The Products We Rely on to Clean, Refurbish, and Restore Almost Anything
Our editors are like treasure hunters, but the gems they find are often buried beneath layers of tarnish or grime. To restore sparkle, we count on these cleansers, most of which are available at hardware stores—no hunting necessary.
Wine on the sofa? Ink on the table? Accidents happen. But with these tools and tips, you'll be ready to spring into action. We asked top specialists to share their tricks for keeping furnishings in peak condition. Our panel: antique-furniture restorer Christophe Pourny; fabric professionals Ingrid Johnson from the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Kathlyn Swantko from the FabricLink Network; and Jay Myers, from the tanning firm New World Leather.
Organizing your restoration kit is best done in a caddie that makes supplies readily available when you need them. Divided containers are ideal for corralling small items, such as crayons and cotton swabs. You may also want to hand on hand extra-fine steel wool (0000 grade), linseed oil, turpentine, polish, wax, and soft white cloths—all of these will treat stains, scratches, spills, or even burns.
Caring for an ailing sideboard or an injured ottoman is simple once you know the right techniques. To buff out scratches on wooden furniture, 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, as Pourny says. "Shoe polish is totally reversible, so you never risk damage," he adds. Treat fabric stains by type: red wine should be covered with table salt, as Johnson says, then left to sit until the wine has been wicked up, vacuumed, and blotted; oily stains should be mounded with baking soda until absorbed, then vacuumed, and blotted with rubbing alcohol or dry-cleaning solvent, as Swantko suggests. For scratches in leather, 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," as Myers explains.
Here are their tricks for fixing everything from stained fabric to gouged wood, and a restorative first-aid kit equipped to handle any project.
Butcher's and Renaissance Wax
Use them on wood and more. Our editors also use archival-quality Renaissance Wax on wrought iron, ceramics, porcelain, bronze, and leather. A thin coat of wax seals and protects surfaces from moisture and dirt, but it can be removed (some polishes leave a permanent film).
Use it on wood, vinyl, plastic, glass, and ceramics. This liquid won't damage the surface of an antique, but it will get rid of many offenders, such as old tape, candle wax, and price stickers. "It even removes prices written in permanent marker," says Fritz Karch, former Martha Stewart Living collecting editorial director.
Shop Now: Goo Gone, $3, containerstore.com.
Use it on most metals. One of the strongest metal cleaners, this German import removes heavy tarnish, even smoothing surface pits and eliminating stains. "It revives finds that seem beyond revival," Karch says.
Shop Now: Simichrome Polish, $11, danforthpewter.com.
Wright's Copper Cream and Noxon 7 Liquid Metal Polish
Use them on brass and copper and other metals. Wright's brings out the orange hue of copper (other cleaners can result in a more golden color). Noxon is a multitasker able to polish several metals including aluminum, nickel, pewter, and stainless steel.
Use it on hardwood, tortoise, bone, ivory, and horn. This drugstore staple moisturizes dried-out pieces naturally and without odor. Rub it on with a soft cloth or paper towel to restore luster, keep cracks from getting worse, and prevent new fissures.
Shop Now: Jasco Butcher Block Oil, $10, bwccompany.com.
Novus Fine Scratch Remover
Use it on Lucite, Bakelite, celluloid, and other plastics. Antiques dealers love this polish because it cleans thoroughly and buffs fine scratches rather than just filling them. It also evens out discoloration and restores clarity and shine with minimal elbow grease.
Shop Now: Novus #2 Plastic Fine Scratch Remover, $9, rockler.com.
Use it on fabric and ceramics. Usually used on textiles, this chlorine-free powder can remove stains from ceramics, such as earthenware and ironstone. Just submerge the object in a bucket of cool water, add a scoop of OxiClean, and let it soak—grease and food spots will seep out.
Shop Now: OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover Powder, $16, bedbathandbeyond.com.
Use it on vintage and antique glass and pottery. It dissolves stubborn calcium buildup, lime deposits, and water marks; antiques experts prize it for cleaning white film from vintage glass. "I fill a vase with CLR solution, add rice, and swish it around before the rice softens," Karch says. "The friction dislodges grit."
Shop Now: Calcium, Lime and Rust Remover, $23, homedepot.com.
SCI Plain Stain Remover
Use it on marble, alabaster, granite, and onyx. This poultice-style cleaner lifts grime from stone. Former Living collecting editor Quy Nguyen once bought a 19th-century doorstop that was almost black; cleaning it with this product revealed white marble. Just wet the object, and apply the cleaner to form a paste.
Shop Now: Stone Care International Granite & Stone Stain Remover, $8, stonecare.com.
Zud and Oven Cleaner
Use them on enamel, porcelain, and cast iron. Typically meant for household rust removal, Zud can make antique sinks and tubs look new. For smaller grimy items, spray with oven cleaner, seal in plastic bags, and let sit for several hours; dirt will wipe off.