, I’ll add a container of charcoal (the plain kind – not the kind treated with lighter fluid, unless you want your armoire to reek of lighter fluid) and/or baking soda to help absorb odor. You can also use a scented candle in this respect. And given that the armoire is going upstairs into the sometimes hellishly hot attic, maybe a bar of soap is not the best idea. Glass-contained scented candle it is!

Problem #4 – It was missing a doorknob.

Missing knob on the left, pretty vintage knob on the right.

Solution #4 – Go to Lowe’s and Michael’s before finally finding a decent substitute knob at Target, but only in a four pack. Take one knob and one screw and one phillip’s head screwdriver. Put screw through empty hole. Finger-tighten knob on the bit of the screw poking out the front of the hole. Finish tightening with the screwdriver. Voila.

Small brass, oil-rubbed knobs from Target.

The finished look. Not perfect, but perfectly serviceable. The new knob looks less silvery in real life.

I don’t know if I’ll replace the other vintage knob with a new one. It’s sooo pretty! Much prettier than the Target one. Maybe someday, but for now? It stays.

So that’s the armoire! Stay tuned for what it looks like full of crafty things. Oh, and fyi, that might be a while. This sucker is heavy and it’s a full flight of stairs to the craft room.

Readers – do you have vintage furniture? How do you care for it?

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  1. […] that armoire I got for $15 at a big garage sale? And remember how I cleaned it up? Well here, finally, are some pictures of it being put to good […]



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