Cleaning and touching up a piece of furniture that has seen better days can often transform it. And you don't need to spend a lot of money to do it.
Most dings, scratches and other signs of use can be touched up easily. All it takes is a few minutes and the right supplies.
For basic touch-up you'll need a few special supplies. Hardware stores sell ultrafine 0000 steel wool, oil soap, mineral spirits, pumice and wet-or-dry sandpaper. You'll find rubbing alcohol and mineral oil at a drugstore.
Dark paste wax may be a little harder to locate, but you can order it through the mail. Furniture touch-up pens are available from larger hardware stores. (Although touch-up pens look like ordinary markers, don't try to substitute.)
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind whatever the job:
* When in doubt, test the product or process on an inconspicuous area before risking the whole piece.
* Use rejuvenators with care. Also known as refinishers, these so-called restorers in a can claim to revive finishes without stripping or touching up.
They work by dissolving a thin layer of the original finish, combining it with tung oil or other finish, then recoating the entire piece with a new, light finish. This process disguises blemishes and enlivens some finishes, but it can ruin others if it dissolves too much of the finish or affects the stain. Always test these products in an inconspicuous area first and wear vinyl gloves.
* Don't try to fix deep scratches on tabletops. These require a hard, durable, melted-in shellac finish and are best left to a professional.
* Work in a space that can accommodate a small mess and has adequate ventilation.
* Before starting, thoroughly clean your piece with mineral spirits. Otherwise, silicone from old polishes will create unsightly blemishes, aptly named fish eyes, in a new finish.
* When you're done, set rags outdoors to let mineral spirits and other products evaporate, then dispose of them properly.
Here's how to fix white rings, worn edges, scratches and nail polish spills:
* Remove white rings by first removing the wax with mineral spirits and a soft cloth. Then wipe with rubbing alcohol and a new cloth. If the ring remains, sand lightly with a very fine 600-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper and mineral oil. Wax to restore the shine. (Don't use alcohol on shellac; alcohol dissolves shellac. If you're not sure of what the finish is, test the alcohol in a hidden area first.)
* If you spill fingernail polish on a surface, don't try to wipe it up. The solvents in it soften most furniture finishes. If you wipe, you'll take off the finish. Let the spilled polish dry completely, then gently scrape it off with an old plastic credit card or similar tool. If the finish underneath has dulled, use paste wax and 0000 steel wool to bring back the shine.
* Clean worn edges with mineral spirits and a cloth, and scuff the edge with 400-grit sandpaper. Use a touch-up pen of the appropriate color to draw along the edge. Blend the repair by rubbing gently with your finger.
* Sand small scratches with the grain, using 600-grit wet-or-dry sandpaper and mineral oil. For a satin finish, rub with 0000 steel wool lubricated with oil soap. If there is streaking, add a little pumice. For a higher shine, use wax and then buff.
* Fill larger gouges with soft filler stick. Smooth with a soft piece of wood and buff lightly with 0000 steel wool. Fill scratches with dark furniture wax.