Furniture First Aid
Clear all-purpose household cleaner (without bleach or bleach alternative)
Clear dish soap (without bleach or bleach alternative)
Clear, unscented ammonia
Dry-cleaning solvent (such as Guardsman)
Extra-fine steel wool (0000 grade)
Fine crochet hook
Paste shoe polish
Soft white cloths (such as terry-cloth towels and old T-shirts)
Keeping It Together
Organizing your furniture first-aid kit in plastic caddies makes supplies readily available when you need them. Divided containers are ideal for corralling small items, such as crayons and cotton swabs. PP Make boxes (similar to shown), muji.us.
Getting Ink Out
When it comes to stains, permanent ink is in a category all its own. "A permanent-ink pen in the wrong hands -- say, those of an 8-year-old -- can seem like a violent weapon in the house," says Martha Stewart Living editor in chief Vanessa Holden, who sometimes finds her kids coloring with Sharpie markers that have migrated from her office, the ink leaving a trail on the table. The damage from permanent ink, as the name implies, presents a special challenge. But Amodex Ink & Stain Remover (amodexink.com.), a nontoxic formulation, is effective at removing ink from most hard surfaces and some fabrics (depending on their fiber content). Apply it to hard surfaces with a soft cloth, leaving it on stubborn stains overnight. For fabrics, use a cotton swab rather than a cloth to avoid smears, working from the back if possible to guard against abrasion; let fabrics dry between cleanings so you can check your progress.
Quick-Fix Cheat Sheet: Wood Stains
A white ring or a patch of white haze means that moisture is trapped beneath the finish. To draw the moisture out, immediately "mound table salt on the ring or haze," Pourny says. Then place a terry-cloth towel on top and gently apply a warm (never hot) iron or a hair dryer on a low setting, checking your progress regularly, until the ring has disappeared.
Quick-Fix Cheat Sheet: Wood Scratches
Apply shoe polish with a cotton swab, and buff with a soft cloth. If you can't find a good color match, mix polishes until you get the right shade, Pourny says. "Shoe polish is totally reversible, so you never risk damage," he says. No shoe polish? Use your kids' crayons.
Quick-Fix Cheat Sheet: Wood Spills
Wax: Let it cool until it hardens, and then freeze it by applying an ice cube in a plastic bag. Scrape off the wax gently with a rubber spatula or a butter knife. Polish away cloudiness with paste wax.
Alcohol: Since it can harm many finishes, act quickly by blotting (never rubbing). Dab any damage with a little ammonia.
Quick-Fix Cheat Sheet: Wood Burns
Working in the direction of the grain, rub gently with extra-fine steel wool and ammonia. Follow up with paste wax. Deeper burns that have penetrated the finish and charred the wood are best left to a professional refinisher.
Quick-Fix Cheat Sheet: Fabric Stains
Red wine: Cover with table salt, Johnson says. Let sit until the wine has been wicked up. Vacuum, and repeat as necessary. Blot leftover stains with a cloth dampened with water and dish soap.
Oily stains: Mound with baking soda. When oil is absorbed, vacuum. Blot remaining stains with rubbing alcohol or dry-cleaning solvent, Swantko says.
Quick-Fix Cheat Sheet: Fabric Pulls & Tears
Pulls: Never cut pulls, Johnson says. Use a fine crochet hook or a safety pin to tuck the straggler securely underneath other threads.
Tears: Although tears at seams appear a simple fix, Johnson says that these repairs are best left to an upholsterer with a commercial sewing machine. "No home machine can sew a seam strong enough," she says.
Quick-Fix Cheat Sheet: Fabric Spills
Drinks: Many fresh spills come up with repeated blotting with a damp cloth (use a white cloth to prevent dye transfer).
Wax: Let it harden, and freeze it with ice in a plastic bag. Pull up gently with tweezers. If colored wax leaves a stain on the fabric, blot with dry-cleaning solvent, rubbing alcohol, or a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water.
Quick-Fix Cheat Sheet: Leather Stains
Most leather upholstery is coated with stain-resisters in the manufacturing process, but this wears off over time, leaving leather vulnerable. For stubborn stains, such as soil, Myers recommends blotting or gently rubbing with an all-purpose household cleaner. "Choose one without bleach or bleach alternatives to prevent fading," he says.
Quick-Fix Cheat Sheet: Leather Scratches
Apply saddle soap with a soft, damp cloth. While you'll never get rid of the scratch completely, "the wax in the saddle soap may help the scratch or crack blend in a bit," Myers says. "Don't bother with touch-up kits or trying to camouflage scratches with colored markers. You can't match the color, and the scratches will be even more noticeable," he says.
A Perfect Polish
Pourny offers this formula for restoring even the shabbiest wood furnishings: Wet a cloth in soapy water, and gently wipe the piece. When clean, apply a mix of one part turpentine and two parts linseed oil with extra-fine steel wool. Let dry for two days; buff with paste wax.