We’ve Rounded Up the Best Tips for How to Clean Vintage Furniture

From toilet paper to bleach, canned food and coins, there have been a number of interesting shortages this year. Now it’s not surprising that it’s office furniture. With more employees working from home and the students taking part in classes virtually, there was a problem setting up or upgrading home office spaces.

While websites and big box stores are feeling the supply, there’s one place with a newly discovered plethora of options: thrift and thrift stores. Earlier this year, when much of the country was watching hunker-down orders, massive numbers of domestic people cleared out unwanted items, leading to a surge in donations.

Second-hand shopping is a win-win – you get affordable furniture and it’s environmentally friendly. That being said, because it’s not ready to go out of the box, it probably needs a little TLC, even if it doesn’t necessarily look dirty. Here are quick and environmentally friendly ways to freshen up your beloved furniture.

Sticker marks

After you peel off the label or price sticker, a gum paste remains. Undisturbed or only partially removed, it acts as a sticky landing pad for dust and animal hair. While it is tempting to scratch it, household products will serve you better – they won’t scratch the surface and it will come off more easily. Rubbing in alcohol, vodka (seriously!), WD-40, or vinegar will work. All you have to do is splash the residue, wait a few minutes, and wipe it off with a clean, damp rag.

Upholstery stains

A mixture of a cup of warm water, a quarter cup of white vinegar, and a tablespoon of dish soap can be an effective spot treatment for unsightly stains on your furniture. Spray or dab the liquid on the area you want to clean, work it into the fabric with a soft-bristled brush, and use a damp towel to sponge the stain off. If that doesn’t work, or if the whole piece needs attention, you can rent a carpet cleaner.

Note that there are fabrics such as silk, leather, and certain synthetic fibers that may have special cleaning requirements. However, this information should be on the label.


If the previous owner lived in a damp location, there is a good chance your new metal cabinet, chair, or desk may have at least some rust on it. Fortunately, there is baking soda. Mix the soda with water until it forms a paste and apply it to the surface. After letting it sit for 15 minutes, scrub it with something abrasive – even an old toothbrush will do – and you’re good to go. If you don’t have baking soda on hand, vinegar scrubbing works. Alternatively, you can try a mixture of salt and lemon juice (the former acts as an abrasive, while the acid in the fruit removes rust). When all else fails, Bar Keepers Friend is a liquid cleaner that contains dynamite (and helps with polishing) in removing rust.

Mold and mildew

Since mold and mildew like damp and dark conditions, they can potentially grow on the back of furniture that is pressed against a wall or window, in drawers, behind books on shelves, and in myriad other locations. If left untreated, it can pose a health risk, so you should be extra vigilant. To remove it, first vacuum off the loose spores. Clean upholstered and wooden furniture (the two places you are likely to see mold outside of your bathroom) with an equal parts solution of water and either alcohol or vinegar. Repeatedly rinse the sponge and dry the item thoroughly.


Even if your furniture comes from a smoke-free and pet-free home, chances are it could be wearing that funky vintage scent. If the smell of Febreze is reminding you of your roommate’s dubious cleaning practices, there are other ways to get rid of the smell. Fortunately, you probably already have a fair amount of the necessary cleaning products in your arsenal. For pillows and rugs, rub baking soda into the fabric. When baking soda reacts with an acid (which is usually the smelly culprit), it neutralizes it and makes the smell much less noticeable. Let it sit for a couple of hours and suck out the baking soda. If the surface is hard, sprinkle baking soda over it and later wipe it off with a mixture of water and vinegar. The latter is also a safe and easy disinfectant.

Bed bugs

Unfortunately, bedbug infestations have increased worldwide over the past few decades. Before buying any piece of furniture with fabric, it is best to carefully examine the cracks, folds, and screw holes, paying attention to both six-legged creatures and black or dark red stains (the pest’s excrement). If you accidentally get an infestation, you need to contain it so that it doesn’t spread to your other furniture or clothing. Vacuum all possible hiding spots. If you can wash and dry the item, do so. If not, according to the EPA, toss it, toss the item in a plastic bag, and wait a few months for the bugs to die (leaving a black plastic bag outside on a hot day may kill the bugs faster). Use a steam cleaner, try an insecticide and call the professionals if the problem gets too big.


This year, people know more than ever what they are bringing into their homes – nobody wants their new used item to be a Trojan horse for COVID-19 or other insidious diseases. Studies have shown that the coronavirus lives the longest on metal and plastic and can survive up to 72 hours under ideal conditions. For fabric, this window is approximately 24 hours. Sure, you could leave the item in a garage, but you’d better clean the piece. Not only does this reduce the chances of you getting infected with the coronavirus, but it also clears it of other diseases. There are a number of ways you can clean your used goods, depending on what they are made of. Wash sofas with removable pillowcases in your machine (just don’t throw them in the dryer – the upholstery fabrics tend to shrink). For furniture such as desks, wooden chairs or bookcases, a simple wash with detergent and hot water is sufficient. You can also use disinfectant wipes on hard surfaces. It really is that simple.

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