Tips to Fix Furniture Finish
LESLIE: Well, unless you live in a museum, your furniture is likely to take a few hits from time to time.
TOM: Yes and especially if you’ve got kids. But while the water rings, the dings, the dents and the scratches are inevitable, that kind of superficial damage is not difficult to repair. Here to tell us how is Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House.
KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be here.
TOM: Now, it’s a fact of life that your furniture will never stay as beautiful as the day you had it delivered. But what kinds of those dings and dents and defects can a do-it-yourselfer really handle repairing?
KEVIN: Well, there’s actually a bunch that you can handle and I find that the best thing is just get rid of the kids. Because I’ve got sacrificial couches in my house and they have turned them into forts and jungle gyms. And I say, “Listen, guys, it’s you or the couch. Go.”
No, there’s a bunch of things that you can actually tackle. So let’s start with some of the most basic: those white rings that you actually get on a table?
TOM: Yes, from the water glasses and the iced-tea glasses and the Kool-Aid glasses?
KEVIN: Yeah, right.
LESLIE: And that’s when you say, “Use a coaster.”
KEVIN: Right. And they don’t listen, of course.
Well, that’s actually the water or the water vapor penetrating into the finish. And it can actually be removed by wiping that area very gently with a cloth and barely dampened with a little denatured alcohol. That’s going to probably solve that problem right there.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And I’ve heard all sorts of home remedies for these white rings, too. I’ve heard mayonnaise and toothpaste and oil. But you’re right: that denatured alcohol really does do the trick.
KEVIN: Or get rid of the kids.
LESLIE: Or get rid of the kids.
TOM: Or get rid of the kids.
KEVIN: You can always get rid of the kids.
TOM: Now, what about those little chipped areas where something, maybe a toy, was dropped and took a little bit of a ding out?
LESLIE: Aggressive train ride on a dining table.
KEVIN: Well, when it comes to a chip or a scratch, I guess it all depends on how deep it is. If it’s just deep enough that it’s gone through the clear finish on, say, the tabletop but the underlying color of the wood isn’t – is still intact, well, then you can sort of fill that ding with just a few drops of maybe clear nail polish. I mean that’s a good way to actually fill it in. And when the polish dries, you’re going to want to have to sand it down to get it nice and smooth.
And when I’m talking about steel wool, I’m not talking about the stuff that you actually find in the kitchen-cleaning section of the grocery store. This is steel wool that you’re going to find at the hardware store, in the paint section. And it comes in different grades. And you want to go with the finest grade, which is a quadruple-zero. It’s really a very, very fine steel wool.
TOM: Almost like a soft cloth.
KEVIN: Yeah, it really is.
TOM: Now, that is a great trick of the trade. I actually used to wax entire pieces of furniture that way because when you use the steel wool as the applicator, it takes the imperfections off the surface – all the roughness of it – rubs that paste wax right in. You buff it and it looks amazing.
KEVIN: And you hear “steel wool” and you’re thinking, “Boy, that’s too aggressive.” But when it’s that fine, it is literally like a soft cloth.
So if the scratches are deeper or if you’ve got worn edges around the furniture, a felt-tip touch-up marker works well for the worn edges and scratches. And they come in a whole bunch of different varieties of wood tones so that you can match most common furniture finishes.
TOM: And that, again, if you just are coloring that sort of raw corner and you get it to be a darker color, you don’t really see that scratch and we don’t see that worn edge.
KEVIN: And it doesn’t have to be that perfect of a match.
KEVIN: Because it is just a small area and you just want to take your eye away from going right to that imperfection.
LESLIE: And I think what’s important to know is that all of these sort of repair components are really readily available in the paint aisle, so you can do it yourself.
KEVIN: They’re in the paint aisle, they’re in the hardware store. And someone’s going to be able to guide you to the right color, the right material.
TOM: Now, one of my favorites are these wax sticks. Have you seen these? They look like freezer pencils, where you peel the string back and you reveal the wax on the pencil. And with those, we’ve been able to heat them a little bit, like with a lighter or something like that, and melt that wax into the imperfection. And it’s good for, say, a kitchen-cabinet face or something like that. Not so good for anything that has to be abraded, like a floor surface, because it is still soft. But you can literally make a ¼-inch-size hole disappear, like if you drill the hole wrong for the cabinet handle? Don’t ask me how I know this. You can make it completely disappear.
KEVIN: And if you think you don’t have one of those lying around the house, you might.
TOM: You might.
KEVIN: Because oftentimes, they’re actually shipped with your new cabinets.
KEVIN: They sometimes give you that touch-up pencil right there, so you might have it in one of those stray drawers.
LESLIE: But you know what? Online, we accidentally – me accidentally. I had my sewing machine on my fancy dining table and I didn’t realize one of the feet – the rubber feet – was not on correctly. And when I pulled it close to me, I put a beautiful, 2-inch gouge into the surface of my dining table.
And online, I actually found a wax pencil specifically for surfaces – flat surfaces – like a dining table that’s meant to be cleaned. And I got the exact match to that finish, heated it up, filled it in, did the steel wool and the wax, as well. And it’s time to do it again but it’s been five years and it really does stand up. So if you’re a little creative, a clumsy-oopsie suddenly can go away.
KEVIN: Mm-hmm. And I love the fact that you guys are completely comfortable in the confessional here.
LESLIE: I mean what can you do?
KEVIN: Tell us about all the mistakes. This is great.
TOM: But do as we say, not as we do.
TOM: We’re talking to Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, about how to fix furniture finish that may have suffered a bit of damage.
Kevin, the shelves of the grocery store are filled with all sorts of wood-cleaning and wood-care products. What’s the best way to keep everything in good shape once you’ve actually done the repair?
KEVIN: Well, you know, believe it or not, I think a damp rag often works best. It’s a simple solution but it’s probably going to get the trick done. If you’re doing some routine cleaning, well, then you might want to use something very mild, like diluted dishwashing soap. Or there are some furniture cleaners out there and Murphy’s Oil Soap is great. It’s really gentle and it’s effective.
The thing you want to avoid are the really strong ones: the alkaline- or the ammonia-based detergents, like window cleaners, because they can actually do a number on the finishes. And don’t use anything too abrasive; you don’t want to use those scrubbing cleaners – they’ve got the little bit of grit in them – because, hmm, yeah, it’s going to set you back.
TOM: Good advice. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: My pleasure.
LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by The Home Depot. More saving, more doing. That’s the power of The Home Depot.