When your dining room table gets upgraded from a Craigslist score to a polished wood beauty, it’s time for a lesson in the care and feeding of fine furniture. A good-quality dining table, whether new, vintage or antique, can be a major investment, and its surface should be protected.
If you’ve never used coasters or do your dusting with commercial sprays filled with chemicals, you might want to consider changing your ways. Heat, moisture, silicone, candle wax and pets can damage or ding your table. Direct sunlight should be avoided. And forget doing your nails here; the acetone in nail polish remover can melt your fabulous finish right off.
Establish a relationship with your table, says Christophe Pourny, president and co-founder of Christophe Pourny Studio, a Brooklyn furniture restoration business and maker of a line of plant-derived furniture care products. “Don’t just throw a plate of food on your table, eat and then walk away,” Pourny says. “Take time to set down a place mat. When you are done, check to see if you’ve spilled anything and wipe it off immediately.”
Keith Fritz, whose firm, Keith Fritz Fine Furniture, is based in Indiana, has been making custom dining tables with hand-rubbed finishes for more than 20 years. Fritz, whose work is sold through designers, cautions his clients about four things that can damage wood finishes: temperatures above 120 degrees, abrasions, standing or trapped water and harsh chemicals.
Eventually, though, you must embrace the table’s patina, Fritz says. “People always freak out about the first scratch. But over the years, it will all blend in together. I would much rather see people enjoying their table and having fun with it than being afraid to use it.” For tiny nicks and scratches, he sometimes uses a furniture stain marker (Touch-Up Pen by Touch-Up Solutions).
When you buy any wood table, whether it’s a dining table, coffee table or end table, ask questions about caring for it. Here is a list of basic mistakes to avoid to keep your table looking good:
Putting hot things directly on the table. A casserole dish right out of the oven or a stew pot right off the stove should not be placed on your table without heat protection. Pourny has a simple and modern solution: natural cork trivets. (Bed Bath & Beyond has a set of three round ones for $10.) When used under serving pieces, these can protect your table from scorching and scratches.
Passing on place mats or tablecloths. When having a meal, it’s best to use something to protect your table from spills. Place mats are great for daily dining, but a tablecloth will be your best choice for a large group. Fritz prefers cloth over synthetic. “Plastic place mats can trap water, and some have off-gassing chemicals that might cause a chemical reaction to the finish on a new table,” he says. Fritz advises clients not to make place mats or cloths a permanent fixture. “When you’re not using your table, you should enjoy the beautiful wood,” Fritz says.
Forgetting about condensation. Cold or warm drinks, flower vases and bottles of chilled wine can transfer water and humidity onto a table, leaving white rings if moisture gets trapped under them. Always use coasters, trivets or other pads. If you get a water ring, Fritz says, be patient. “Three things get rid of water rings: time, heat and oil,” he says. First, wait a day or two and see whether the ring will evaporate on its own. Second, put your hair dryer on low (blow it on your hand first; if it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, it should be okay), then lightly blow air over the ring and hope it will disappear. Third, rub with an oil-based product that can remove water spots. Fritz has had luck with Howard Feed-N-Wax, a blend of beeswax, carnauba wax and orange oil.
Taking a knife to wax spills. If at the end of a dreamy candlelit evening you find some wax drippings on your table, don’t grab a paring knife and go at it. Avoid using anything metal, whether scissors or a knife, as you’ll probably damage the wood. Pourny’s trick: Use a credit card to scrape off wax clumps. If there is still residue left, Pourny suggests covering the wax with a cloth and running a slightly warm iron over it. Any leftover wax should cling to the cloth.
Using commercial dusting sprays and silicone polishes. Consumers get hooked on dusting sprays, something fine-furniture experts are not too keen on. Says Pourny: “You should avoid them. They are just giving your pieces instant gratification, a temporary shine, and then they attract more dirt and dust that will eventually build up.” Fritz says, “These products are engineered so that every time you go to the store, you feel like you need to buy a can of it. You don’t need them.”
Experts’ advice on the best way to clean: Use a fresh, slightly damp (not wet) cotton cloth to wipe daily spills off your table after a meal. Then buff with a dry cloth.
Wearing chunky jewelry or oversize watches. It’s not just women with large bangles, jangling charm bracelets or spiky rings that can gouge a table. “These days every guy is wearing this huge metal watch, the bigger the better,” Pourny says. “That can heavily scratch your table.” If you’re having a fancy dinner party where guests might get blinged out, it might be best to use a tablecloth (with a felt liner or table pad underneath) to protect the wood.